This story is by T.M. Taylor and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I open my eyes and quickly close them against bright lights shining. Squinting against the glare, I allow my eyes to adjust and bring the room into focus. I’m lying down and covered, my head raised above my body; there are mechanical sounds coming from one side of me. As the blur dissipates, I can see a hospital room. There are tubes and wires attached to my arms and body. Something tight squeezes my head. I struggle to break through the pounding in my head to recall how I got here. A nurse comes into the room, checking a machine beside me before turning towards me.
“Oh, honey, you’re awake,” she says, turning away from me for a moment. “Are you in pain?”
I think for a moment; I don’t feel anything at all. It takes too much effort, but I shake my head.
“Can you tell me where you are?” she asks.
“Hospital,” my voice croaks, mostly a whisper.
“Good. Do you know your name?” The nurse pours a cup of water from the pitcher on the table at the foot of my bed. She places a straw into the cup and holds it before me so I can drink.
I take a sip, letting the cold water soothe my parched throat before I answer, “Hannah.”
“And do you remember why you’re here?”
I take another sip as I try to clear through the haze in my head for the answer.
The memory of being in the car with James immerses me. We stop at a traffic light, the only car at the intersection. James laughing as I sing the wrong words to a song on the radio. The sound of the crash comes just before the jolt of the car. Or maybe it was just after. James’s side of the car crushes inward, forcing him to my side and sending my body bumping into the side door. The car turns and I crumple, but James keeps flying. Until everything stops. I have pain in my head and I cannot tell which way is up; I see James with his head pillowed on the concrete amidst the broken glass from the window.
“Mrs. Landry? Do you remember?” The nurse’s voice breaks me from the nightmare.
“James?” I gasp, feeling the panic rising into my throat. His head had been bleeding, but I couldn’t get out of my seatbelt to get to him before I blacked out.
“Your husband is pretty banged up, but he should be fine. He is in surgery and should be up soon.” The nurse rolls the table within my reach and places the cup of water on it. “I’ll let the doctor know you’re awake.”
“When can I see him?” The nurse did not hear my question from the door. I take the cup off the table and drink, the cold water dampening the sick feeling in my stomach. A knock sounds at the door and I see a doctor enter. He introduces himself and comes to my bedside to check the machines and scribble onto a stack of papers. I force my mind to concentrate and hear him ask, “How are you feeling?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak without either vomiting or bursting into tears.
“Are you in any pain?” he asks, tugging at whatever was squeezing my head. I shake my head.
“Can you speak?” he asks, a cautious look on his face.
I take another sip of water and answer, “Yes, just feeling a little sick.”
“I can get you something for that,” he says, scribbling with his pen.
“When can I see my husband?” I ignore his offer for medication.
The doctor flips through pages and then checks his watch, “He went down a couple of hours ago. He should be going into recovery soon and then he’ll be brought up.” He pulls a page and places it on the table in front of me with a pen. “He had some bleeding around his brain from the blow he took to the head. I need you to sign this consent for the surgery and for imaging afterward to make sure there is no lasting damage.” I sign where there is a yellow highlight and hand the page back to the doctor. “I’ll be back when his results are in.”
Moments after the doctor leaves, the nurse reenters the room, a syringe in her hand. “Doctor Williams ordered something for nausea. This might make you a little sleepy, but it will help.” With a twist of her wrist, she connects the syringe to the tube running fluid into my arm. She pumps the plunger slowly. The sick feeling subsides, as my eyes grow heavier and finally close.
I wake to my body rocking back and forth. I open my eyes to see the nurse leaning over me. “Mrs. Landry, your husband’s results are in. Doctor Williams is on his way up.”
I sip water from my cup as I emerge from the medication-induced, sleepy haze. The water is warm, but not stale. It washes the sleep from my mouth, but does nothing to refresh the cottony dryness that lingers. The doctor enters, more quickly than the last time. He places black sheets onto a lighted board on the wall beyond the foot of my bed. He turns to me with the same look of concern as before.
“During the surgery, we found a tumor lodged in James’s brain.” The doctor points to a blob on the image. “A biopsy revealed that it is advanced stage cancer. Judging by the size…” his words blend together as I struggle to concentrate on what he is saying. A brain tumor?
“No,” I say, “James cannot have cancer. No, check again. Do another test.”
“We’ve done numerous tests. They all confirm this cancerous mass here,” he points to the blob again. “We believe we can remove the tumor, but we cannot estimate the damage that has already been done by the tumor and the trauma from the accident until he wakes up.”
He places another paper on the table with a pen. Words blur before my eyes as much as they blur in my head. I try to understand what the doctor wants me to do. I ask him to explain it again.
“The progression of the tumor could result in any combination of speech, motor, cognitive, and memory impairment. Chemotherapy has not proven to be successful at this stage, but is an option. The further it progresses, the faster it grows. I would estimate that, by the size of the mass, it would become fatal in a few months. Surgery is our best option and needs to happen as soon as possible to minimize the damage. I must tell you that the risk is very high due to the trauma from the accident.”
The tumor will kill him in a matter of months, but the surgery to remove it could kill him now. I stare at the wall until my vision blurs. I will my mind to present a picture of James that isn’t blurred by the shine of broken glass. What did he look like when he was laughing moments before the accident? What about last week? Last Year? I can’t make myself remember his face. If he dies, I’ll never see his face again. Thinking of my only hope, I initial and sign the yellow marks. “I can’t lose him,” I say, holding out the paper for the doctor. He takes it and turns, leaving out the door as quietly as he came.
The nurse returns to push medicine into my body. I close my eyes to the tumor, to the accident, to the throbbing in my head, and allow the medicine to take it all away.
I wake with golden light streaming into the room. My head feels clearer than the night before, but the throbbing remains. I press the call button on the bed rail for a nurse. A quiet ding sounds outside as a light illuminates outside my doorway. The nurse comes into my room and silences the page.
“I’ll let the doctor know you’re awake. He wanted to update you on your husband.”
“No, I just-” I stop when she leaves the room without hearing me; then I realize what she said. If I can see James, I can manage the pain for now. The doctor comes straight toward me when he enters the room.
“How are you feeling?” he asks, but doesn’t look at the machines or chart, only at me.
“My head hurts a little. Can I see James?” I push the table with the cup of water away from me and prepare to get up.
The doctor holds up a hand to stop me, “I’m sorry to say that your husband died in surgery last night as we attempted to remove the tumor.”