Shelly slowed as they approached Yvonne’s room, expecting to remain in the hallway and allow the family their privacy. Travis looked back before walking through the threshold and, having noticed that Shelly was not following, made a quick about-face. Gordy had already gone in.
“Aren’t you comin’ in?” he took her hand, ready to pull her along.
“I don’t know, Travis,” Shelly pulled her hand away gently. “Somehow I think I’m the last person your mom would want to wake up and see here. I just wanted to be on hand for you, if you needed me.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” he said solemnly, taking both her hands in his. “To tell you the truth, I think I need you to go in there with me. I’m having a real hard time wrapping my head around this whole scene. My mother’s never been sick a day in my life. Now I have to see her hooked up to all this shit they have here, and I’m not sure I can handle it.” He let go and sagged against the wall. Shelly went to him and smoothed his crazy hair.
“That’s all you had to say. Let’s go on in, then.”
Gordy was standing at Yvonne’s bedside, stroking her cheek. “You’re gonna be jus’ fine, Love,” he whispered. He didn’t notice them beside him. The ventilator bellowed measured breaths by way of a tube in Von’s mouth, which left space for her tongue to lay awkwardly between her lips on one side. There was no life in her face; no expression, and Travis thought he’d rather see her mad at him than like this. Shelly offered a brief tutorial of the various equipment in the room; the monitor, with Yvonne’s heartbeat, and breathing rate, and oxygen level, the IV pump with the many medications and fluids going in through a ‘central line’ in her neck, the respirator, and the pumps squeezing her legs to keep her from getting a blood clot. Travis pointed to a clear plastic bag hooked to the side of the bed. “That’s the catheter that’s draining her urine,” she explained. “They need an accurate count of the fluid that goes in and out. It helps them to manage her vital signs and the pressure in her brain.” When Travis went pale and leaned on the bedrail, Shelly quietly pulled up a chair and helped him into it.
“I’m sorry to sound so clinical, Travis. I just want you to understand what’s going on.”
Travis clasped his fingers behind his neck, and placed his elbows on his knees. “I’ve seen my soldiers in bad shape before; plenty of times. We’d do our best to carry them off the field and get them to help, but a lot of them were critically wounded, and many didn’t make it. I’d check on them as their commander, but the others in the platoon would stay nearby, night and day, until the injured was taken by helicopter or in a body bag. It would hit them hard, but I had to try not to let it in; it happened too often, and I had to stay in control if I had any hope of keeping the rest of them safe the next time out.”
Shelly bent down next to him, sliding an arm around his waist. “That must have been Hell for you.”
“It was,” he turned to look at her, “but it didn’t come close to this. Whatever happened over there, I had her to come back to if I could manage to stay alive. That’s what kept me going. I’ve been stateside for sixteen years, and only came back for holidays until I moved home for good this month. I thought we had lots of time to be together.”
“She knew you loved her,” Gordy said to Travis, but his eyes never left Yvonne’s face. “There ‘as never any doubt about that.”
A man with short-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair and a stethoscope around his neck stood at the foot of the bed. “I’m Kevin, Mrs. Richards’s nurse. I’m going to ask you all to step out for fifteen or twenty minutes while we turn and suction her. There’s a waiting room at the end of ‘B’ hall; we’ll call you on the phone out there when you can come back in.” He looked at his tech-y watch. “If you haven’t eaten, this might be a good time to run down to the cafeteria; it closes in an hour and there are only vending machines available after that.”
Gordy started to cry again, and Travis kissed his mother’s forehead before they left the room. Travis kept an arm around Gordy to keep him steady, and Shelly led them down to the basement. “There’s a guest café on the first floor, but the employee cafeteria is the best place to go,” she told them. “It’s cheaper and has way better coffee.”
“Sounds good to me,” Travis said wearily. Gordy excused himself for a few minutes to use the bathroom and call his son, Jimmy, to give him an update.
Shelly told Travis to get them a table, and she went through the line for coffees, creamers, sugar packets and three slices of pizza for them. Ah, hospital food. If you weren’t already a patient, it would make you one.
They sipped their coffee in silence. No one was particularly interested in eating. Shelly felt that she should try to cheer them up.
“She looked pretty good!” she said brightly. “Her vital signs were stable, and she didn’t show any signs of having pain. Let’s hope she gets a good night’s rest, and they can try weaning her off the vent tomorrow.” Poor Gordy looked every bit of his seventy years. “You need to go home and get some rest yourself, Mister.” Travis nodded in agreement.
“I’m not goin’ anywhere,” Gordy stated resolutely. “The two of you can go home tonight, but I’m stayin’ right here with her. I already told Jimmy; he’s gonna let Biscuit out and take her home with him.” Biscuit was Gordy’s aging Golden Retriever.
Shelly gathered up their trash and carried it to the barrel. “I’ll go back up with you for an hour or so, and then I’d better call it a night. I have to work tomorrow. I wish I could get out of it, but I can’t.” She placed a hand on Travis’s shoulder. “Will you be alright here without me?” He reached up and laced his fingers through hers.
“I’m better when you’re here, but I understand. Gordy and I’ll camp out here tonight; in the room, in the waiting room, wherever they’ll let us stay. I can’t leave either until I know Von’s alright.”
As they made their way to the elevator, there was a call over the P.A.: “Code Blue, ICU. Code Blue, ICU.”
Shelly & Gordy jumped on the elevator. Not wanting to wait, Travis took the stairs, three at a time, to the third floor. He burst through the door and saw that his mother’s room was brightly lit, with the curtains closed around the windows. There was a crowd of hospital staff in the hallway, and he could see several pair of legs surrounding her bed. He started to go in, but an orderly held out his arm. “You don’t want to go in there right now, Dude,” he warned. “They’ll come out and let you know what’s going on as soon as they can.” Travis shook free of the young man’s hold and pushed past the curtain.
Six or seven doctors and nurses turned to look at him as one of them said, “Call it. Time of death, seven thirty-one.”
In shock, Travis swept the wrappers, needles and tubing that littered his mother’s bed off with his arm. No one stopped him when he sat down on the edge and hugged her lifeless body. No tears came; it was too deeply ingrained in him to hold them in, but he felt more alone than he ever had.
An older man with a badge that read ‘Walter Parrish, MD’ patted his arm brusquely. “I’m sorry son,” he rasped. “We did everything we could. I think the hemorrhage in her brain extended. I can order an autopsy if you’d like.”
Travis shook his head. He couldn’t see the point. She was gone, wasn’t she? The reason why didn’t really matter. Shelly entered the room with Gordy in tow. She knew, with one glance around, what had happened. Gordy knew, too.
“Sweet Jesus Christ!” he cried. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?” Dr. Parrish guided him to the corner of the room and spoke softly to him in an effort to offer comfort. Travis stood up and hugged her tightly, so tightly.
And then he cried.