The heart attacks.
He muttered his last words. He wasn’t dead yet, but it was only a matter of time now.
It would take another four days before his heart gave way. Pumped one last time. Lungs took one last breath. They say your gut keeps on going. Once you stop feeding it, it finds its own source from within. Keeps on living, in that forever box until it too runs out of luck. This whole world just a giant carbon recycling center.
She sat beside the bed as she squeezed his fingers and her tears. The bed shifted and sighed and wheezed as its innards monitored his movements. The rubber nose blew cold oxygen, his breath shallow and slow. The tubes and lines and bags and needles lit up in their bays to chart the vitals. Attaching man to machine.
Another heart attack.
The first time was years ago. They had cracked his chest and ripped open his ribs and stopped the beating beater. They took a thin vein from his leg and attached it to do the work. To create an overpass past the plaque-filled byways. They took another vein from his chest. That one didn’t want to behave once they closed him up. One of the hair-width little vessels at the end of the line just bled and bled. Not responding to the meds as the aspirin in his blood prevented a clot and made his platelets flow and flow. The plastic tubes they left hanging out of little holes in his belly couldn’t suck the blood out fast enough. The IVs hung down, filled with plasma and blood but it wasn’t enough. Rushed him back under the knife to untie the wires hugging his sternum closed, searching through the organs for the bleed.
An hour of sleep and dark circles under her eyes as she was called in to watch over the shitty coffee maker on the chairs designed to make you want to leave as they ask you to wait and wait and wait. Hand hovered over the phone waiting to hear if it was all ok.
“It’ll all be ok, ma’am.”
It was always all going to be ok. They repeated the mantra over and over, but it was always followed with a little concern over infection or a little worry about the rhythm. Their eyes clear and steady. Calmly saying words that made no sense. Empathy, but without any real concern for the individual. They can’t. As the days wore on, she saw that each day is the same for them. Your disaster is just that one guy they dealt with before lunch. It probably would be ok, and there’s no sense getting her riled up.
But it wasn’t all ok, when his blood pressure dropped and the little machine screamed and yelled and caused the nurses to rush in with their plastic smiles and its oks with their crash cart leading the way. But they were right. It was fine. Eventually.
Days later in the hospital, his smile came back.
He made it though that one ok. Went on to see a couple grandkids graduate. Danced with her to celebrate 50 years. Surprised all the doctors when he’d lasted so long.
This time was different. He hadn’t grasped her sleeping hand to gasp her awake. Hadn’t been in their bed when the tugs came across his chest. He’d taken a solo ride to the hospital in the screaming red van. Been at the frame store working alone, almost didn’t even make it to the phone. Tried to sit it out and wait. Wait for what, she wasn’t sure.
The mantra had changed this time.
This time she choked back tears to the sounds of “We’ll do what we can to make him comfortable.” Nothing could be done. He’s too old. She had three years on him. She shoved thoughts of herself away for later as she looked into his clouded eyes. He didn’t seem in pain. He didn’t seem much of anything.
They weren’t going to bother with trying to clear this one out. She called the kids.
And so she was sitting there, looking at the way that words look like shapes. Flipping pages of a novel that she would never, ever read. His words were mumbled, but she heard them. She knew. He knew.
“Dear, I think I waited too long.”