Authors: Megan Nugen Isbell
“What’s the matter?” she demanded through the forming lump in her throat. “What’s wrong with Ben?”
“Just come,” he said quietly.
“Did he break his leg or something? Was he in a car accident? What happened?” she prodded anxiously.
“Kathryn…no…just….just come. Hurry,” Luke said and then the phone was silent. Kathryn sat motionless, staring at the lighted display of her cell phone, too stunned to move. Why was Ben in the hospital? She’d just seen him a few hours ago. He’d been fine.
Reality snapped in finally and she flung the covers off of her body, which was now covered in sweat from her nerves. She rummaged around the room for the first bit of acceptable clothing she could find, settling on a pair of jeans from the hamper and an oversized gray sweatshirt. She slipped on her sneakers, grabbed her keys and phone and charged out of her room towards the front door.
“Kathryn?” Lacey’s sleepy voice sang from the couch where she’d fallen asleep. “Where are you going?”
“To the hospital. Ben’s in the hospital,” Kathryn said quickly.
“What?” she exclaimed. “What’s wrong with Ben?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know!” Kathryn said, her voice rising in frustration.
“I’m coming with you,” Lacey said rushing to the door, not bothering to change out of her flannel pajama bottoms and sweatshirt.
The two girls were silent during the drive and Kathryn’s heart seemed to speed up with every notch of the speedometer. Dread filled her abdomen as the hospital drew closer. She wanted to freeze time because if she never stepped foot inside the hospital then everything would be okay. She didn’t know why Ben was there, but if she never went inside, she could cling to the hope that everything was still alright.
Her stomach dropped when the white lights of the hospital came into view. She sped into the parking lot, running over the curb as she did so. The car flew into the first available spot and both girls lurched forward as Kathryn harshly put the gear in park. She slammed the door and she and Lacey began running towards the large red emergency sign. The automatic doors seemed to take an eternity to open, but once inside, she stopped and searched the room. Her eyes spanned over an elderly man, who held a handkerchief to his mouth to cover a guttural cough and a little girl holding an ice pack to her swollen ankle before settling on the cluster of familiar faces huddled in the corner. Luke looked up from the group and caught Kathryn’s eye. She stared hard into the eyes of Ben’s younger brother across the room, which seemed lost. He began walking towards her and they met at the center of the room.
“What’s going on
, Luke?” Kathryn asked and he took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Ben’s roommate heard a crash and then found him unconscious on the bathroom floor.”
“What? He’s okay though, right?” Kathryn bored her gaze into Luke’s, insisting he say everything was okay, but he averted his eyes and looked at the floor. “Luke, he’s okay, right?” she demanded.
He slowly returned his eyes to Kathryn’s and reluctantly shook his head from side to side, taking her hands in his, and he seemed to stare down at the ring on her finger. “I’m so sorry, he’s not.”
Kathryn stood frozen, looking at Luke as if he were underwater. She felt Lacey’s arm gently slide around her shoulder and they led her over to the group of Ben’s relatives. She sat down next to Lacey in a mauve colored waiting room chair and she couldn’t help but notice the chair was scratchy, even through her sweatshirt. No one was talking as Kathryn scanned the group of aunts and uncles and cousins. No one knew exactly what was happening to Ben, but the look of fear was undeniable; pale faces, sunken eyes, all searching for the same answer. Kathryn bent her head and clasped her hands together and began to pray, something she hadn’t done in a long time. She squeezed her eyes tightly and began pushing her thoughts towards Heaven, repeating the words
Please, please let Ben be okay
from her gut, insisting God hear her prayers.
“He’s gonna be fine,” Lacey whispered into her ear, but she didn’t hear the words because her attention suddenly turned to the familiar figure walking towards the family. Her eyes locked onto the red and puffy face of Ben’s father. He was silent but looked around at everyone and began shaking his head. He held up his hands, words escaping him and Luke ran over to him. Words were spoken back and forth, but Kathryn couldn’t hear what was being said. Her heart began to pound and a painful lump rose in her throat. She could feel Lacey’s grip tighten on her hand to the point Kathryn thought her fingers might crush.
Then, Scott, Luke, Allie and Ben’s grandparents disappeared down the hallway, leaving Kathryn forgotten and terrified in the waiting room.
“What’s going on?” she whispered, her voice shaking.
“I don’t know,” Lacey said rubbing her friend’s back.
The waiting room had turned unnervingly quiet. The other patients waiting to be seen for minor inconveniences seemed to have sensed the severity of what was happening and were silent. Kathryn glanced around feverishly, searching for any sign of hope and normalcy and her heart lifted momentarily a few minutes later when the sweet face of Grandma Val came into view. The elderly woman walked slowly towards the rest of the family members, but her eyes met Kathryn’s and she continued walking to her. As she drew nearer, the soft shuffling of her loafers echoed throughout the room. She put her hand on the armrest of the chair next to Kathryn and eased her way into it. She gently took Kathryn’s hand in her hers, cradling it warmly. She could feel the spongy veins rising above the spotted skin, which was surprisingly soft. Val patted her hand, and she raised her eyes to meet the tired eyes of Ben’s grandmother. She wasn’t crying, but her eyes were heavy with tears.
“Come with me,” her rustic voice whispered.
“What’s going on?” Kathryn asked quickly.
“Just come with me,” she encouraged quietly.
She rose from the seat like a zombie, and still holding onto Val’s hand, she followed the old woman down the hall. She walked slowly, afraid that each step would bring her closer to confirming her fears. She glanced around at the busy doctors and nurses, weaving in and out of rooms. The steady beeping of monitors sounded almost like a lullaby and the smell of bleach hung lightly in the air.
As Val began to turn into a room, Kathryn pulled back, but after a gentle nudge, she continued on. She froze instantly once she stepped inside. Ben’s mother sat comatosely hunched over the bed, and Allie was huddled in the corner of the room. Scott, Luke and Grandpa Dom were talking to a doctor in blue scrubs and a long white coat.
Kathryn’s heart sank as she finally focused on the bed. She felt faint at the sight of Ben, lying still and lifeless. Wires and hoses and needles seemed to envelop him like a spider web. The steady sound of his heart beat sang through the monitors and a loud machine, which sounded like an elephant gasping for breath, moved up and down like an accordion. A large white tube protruded from his mouth, nearly making him unrecognizable.
She clasped her chest and rushed towards the bed, grasping the railing on the side. She stared down at Ben and searched through the tangled mess of tubes until she found the face she saw every night in her dreams, and suddenly the tubes disappeared, revealing the Ben she’d always known. He looked peaceful, like he was sleeping. His dusty hair was a tangled mess like it always was when he woke up in the middle of the night, bringing a smile to her face. She blinked her eyes then, tears spilling down her cheeks. But, when she looked at him again, the tubes were back, causing reality to return with a force that caused her to fall into the chair that was sitting by the side of the bed. Through the breaks in the bed railing, his hand looked like a display in a department store window and she nervously reached through the railing and took it. She expected it to fold around hers like it always did when they held hands, but instead, it lay lifeless as if she were holding a rubber glove. His skin was warm and cold at the same time. Her fingertips grazed his palm, tracing the familiar lines, and yet his hand continued to lay still.
She looked across the bed at Sharon, who would not take her eyes away from her son. She was holding his other hand, grasping it so tightly her knuckles were white. Val came and stood behind Kathryn, resting a hand on her shoulder.
“Is he going to be alright?” Kathryn asked even though deep down, she already knew the answer. No one said anything though. “Is he going to be okay?” she asked again.
“No, honey, he’s not,” Val finally answered.
“What do you mean he’s not going to be okay?” she snapped, her heart starting to beat frantically.
Scott made the short distance over to Kathryn, and gently took her hand from Ben’s, encouraging her to stand up and follow him to the corner of the room. Val followed closely behind.
“What’s going on? What happened?” Kathryn pleaded, brushing the tears from her face.
“An aneurysm,” Scott began before choking up and cupping his hand to his mouth, unable to go on and G
randpa Dom picked up where he left off.
“An aneurysm burst in Ben’s brain,” Dom said quietly.
“But that can be fixed, right?” she asked beginning to tremble. No one spoke and she could tell by the way they all stared at the floor what the answer was. “He can have surgery. They can fix it,” Kathryn insisted.
“No, dear, they can’t,” Dom said quietly.
“What do you mean they can’t?”
“He’s gone,” Dom said solemnly. A sound like a loud hiccup escaped from Ben’s father and he quickly turned away and walked towards Allie, who stood in the corner like a deer in headlights.
“What do you mean he’s gone? He’s right there. Look at him,” Kathryn said pointing angrily to the bed. “His heart is beating. I can hear it on the monitor. He’s breathing…”
“The machine is breathing for him,” Dom quietly interrupted. Kathryn jerked her head to the accordion, seeing Ben’s chest rise as the machine exhaled.
“But…” Kathryn said, her voice trailing off, searching for ways to dispute what was being said to her.
“Ben’s gone sweetheart,” Val said, gently draping her arms around Kathryn’s shoulders.
“But he’s right there,” she choked out.
“The doctors said there is no brain activity,” Dom said quietly.
“He’s brain dead?” Kathryn cried out, and she felt Luke’s hand brush against hers. “So,” she began afraid to say the words. “He’s never going to wake up?”
“No honey…he’s not,” Val said her voice heavy with despair. “It’s time to say goodbye.”
It’s time to say goodbye
…the words echoed over and over in her mind and when she looked around the room, the lifeless faces of Ben’s family solidified what had just been told to her. She physically felt her heart break and her chest started heaving, searching for breath. She grasped onto Luke as her knees began to buckle and she felt herself falling to the ground. The room started spinning and she closed her eyes, expecting to crash to the floor, but unexpectedly felt strong arms around her, holding her up. Luke had grabbed her, catching her before she fell and now stood with her, holding her in his arms as she soaked his shirt with tears.
Doctors and nurses bustled in and out of the room, but no one else seemed to move. Kathryn continued to cry into Luke’s shirt, Val and Dom enveloping them both. Allie remained secluded in the corner, unable to look anywhere but the floor and Sharon continued her vigil at Ben’s side having hardly moved.
Dom was summoned into the hallway by Scott and returned a few minutes later. When they did, Ben’s father walked over to his mother and began speaking softly to her. She began to shake as she gripped Ben’s hand harder.
Dom approached Kathryn and Luke. “The team will be here shortly. It’s time,” he said.
“What’s going on? What team will be here?” she asked, once again feeling confused.
“Scott and Sharon have agreed to donate Ben’s organs. The transplant teams are on their way,” Dom said quietly.
Kathryn began to fill with anger. They needed more time. Ben needed more time.
“But what if he can wake up?” she insisted.
“He’s not,” Dom said.
“How can you be so calm about this?” she said raising her voice.
“Kathryn, look at Ben. Do you want him to suffer? Do you think he would want to live like this?”
She looked across the room to the still body lying in the bed and as she stared at him, she knew it was the shell of the man she loved. His life and his spirit were gone. He was gone. Ever since she’d known him he had been full of life, springing from one activity to the next. He would never want to see himself this way and he would never want to hurt those that loved him by having to see him the way he was now.
She looked at Ben and then back to Grandpa Dom and shook her head and knew it was time.
The room was silent aside from the rhythmic heart monitor and heaving ventilator. The doctors had removed most of the tubes that had been obstructing Ben’s face, leaving only the invasive breathing tube. The Bradley’s knew there were things Kathryn needed to say to Ben without an audience and had given her a few minutes alone with him while they waited outside.