by Robert Leone
Duffy woke up in a room that smelled of disinfectant, supermarket flowers, and urine. A mylar balloon in the shape of a heart lay halfway deflated on the floor next to his bed. ‘Get well soon!’ it demanded in flowing red script. “Fuck you,” Duffy thought. Through the metal-framed window all he could see were clouds and a thin edge of treetops shivering in the cold. “This is no way to die,” he said out loud to no one.
Duffy was mulling over his options when a man in a blue smock and jeans, a young man—perhaps 25—breezed in with a paper container full of pills. “Time for your meds, Mr. V.,” he said. Without really looking, he handed Duffy the tablets and a glass of water. He waited while Duffy swallowed, one after the other.
“Thanks,” Duffy said. “I feel much better now. Think I’ll get dressed and go home.”
The nurse, whose name was Jonathan, laughed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Mr. V.”, he replied. “You’re not ready for discharge just yet.”
“Oh I’m ready,” Duffy said, scanning him up and down—noting the clear blue eyes, the right amount of stubble on his jaw, the right amount of everything in fact. Gravity had not yet begun to work its evil ways on his tall, razor thin body.
“It’s only a matter of time,” Duffy said in a whisper. “I give you another five, seven years tops before it all falls apart and those skinny jeans make you look like an overstuffed sausage.”
“Excuse me Mr. V, did you say something?” Jonathan asked as he entered Duffy’s medical data into his laptop.
“Nothing, it was nothing. Help me out of bed, will you?” Duffy said. “I want to sit up in that chair for a while.”
“Easy now,” Jonathan replied, giving Duffy a brisk and efficient assist. Close up he smelled faintly of pine needles, like a hike in the woods, like fucking Christmas. “Your lunch tray will be here in a few Mr. V., see you later,” the nurse said, patting Duffy on the shoulder as he spun out of the room.
“God willing,” Duffy replied.
It’s not the Four Seasons, Duffy thought, not even a Holiday Inn Express but it could be worse. And there were the twice daily pop-ins from Jonathan with his shiny young flesh and unbroken spirit. Yeah, it could be worse. The medication had made him a little drowsy, it also made him think about what his next move would be. He dozed off just as his lunch tray was delivered—applesauce and something that had been beaten into submission but looked like it might once have been chicken.
When he woke up, his lunch untouched, Duffy was surrounded by people. A lot of very tense, focused people. Duffy knew that this was not a good sign. Unfortunately, he wasn’t really awake. He could hear things, sort of, and see things, through a haze, but he couldn’t speak. There were nurses, there were doctors, there was a social worker or two—Duffy counted eight medical professionals—and they were all very busy. Busy keeping Duffy alive, or so he thought. Bright lights and beeping machines made the whole thing seem like the set of a daytime soap opera.
Then he saw Meryl. She did not look happy, she also looked out of control, what with the sniffling and the muffled, yet somehow hysterical crying. At one point her mouth was open in a soundless scream. Shit, Duffy thought. He tried to speak but he also was wordless. He tried to move but couldn’t do that either. He kept sliding in and out of this world and into the next. One of the social workers was showing Meryl a piece of paper when she started to cry. Again. Christ, Duffy thought, I hope she’s got the balls for this.
Duffy remembered what it was like before. Not that long ago really but it might as well have been a lifetime. There were no weekly deliveries from Respironics, AirSep or Life Choice. There was no dragging himself from one room to the other. Every breath was not a struggle to get enough oxygen. He had not yet become a regular at the emergency room.
Then Duffy heard the three words no one in his situation ever wants to hear.
Between blowing her nose, dabbing at her eyes and moaning “Oh my God” periodically, Meryl was trying to explain something to the social worker. “He signed that order a year ago,” she blubbered. “He doesn’t feel that way now.”
“You got that right,” Duffy thought, watching the drama play out before his eyes as though he was front row center at the theatre. “I don’t feel that way now. Don’t be a pushover Meryl, or I’ll wind up on a slab and it’ll be all your fault.”
“He’s on the list. He wouldn’t be on the transplant list if he didn’t want to live, now would he?”
In his mind Duffy jumped up and down and cheered her on.
But the social worker wouldn’t budge. “What’s your relationship to Mr. Violante?” she asked.
“I’m his friend, his best friend and that Do Not Resuscitate/Do Not Intubate order is way out of date.”
“And do you have medical power of attorney?” the social worker asked.
“Oh shit,” Duffy thought, “I’m a dead man.”
“It’s, well. It’s all filled out, here see,” Meryl said, pulling some crumpled papers out of her bag.
“But it hasn’t been signed,” the social worker pointed out the two blank signature lines with an air of satisfaction. “Neither one of you has signed.”
I don’t know you lady, but I hate you, Duffy thought. First of all, your tone of voice sucks. The sweater you’re wearing is criminal, just looking at it has set my recovery back by three weeks. And nobody your age she should be wearing bright blue nail polish, ever. If I could get up from this bed I would walk over there and wrap my oxygen tube around your thick neck until your tongue popped out and turned black.”
Then Duffy had an idea. While he struggled to gain control of his right hand, he heard snatches of deadly conversation. Phrases like liability, malpractice, legal consent, kept smacking him in the face one after the other. Even worse, Meryl had caved. Her slight body was sprawled in a chair. Her eyes glazed and there was an unsightly ribbon of mucous dripping from her nose. It was not her best look. Duffy fumbled in the bed clothes for his phone as the soap opera cast was preparing to pack up their props and move on. Then two things happened simultaneously. The social worker said, “The hospital has no choice in this matter; I’m afraid he’ll be gone by morning,” and Meryl’s cellphone signaled an incoming text which she retrieved without even thinking.
“Intubate me now or everyone here gets sued!” Meryl just held up her phone like a beacon in the darkness sweeping it back and forth for the whole soap opera cast to see. Duffy had thought about adding multiple exclamation points but decided that would have been too much. He had done all he could, so he focused his thoughts on the lovely, pine-scented Jonathan and drifted back into his coma.
Robert Leone is a longtime resident of San Francisco. He is a published author whose work has appeared in a number of literary journals, magazines and newspapers. He also co-wrote, along with his husband Ed Decker, Rights of Passage, a full-length play focusing on international LGBT human rights that was produced by the New Conservatory Theatre Center in San Francisco and is being published by Samuel French, Inc. in Spring 2018.