An old man is slowly dying, becoming a prisoner locked within his own body. And you have the power to make his final choice.
The beeping is what wakes me. My eyes slowly flutter open, and I’m assaulted by the sunlight pouring in from the small window. Gradually my eyes adjust and I can see nothing has changed. The walls are still white, with a pink handrail all along the perimeter, and the comfortable looking blue armchair is empty, and pushed close beside my bed. I can see that the beeping is just my heart monitor. I move my shaking hand and feel a sharp pain where an IV is sticking in, providing me with fluids. I try to sit up, but I still feel to weak. I’ve lost count of how long I’ve been here, but it feels like a very long time. There is a picture frame on the nightstand, of a young toddler in the arms of a beautiful woman who I’m not sure I’ve met.
There is a knock at the door, and a tall, skinny nurse with red hair enters the room with a tray of soup and medicine.
“How’re you feeling today, Mr. Tinfield?” she asks politely. I give a weak shrug and open my mouth, but can’t seem to get my words out right.
“I-“ I stammer. “Fne. Ti-rrrd.” Is all I can manage. She just smiles sadly and sits in the blue chair, and begins attaching a new bag to my IV.
“You get the potatoe soup you like this morning!” she says enthusiastically. “Lucky man.” Yes. That’s what I am. Lucky. I raise my hand to take the spoon, and I attempt to grasp it but I can’t seem to make the right shape, so I just let it fall limp. The nurse nods her head and proceeds to lift the spoon to my lips. The warm liquid feels good on my tongue, and it doesn’t taste bad either. I let her feed me until the bowl is empty, and she puts a straw into a cup of apple juice and helps me drink. I try to think of her name, but I can’t recall it. Becky? Beatrice?
“B...” I mutter, looking at her closely.
“Your daughter is coming to visit you, she’ll be here soon I think.” She helps me sit up, and onto my feet. I was six feet tall once, and strong too. But now I can only seem to hunch and walk only when I’m being helped; otherwise I’d fall. She leads me into the small bathroom and strips off my gown. I don’t remember if this used to embarrass me, but I can’t do it myself. She turns on the warm water and begins to wash me, my hair, limbs, taking care to scrub behind my ears and in between my fingers. Afterwards she dresses me in some fresh hospital clothing, and helps me back into bed. I nod my head as she leaves the room, and another woman enters my room. She’s younger than the nurse, but not as tall or skinny. Her eyes are blue, like mine, and she has short mahogany coloured hair.
“Hi, dad.” She says pleasantly. She sits in the blue chair and holds my quivering hand in her steady ones. “How’re you today?” I shrug and tilt my head to say I’m doing ok. She grins, but I can tell she isn’t happy. I raise my other hand and bring it to her face; I lightly touch her nose and smile at her, and try to squeeze her hand.
“Hw-ho” I struggle to say, but she is patient with me. “Ho- yu?” I finally ask. She shrugs and smiles.
“I’m ok, I’ve just dropped Owen off at school. He’s getting so big!” she takes a small picture out of her wallet and shows me. He has to be at least six, and has his mother’s face. “We came by to see you yesterday, I don’t know if you remember.” I shake me head. “I think he likes you, he showed you his dinosaur collection.” I smile and look towards the window. It’s a perfectly sunny day, there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The girl, my daughter sighs a little. “Would you like to go for a short walk? It’s not very cold outside, I could get your chair?” she asks, she’s very kind.
I think about it for a minute, and turn towards her and nod. With her assistance I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed. She pulls my socks on and then my shoes. I lower myself and attempt to do-up the Velcro straps. My hands fail to grasp them, but I’m determined. Again and again I try to seize the straps, but every time I miss them. My daughter kneels down and begins to help me, I move her hands out of the way and try again, but she insists on helping me. I know I can do it! I just have to try! This is my body! I push her hands away again, and she tries to help me.
“Dad, please, can you let me help you?” she asks sweetly. I don’t know why, but I suddenly feel angry, I muster what strength I can and roughly push her away from me.
“N-o!” I say adamantly. She looks stunned, and I feel bad. I fall over onto my side and lift my hands to my face. I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I can’t make the words come out and all I do is give a pitiful cry. She stands up and removes my socks, and tenderly helps me into a more comfortable position, wrapping me in the warm blankets.
“It’s okay, we don’t need to walk today.” She says, and hums a soothing melody, holding my hand firmly in hers, looking like she is on the verge of tears. I’m not sure when, but I drift off to sleep, and dream of walking around my house, of holding a photo of a woman in my hands, ignoring my daughters plea that she be the one to hang it on my wall. And then I’m falling down the stairs, my daughter screams and rushes to help me, but I cannot speak.
When I wake up, I can hear her muffled voice from outside my room. She is talking with another man, there is a slight quiver in her voice, and they both enter my room. The man Is a tired looking doctor with short black hair with wisps of grey. My daughter is standing behind him, looking nervous.
“Hello, Mr. Tinfield, I’m Dr. Peirce.” I nod at him. He is carrying a clipboard and pen, and proceeds to stand by my bed, while my daughter sits in the blue chair, and takes my hand. The doctor continues talking. “As you know, with cases as severe as yours, we doctors that have been trained to do so, can help you on your way out.” My daughter squeezes my hand. “Ultimately, It’s your decision, and if you don’t feel up to speaking, you can let your daughter know in some way.” I look at my daughter and feel scared. She senses this and says calmly.
“I know it’s a scary decision, dad. But we talked about it before you had your fall, when they diagnosed you, you don’t remember but we did, and you signed the papers that would let you or me make the choice once it had gotten bad enough.” I let this register before squeezing her hand. Can I make this choice? What will happen to her? I hold her hand a little tighter.
“Wt…hppn… tyu?” I ask. She frowns and then quickly grins.
“I’ll be ok. It-it doesn’t have to be now you know.” I nod my head. Yes, it should be now. But what do I choose?