Purgatory Waits - A Hard Decision
This short story was written for a anthology project, but it was considered unsuitable because of the nature of it's contents. Please fell free to comment and let me know how you feel. Thank you.
“No wait, wait.......please, please give me time, I can’t understand what you are saying, wait......please, slow down”. Rachel’s voice trembled as she tried to understand the caller.
“Please wait.....wait, wait, where, what time?” Replacing the receiver slowly back down, Rachel leaned against the wall, grateful for the support that it afforded her. She heard the familiar shuffle that she associated with her father’s slippers, as he steadily came into sight.
“What’s wrong lass?” his voice rich with concern. “Who was that on the phone at this time in the morning?”
Rachel looked across the living room at her father, never more grateful for his love and support than she was now.
“Its Brian dad, he has had an accident. He has been airlifted to the Mater Hospital in Dublin.”
“What, is he ok, did they say what is wrong?” Rachel’s father sat heavily down on the footstool alongside the sofa. Rachel dropped to her knees in front of him, sobbing uncontrollably. Instinctively, Rachel’s father took her into his arms and started to rock, side by side the comforting motion continued, just like he had done when she was a little girl, his little girl. The sound of Rachel sobbing went on for hours, well, minutes in fact that felt like hours. Wiping the tears away from Rachel’s face, her father asked in his usual manner,
“Cup of tea lass, let’s have a cup of tea whilst we discuss this?” His Lancashire drawl very apparent in his speech.
Rachel smiled at her father, so grateful for his wisdom. Nothing saved the day better than a cup of tea she thought.
Rachel listened to the clinking of china against china, and the familiar whistle from the kettle announcing that the water had boiled. She dried her eye’s with the hankie that her father had offered, her composer returning as she gave thought to the phone call that she had just received.
“I have to go dad,.... I have to go to Dublin, will you cope?” she asked glancing at her father over the rim of her cup, taking comfort from the warm sweetness of the tea inside.
“Aye lass, you have to go. Don’t fret about the little uns, I will get them ready for school in the morning and I am sure Beverly will take them to school in her car”. Rachel marvelled at her father’s natural composer. He was always the steady one in a crisis. Even when her mother died her father stood solid, the rock of the family. She knew she could always depend on him, and could not imagine life without him.
The red sky was appearing on the horizon now, and Rachel was pleased to see the sun breaking through the clouds. She was delighted by this, never really enjoying driving. Dublin was such a long way to go, a journey of over two hundred miles; a journey that she had never taken before without Brian. She sighed to herself as she put her overnight bag into the boot of the old red fiesta, closing it quietly least she would waken the children.
“Go, go on and telephone me when you arrive,” Rachel’s father standing in his blue and grey pin stripe pyjamas, waved to her from the door way.
“Love you dad,” she shouted through the car window as she turned left out of the drive to commence her journey. She knew that once she had driven through Donegal to the motorway she could relax a little, and have time to gather her thoughts.
The motorway was quiet accept for the steady flow of articulated lorry’s heading for the docks.
“I wonder what precious goods are being ferried today?” Rachel spoke aloud, not realising for a brief moment that she was alone.
“Another one bound for England,” she announced, glancing towards the notice board stating English Ferry Route.
“Oh, how I wish I was going to England. The whole family are long overdue a treat. A holiday would be lovely just now”
Abruptly, her thoughts returned to Brian, and her deepest wish that everything would be fine. Brian was a forestry worker, well qualified and respected in the trade. Her mind raced as she tried to make sense how someone so well versed with their occupation could have been badly hurt. Rachel felt sure it was only a minor injury. But, then she questioned why he had been air lifted to the Mater Hospital and not the local infirmary for less serious injuries?Try as she may, Rachel could not make any sense of the phone call she had received.
The countryside sped past, the rolling hills of Donegal descending into the changing flat plains of County Mayo, and eventually arriving in the built up areas of outer Dublin. The amount of traffic had increased on the road now, and Rachel concerned herself with her driving. It had been a challenge driving alone to Dublin and she was not in familiar territory. The motorway slowly blended with the city. There were huge tower blocks and red brick houses along the roadside now, instead of the beautiful green scenery caused by the undulating contrast of the countryside. Rachel began to feel anxious. The road sign stated Mater Hospital, turn right. Rachel followed the instruction and the first thing that she noticed was the red brick towers, coughing huge pillows of black smoke into the lovely fresh crisp air. Buildings all looked the same, nothing to distinguish between them. The palms of Rachel’s hands began to sweat, and she felt panic at being in such an unfamiliar place. Hurriedly Rachel parked the car, and continued her search for the emergency department on foot; anxiously looking at every signpost, and every building hoping to see the emergency department entrance.
Rachel gave a sigh of relief as she recognised the flashing lights of an ambulance parked outside a well lit building directly ahead, and briskly walked forward into the light of the reception area. The receptionist wearing a pale blue uniform scanned the computer for any information regarding Brian.
Smiling warmly at Rachel she announced, “Ah yes, your husband arrived a couple of hours ago, he is in intensive care, ward 3 on the tenth floor. The lift to the upper floors is just past the ladies cloakroom around the corner.”
Numbly, almost as if in a state of auto pilot, Rachel proceeded to follow the directions to the intensive care unit. There she was met by a dark haired male nurse coming out of one of the single rooms. Rachel was taken to the day room and asked to wait until the doctor could see her,
“But, I want to see my husband,” she cried whilst trying to push her way past the male nurse into the corridor beyond.
“Can I call anyone for you?” the voice asked gently. Rachel noticed the dark blue eyes, and frowned.
“No, no one,” she replied.
Just at that moment a tall female doctor walked towards her, hand outstretched in a warm manner. The hand took Rachel by the arm and gently led her to a small ward with only two beds in it. Rachel instantly noticed the elderly couple sitting at the bedside of their family member. Neither of them talking, just looking straight past the lifeless body in the bed and out of the window beyond. In the second bed in which she was approaching, laid a body wired in to so many machines that all she could recognise was a pair of boots. Forestry boots, the same pair of black forestry boots that Brian owned. Stumbling backwards in alarm, Rachel just wanted to turn and run.
As she approached the body which Rachel now recognised to be that of Brian, she burst into uncontrollable tears and was relieved to be directed to the small white stool at the head of the bed. The doctor continued to talk, but Rachel couldn’t make a lot of sense about what she was being told.
“Accident......hit by a tree...... lucky to be alive.......paralysed.”
“What do you mean you need my signature?” Rachel was in a daze now. All around her the bustle continued as doctors and nurses were fighting over every little tiny space free around Brian’s body. Machines bleeped and flashed, monitors showed green and red lines, and drips came out of both of Brian’s arms.
“WAIT .......” Rachel shouted. Her head feeling like it was about to burst. “What operation”, she demanded. “Why do you need my signature?”
The doctor looked softly, at Rachel.
“Mrs Frost,” the doctor continued slowly “Unless your husband receives surgery to stabilise his spine he will never be able to walk again. He needs to have a Hartshill triangle fitted between L4 and L5 if he is to ever sit up again. You will have to sign the operation consent form as his next of kin.”
Rachel was shocked into silence as she slowly sat down again. So much was going through her mind, this could not be happening. Brian had left the house in the usual manner this morning, strong and well and eager to work.Rachel had so many questions.
“If he has this operation can you guarantee me that he will walk again.” She demanded.
The doctor took a seat besides her, gently taking both of Rachel’s hand in her own.
“There are no guarantees, and the operation carries risks. There is a small possibility that if the spinal column is damaged during surgery, your husband will be paralysed from the neck down, but if he has the operation and it is successful, he will be able to sit up; and worst case scenario, he will spend his life in a wheel chair. Without the operation at all he will never walk again.” The Doctor quietly pressed a pen into the palm of Rachel’s hand. Giving her a reassuring hug, the doctor offered Rachel the consent form to sign.
Rachel starred at the motionless body of her husband, and then she looked at the doctor.
“No matter what the result, I am signing away Brian’s life. I will be responsible for how his life continues from this day forward, and I know that whatever happens he will never feel the same way about me again.”
Rachel’s tears fell onto the form of consent, smudging the ink as she reluctantly wrote her signature.
“My husband, as I know him died today.” She sobbed “The man who will return to me will never be my husband again, and I will never be his wife, just his carer”. Rachel signed the form and bent her head in grief.
Rachel knew that from this day forward and for as long as it would take, she would stay by her husband, but would he ever appreciate the humongous life changing decision that she has had to make? In her own mind she knew that purgatory awaited them all.