(this is the fourth installment of Mind Absent, which recounts reporter Jed Berman’s whereabouts and status in the year 2024. To put it mildly, he ain’t doing so well)
The orderlies’ exit was more dignified than their entrance. Jane closed the door behind them. As she turned around, Erin rushed into her arms. They hugged each other, tears streaming down their faces, Then Jane cleared her throat, grasped Erin by the shoulders and gently pushed her away.
“I know, sweetie. I can hardly bear it, either. But this is the deal we made: We got to have your father with us for another five years and now, since he didn’t wake up, it’s the doctors’ turn.”
Through her tears, Erin lodged a final protest.
“But, Mother, it’s all so, so,” she searched for a word to express the depth of the horror she felt, “barbaric. It’s just not civilized for it to happen this way. Besides, I just know he’ll wake up if they give us a little more time.”
“I think so, too, honey, but that’s not the way it works today. You know that. So we better get your dad ready. Mutt and Jeff out there are waiting to do their job.”
They set to work, one on either side of the bed, first sliding Jed’s shoes from his feet, then slipping off his shirt and trousers, being careful not to dislodge the catheter and colostomy bag attached to his body. They’d removed the intravenous feeding tube an hour earlier when they bathed and dressed him, as Jane, and sometimes Erin, had done since shortly after the accident.
It was actually easier now than ten years ago. The accident had left Jed with casts on his right arm and left leg, which made pulling shirts and trousers on and off a challenge. They’d met the challenge with scissors and a few yards of Velcro. This morning, in three minutes, Jed’s clothing lay, folded neatly, on the bed, and the paper thin hospital gown, not nearly voluminous enough to provide sartorial decency for a man Jed’s size, covered most of his lanky body.
Then, as she had every day for ten years, Jane bent down and kissed Jed warmly on the lips. Erin kissed her father on the forehead and stroked the uncreased flesh of his square jaw.
They sat now, on opposite sides of the bed, Jane holding Jed’s left hand, Erin, his right. They could think of no words to say, no inspirational aphorisms to offer each other. They gazed silently into Jed’s still handsome face, willing him to open his eyes and return from the depths he’d been locked in for so long. The minutes ticked by. At 7:00, they heard three gentle taps on the door.
“It’s time, ma’am. We need to get Mr. Berman on his way.”
Jane answered calmly.
“Yes, we know. Come in.”
The orderlies pushed the door against the magnetic stops on the baseboard along the wall, and rolled the gurney alongside the bed. In one smooth motion, they lifted Jed onto the gurney and pulled a sheet up to his chin. As they prepared to get underway, the junior orderly looked at the two distraught women.
“We’re sorry, ma’am. But maybe the docs will be able to fix him up.”
Jane and Erin stood close together, Jane’s arm around her daughter’s shoulders, drawing her tight against her. Jane spoke.
“That would be great. I hope you’re right.”
The orderlies stepped behind the push bar and steered the gurney through the doorway. Once in the hallway, they turned left and headed for O.R 100 and a smoke break.