My mother’s face was wax in the dim-lit hospital room. A blue plastic tube was down her throat. Her face was cool to my kiss. I adjusted the blanket and covered the catheter that snaked down the bed into a bag of amber fluid.
The floor creaked and the nurse said, “I’m sorry. It happened when the EMTs inserted the ventilator.” She handed me an incisor in a pill vial.
The whitewashed room smelled of disinfectant. A pink feeding tube was pushed down her nose; a fluid drip stuck through a purple bruise on her hand. The ventilator whoosh-popped, the vital sign monitor beeped, and time ticked off like a metronome. I realized I’d see her last breath, and my gut sickened. I approached the doctor, a tall man who looked at his watch as we spoke.
“Will she wake up?”
“I can’t say.”
“Patients often develop pneumonia from prolonged use of the ventilator.”
“What are you saying?”
“Perhaps you should disconnect the machine, and let nature take its course.”
The thought that my decision would take her life throbbed in my skull
My boss muffled the mouthpiece to yell something before he got back on the phone “When can you get back here? Hey, sorry, how’s your mom?”
“Jesus,” He let out a sigh, “You’re putting me in a tough spot. I can’t keep you if you don’t work.”
The floral wallpapered bedroom retained her scent. My dark suit and white shirt were on the pink bedspread. I sat on her bed. Inside the metal box under her nightstand was the paper that gave me the “authority to withdraw treatment which would allow me to die.” My eyes welled up.
“My mom’s ill, and I’ve come to make pre-arrangements.”
The mortician had shiny black hair, and offered a handshake that felt like bread dough. His office had muted tones, cushioned chairs and the sickly-sweet smell of flowers.
“That’s very wise. Many people find it beneficial to make decisions while they’re not under the anxiety and emotional stress of loss.”
The hospital administrator was a brassy, middle-aged woman with heavy make-up. She moved files off a chair for me.
“Your mother’s physician has determined that a hospital stay is no longer medically necessary, and the hospital has the right to discharge her to the first facility that becomes available. We need her bed, and I’ve started the process for discharge. Here’s a list of nursing homes that accept Medicaid.”
“Anderson’s has one of the best patient to staff ratios for nursing homes in the area.” A blonde in her forties gave me a tour. The pea-green paint on the walls was chipped, and the dark vinyl floors scuffed. A white-haired woman moaned and slumped in a wheelchair. Seniors were spread around like pick-up-sticks, and the air had the odor of excrement.
I wanted to give my mother her life back, but the only power I possessed was to disconnect her ventilator. Or should I betray her into that institution, and get on with my life? I shook my head; I wasn’t going to suffocate my mother. The hospital moved her to the nursing home. She died the next month.
Enough rain had fallen to sheet the window. The wildflowers would bloom soon. Blue, yellow and red smeared across the fields like the finger paints of my childhood. I closed my eyes, and saw my mother with arms outstretched. There were no recriminations. Warmth flushed my face, and I realized my mother never died.
Joseph Giordano's stories have appeared in Black Heart Magazine, Crack the Spine, The Summerset Review, Forge, River Poets Journal, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Writers Abroad, Bong is Bard, The Stone Hobo, Johnny America, and Orion Headless.