Such was the sound that reached Jonathan’s ear when he reached the emergency ward. This cold, distinctively eerie sound of the heart monitor’s wail. I’m keeping her alive, it told him, keeping her steady.
The car crash had just been reported half an hour ago. Witnesses had seen it. A cargo transport had collided with the dove-white Volkswagen in the middle of the street. Aimlessly, it seemed, this accident committed by the muse of fate, had struck his wife on the way home from work; she had been eager to get home, he had promised good dinner and wine, to celebrate her now finally confirmed promotion as manager of publicity in the company.
With no presumable premonition of the accident, both drivers had been speeding to get ahead of a slow vehicle. Like a mirror it had seemed, both had come out of nowhere and collided head on. The cargo transport was too large to budge on the road from the force, so it was Jonathan’s wife who had suffered immensely at the accident. Witnesses had frozen on the spot and watched it all happen. Jonathan could visualize it perfectly: The white car front being pressed against the pavement, crunched like the hammer of Thor banged against the lid, while the back of the car flipped up making it almost stand vertically on the head lights in the middle of the street. Just a pause, a breath of fate, before it toppled over completely and landed with the roof against the front of the cargo transport, still sliding forward, tires screeching from the white-hot brakes; the smell of burned rubber probably seared through the air like a poisonous fume. The cargo transport reeled and ended up sliding with its left side down the road until it stopped, on the verge of toppling over, but keeping all four tires in the road. The white car fell slowly from the front of it and down, landing on its left, the driver’s side; the window panes broke, the engine was smoking, and the entire car was smashed to bits.
The police had explained it as he had arrived. They just took care of the formalities, they had told him. Two friendly officers named Thomas and Adam. They had shown him a few photos taken from the scene. No crime, nothing, they just had to make sure. But then they had explained the rescue of his wife. A witness, the first one moving, the first one daring to cross the street littered with scrap metal and glass, had run to her car, pushed it back with all four tires in the ground again and tried to get her out while calling for an ambulance or a doctor. A young man had hurried over, a medicine student, but none the less capable of detecting the first signs of trauma. Broken ribs, large concussion to the head, possibly a broken jaw and a dislocated hip, and the spine he did not dare examine. If she lived, the student had said, it would be a miracle.
Now as Jonathan stood in the doorway to the emergency ward he could see her behind the white curtain, like snow sewn onto fabric, paralyzing cold and sterile. The smell of rubber was in his nostrils, though he had not been at the scene of the accident. He wondered how this could be, seeing that hospitals were known for their almost clinical stench of alcohol.
Beep… Beep… Beep… Beep.
He shuddered as he walked closer and drew away the curtain. He could not recognize his wife like this, tubes stuck in between her full, pale lips, a bandage around her head, a drip inserted in the pale hand resting limp on the white sheets. Her ash blonde hair had been washed and combed over her shoulders, framing her rounded face. The light over her was eerie. Was there something preparing to light up the room and guide her away from him? He looked at the clipboard hanging by the bed head.
Mary Bell, 32 years, car accident and then a lot of numbers and Latin words he did not even dare pronounce to himself. A nurse came over to check the pulse, correct the drip and then left hastily again. Jonathan looked after her. What was happening? Was something wrong or was she just off for other duties in a hurry, not missing her schedule or coffee break?
He reached down and took the pale hand. It was icy cold. Was she alive at all? Wasn’t she already dead? Why did they not tell him what was needed to make her wake up again? Did they need donation of some kind? Blood, organs? What was her diagnosis? What were her chances of surviving this?!
He looked at the bedside table. Personal effects had been put there in a zipper-bag. Her favorite golden earrings, shaped like droplets, her handbag, her cell phone, her P.A., her purse and a few coins of spare change. In another bag her clothes lay folded together neatly. The macabre details of the blood spatter on her beige flax dress and grey cardigan almost made him reel. The shoes stood on a small shelf in the table, the straps crunched and the leather torn from the sole; one of the heels had broken.
turned around and a doctor gestured for him to follow out of the ward and into the corridor. Jonathan obeyed, speechless still. Was he in shock? Did he need a diagnosis? He could not feel his feet; the floor was like soft, wobbling cotton rolling somewhere below him. Had he died? Was he in heaven? Would Mary be there as well?
“Mr. Bell, I’m Dr. Evansson, I’m the physician overseeing your wife’s condition,” he explained. Jonathan nodded.
“Is she going to live?” he asked frankly. He had not meant to ask, it would be stupid to hear the answer, to have the judgment thrown into his face at such an early stage of despair. Mary would have wanted him to be positive and believe in her, believe in her will to come back and love him just as she had always done. He saw nothing in the doctor’s face that indicated either yes or no, but then again, he saw nothing in people’s faces. Usually, he was good at reading people, he had read Mary like an open book when they met in college, and he never failed to sense the signs. But now everything around him was just as cold and monotone as the beeping heart monitor.
“We have to make a surgery,” Dr. Evansson said gravely. “The trauma she’s suffered is severe. If she survives, we won’t know in what condition she will be in. I take it you’re her husband?”
“Yes,” Jonathan moistened his lips and glanced to the doorway, seeing the curtain swirl lightly when a nurse passed Mary’s bed. Maybe it was a trick of light in the curtain, but he thought he had seen Mary sit up and wave at him, that little gentle twitch of her wrist, making her bracelets tingle.
“I’m afraid, I cannot give you any good statistics for anyone having been through what she has,” Dr. Evansson continued. Jonathan did not look back at him, merely stared towards the source of the beeping; his heart almost fluttered at the sound, each time it broke the slight mumbling around him from other nurses passing by, patients and visitors. “What’s important now is to be strong and have faith that she wants to live just as much as I presume you want her to.”
“And if she survives?” Jonathan looked back at Dr. Evansson.
“She will be severely impaired, the question is only to what degree,” Dr. Evansson’s answered darkly. There was no need to hide the facts. “But no matter what she will need nursing twenty-four hours a day. She won’t be able to walk, and…” he paused, “if the surgery helps, she may be able to speak and express emotions. Nothing more.” Jonathan nodded. “We’re giving her a good dose of morphine now to keep her relaxed. Do you need anything?”
“Morphine sounds good,” Jonathan mumbled absently and looked at his folded hands.
“I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to hand out medicaments to vis-“
“If you’d be so kind, doctor,” Jonathan directed his gaze back up at the doctor. “Please.” Beep… Beep… Beep… Beep… “This situation is more than I can handle.”
The doctor took a deep breath before he nodded slowly. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said finally, resigning to the fact that the man in front of him was in severe shock. He left Jonathan who walked back into the ward where he waited by Mary’s side. The doctor returned with two small pills and a glass of water.
“According to our schedule we’re performing the surgery in twenty minutes,” he said and with a last pat on Jonathan’s shoulder he left to attend to the other patients. Jonathan stared at the pills and the glass before he put the glass on the bedside table and drew the curtains around the bed to shut out any suspicious eyes. He bent over Mary and kissed her forehead gently as he cradled her gently, careful not to touch the tubes. But his embrace was enough to push the lips slightly apart and he slipped the two pills into her mouth. He dared not pour water into the mouth, lest it would choke her. But then again, what he was doing would doubtlessly have the same effect. He straightened up again and waited.
Beep… Beep… Beep… Beep.
He did not know for how long he stood there. He knew the enzymes in the mouth had to dilute the pills and carry the drugs off into her system. If he had calculated correctly, just a small doze off the charts would save her. Save her, he thought. Yes, it would be merciful; it would be painless and relieving. She had no way of making a new life, bound probably to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. He, on the other hand, could still make a new existence. In a harsh world like this, he did not have time to take care of an impaired wife.
They had no children, there would be no loss. Of course he would have to answer to the family, but this was the decision he made. He was strong, just like Mary would have wanted him to; he believed in her, believed that she had been a good, kind and loving woman, and believed she would not have wanted a life as a cripple. He knew her. He had read her after all, hadn’t he, back in college where you never grew old and life was a miracle every day? Her life would not be a miracle, not if things would evolve like Dr. Evansson expected them to.
Fifteen minutes waned slowly when the beeping gained a new sound, speeding up. At first it was undetectable, then at the second different beep, Jonathan turned and left the ward before the nurses could get to him in time. He walked out and strode down the hall of the hospital, exiting as he pondered who Mary Bell was and why he had ever entered. The front doors closed behind him and shut out the sound in the distance as he walked down the front steps.