At the hospital entrance, Justin slowed down and allowed Katelyn to go first through the wide automatic sliding glass doors. They weaved their way amidst a buzz of activities. Paramedics wheeled
patients on trollies--one was a child in a neck brace. Another, a panic-stricken woman carrying a toddler, cried she’d been waiting five hours.
Justin would have stopped to address her, but Katelyn’s steps were hasty. He walked past a water dispenser, ignoring the moans mingled with the noises of TVs, coming from some of the wards until he
caught up with her.
They came out through a set of doors with a hand-sanitizer dispenser that opened to oncology, geriatrics, all the way to maternity. Finally, they reached the private wing.
“Well, here we are,” the nurse who’d directed them to Elizabeth’s room opened the door wider.
Doctors and nurses surrounded her bed, attaching IVs, heart monitors, and oxygen tanks to her.
Justin went up to Ambrose, who stopped pacing on seeing them and squeezed his shoulders. ‘Take heart bro…’’
Katelyn proceeded to the bedside and bent over Elizabeth. “Sweetheart, hang in there… it’ll be okay.”
Elizabeth simply stared blankly at her, and the doctors moved Katelyn aside when she broke into sobs. She clasped the hem of her dress in both hands and twisted them in her fingers. “Oh my
As far as Justin knew, Elizabeth had recovered from cancer and she’d changed for the better, at least the last time he saw her. He hadn’t expected to find her hanging on the thread of life, unable
even to lift her head. She already looked like a corpse, with both arms over the bedsheet. Her emaciated fingers, hardly moving, appeared inconceivably attached to the skeletal hands. Her head lay
sideways on the pillow and her face looked pale, with thin and parched lips glued together. The only sign of life was her hollow eyes which blinked at intervals and her stiff bosom that rose and
fell with each labored breath. Looking at her scanty hair wet with sweat on the temples and tense, bony forehead, Justin knew this was the end.
Katelyn had recovered and returned to the bedside. Justin put an arm over her shoulder and whispered into her ear. “She’s changed so fast… “
She leaned in and rested her head on Justin’s chest. “God… I knew something wasn’t right when I took a walk with her to the farm…. She was struggling to breathe… I wish I’d insisted she goes to
“I recall that day I picked her from your place. She complained of mild headache and fatigue …um…we wanted to go to the hospital but stopped when the pastor came over and prayed for her… She
felt better,” said Ambrose, who’d overheard them.
Elizabeth blinked a little, and her lips twitched. Perhaps she wanted to say something but couldn’t. Why did God allow such suffering? Of course, everyone would die, but why take such a
person—young with little kids looking up to her. Justin felt guilty for his good health and remembering his affair with Gisela, he thought he deserved to trade places with Elizabeth.
“I know God will not put her to shame… She’s put all her trust in him.” Katelyn eased from her husband and started stroking Elizabeth’s scalp, with eyes fixed on Ambrose. “Why didn’t you let us
know immediately you brought her?”
“Ah, you know Elizabeth… She didn’t want you to panic.”
Suddenly, Elizabeth stirred and fluttered her long, scattered eyelashes, turning her hollow eyes around. The IV’s must have taken effect. At first, her words came muffled behind the oxygen mask but
eventually became distinct. Justin took a deep breath, listening to it rattle inside of him, and his ears pulsed to his heartbeat. His mind was eerily silent, dumfounded--How the hell could
Elizabeth still think of recovering? He was overcome with pity and looked away when she eagerly stared at them and started talking about life.
“I… I… I know I’ll get to my feet… it’s only my side hurting but once that’s done, I’ll be okay,” she said.
Unlike Ambrose and Katelyn who gave Elizabeth false hope, agreeing with her she’d get well soon, Justin excused himself and dashed to the lavatory. It was one of those rare occasions when not only
was it unethical to say the truth, but inhuman.
Inside the bathroom, he felt his heart break just recalling the look of worry on Elizabeth’s face. His eyes welled with tears.
“For God’s sake, why lie instead of telling her the truth, she was dying?” He muttered, but his words broke up.
All he could say were stuttering sounds. Hot tears streamed down his face, and he squeezed his eyelids shut in the hope his tears would stop.
But again, Elizabeth’s big and scared eyes, bulging from bony sockets, popped up in his mind, chilling his heart and sprinkling his arms with goosebumps. He imagined her ice-cold breath as she
spoke of her recovery and shuddered. Gazing blankly in the mirror, he remained reclining on the sink for quite some time.
After regaining his composure, he came out, stepping lightly, glancing at Ambrose with sympathy and turning without haste, noiselessly closed the door. With inaudible steps, he proceeded to the
Katelyn met him half-way and spoke in a low and shaking voice. “I’ve called the priest… she needs to take the sacrament and receive absolution... Anything can happen.”
Thankfully, his wife had at last seen it—Elizabeth was as good as gone. But Justin was moved to see Katelyn, not only concerned about her sister’s physical welfare but her spiritual too.
“That’s good… we should expect anything,” said Justin, rubbing her shoulder. “Is she still talking?”
“No, she’s again fallen asleep… the drugs must be making her drowsy… I’m happy she’s accepted to receive extreme unction.”
When they’d moved to the bedside, Justin asked Ambrose. “What’s the doctor saying?”
“It’s a recurrence of cancer… She’s been given three days,” said Ambrose.
Justin put his arm around Ambrose’s shoulder. Words were not necessary. Everyone communicated their fears by the utter hopelessness written on their faces.
Tick Tock, tick-tock… the sound of the clock kept ticking while the steady rhythm of the heart monitor’s beeping pierced through the silence. It was the only sign of life left since each time it
echoed; it confirmed at least Elizabeth’s heart was still beating.
“May I have some time alone with her?” asked Ambrose.
“Sure.” Justin led Katelyn out of the room.
“Let’s leave everything to God,” Justin slouched next to his wife on the waiting bay.
This presented a good opportunity to get closer to her and make up for his infidelity. “Elizabeth must be very, very glad you came. You’ve really stood by her.” He took her hand and kissed it with
a remorseful air, then looked at her shiny eyes.
“I hate to see her suffer like this… Why didn’t I insist she goes to the hospital the other day…? She was really struggling to breathe”
“Honey, you can’t blame yourself for anything… It’s God’s plan.”
What did he just say! Could God plan for anyone’s ruin? Anyway, how would this be explained?
“Would God really put her to shame, after she’s testified how He’s healed her?” she said, twisting her coil of hair on the nape of her neck and pinned it there. “No,” she went on, “God can’t
allow her to die. The doctors might have given her three days, but God has the final say.”
“There is the priest,” he said.
She stood to go. “I wouldn’t want to miss anything on the sacrament and extreme unction.”
As the man of God went through the rites, Elizabeth’s lips quivered and she managed a few words. “I-I-I… I’m starting to feel better.”
Ambrose and Martha exchanged meaningful glances. Elizabeth hadn’t moved nor talked for hours, and now this? They must have thought it a miracle. The priest raised his voice, perhaps encouraged by
the effect of the prayers on the sick.
He anointed her with the oil. “If you only believe, nothing’s impossible with God. Lazarus was dead three days, but he was brought back to life.”
Her big eyes, fastened on the image of the mother of God set out on the bed, expressed such passionate prayer and hope that it was awful to Justin to see it. He knew this hope would only double her
pain tenfold at parting from the life she so loved.
It was painful to see the beseeching, hopeful eyes and her bonny arm, which she lifted with difficulty to make the sign of the cross on the sweaty brow, and the stiff bosom which Justin couldn’t
see any semblance with the life everyone was praying for.
After the priest had administered the rite, Elizabeth fell asleep. The initial doubts about her recovery vanished in thin air and everyone was happy, believing another miracle had just happened,
though fearful of being mistaken.
“Father… thank you. Please keep trusting in the Lord with us for her healing.”
“Nothing’s impossible with God even if we just had a small faith like a mustard seed.”
Katelyn made a bow and crossed herself. “I believe in the healing power of the sacrament.”
The priest packed the image of our lady and the anointing oil in his bag. “Many have recovered after this sacrament.”
“Will she get better?” asked Katelyn, eyeing the man of God.
“Nothing’s impossible with God.” The priest kept insisting.
An hour later, after the priest had left, their hopes were dashed when the doctor took the temperature and found it had increased. Perhaps ashamed of even referring to what she had believed in an
hour before, Katelyn caught up with the doctor on his way out. “Apart from fever, has anything else improved?”
The doctor didn’t mince his words. “Ah, she’s not good… we can only relieve her pain at the moment.”
Katelyn whispered to Justin, who’d followed her. She was breathless, and her lips quivered. “She’s dying.”
They went back to the bedside.
“How do you feel?” Katelyn whispered to her sister.
Elizabeth didn’t answer but only turned her eyes towards her.
Justin sat beside Ambrose and gazed at his sister-in-law, without knowing what to do. Elizabeth closed her eyes, and her forehead tightened, showing lines, as though she was in deep thought.
The door opened, and to everyone’s surprise, doctor Parkinson appeared. Justin went to meet him, and so did Ambrose.
“Sorry about your wife,” said Parkinson, offering his hand to Ambrose.
“Thank you,” said Ambrose, moving aside to excuse Parkinson to shake Katelyn’s hand.
Parkinson moved to the bedside and crossed himself, remained silent for a few seconds, then turned to Justin. “First, I saw your car… then I saw you guys at the waiting bay when I reached the
Justin yawned. “We’ve been here since five in the morning.”
“When did she get sick… It’s barely a week since I saw her hosting her wellness program on TV?”
Justin sighed, walking Parkinson out. “Things have happened so fast… it’s a recurrence of cancer… it happened about three days ago.”
“I’m so sorry… I have a client admitted here for a cesarean operation in an hour’s time. Lemme finish then pass by.” Parkinson adjusted his glasses. “It’s good I’ve seen you… um… I couldn’t explain
this on phone… we’ll have to take another sample from the baby coz—”
“It’s okay, let’s not talk about that at the moment,” said Justin, watching Katelyn approach.
“It’s a shame we’re meeting at such a time after many years.” Parkinson turned to Katelyn.
“It’s God’s way of doing things… You work here?” said Katelyn.
“Not really… I just attend to some of my clients from here. My hospital is just across the road--”
“Sorry, he’s scheduled for an operation in an hours’ time,” said Justin.
“Oh sorry, carry on.”
Justin knew if it weren’t for the aid of the oxygen mask, Elizabeth would be long dead. Was it fair to prolong her sufferings, so she had to be on painkillers throughout? He unconsciously wished
for anything that could rid her of these sufferings. If God wouldn’t heal her, he’d better just take her. He now looked forward to her death, for this was the only way for her happiness.
Elizabeth had now stopped talking but could at least follow conversations by the way her eyes followed people’s gazes. Towards evening, she completely closed her eyes and didn’t open
them. Scared, Katelyn rang the bell.
The nurse came in for the nth time just to answer her queries.
“She’s not opened her eyes for the last one hour… Is she okay?”
The nurse adjusted the oxygen mask, perhaps just to show Katelyn her efforts were not in vain. “It’s okay, ma’am… she has a pulse and still breathing.”
“I’m calling the priest again.” Katelyn fingered her cell phone after the nurse had gone out.
It turned out the priest was still within the precincts, saying a prayer for another departed soul. He came over after about thirty minutes.
Everyone assembled at the bedside while the priest read the prayers from his hymnal. He put the image of the mother of God on Elizabeth’s chest and the cross to her forehead. He then sprinkled her
with holy water. Taking the anointing oil from his bag, he rubbed it on her forehead, chest, and the cold feet.
The priest pressed Katelyn’s hand as he said a short prayer for her. “Let’s surrender everything to God… He knows what’s best.”
And with that, the priest left.
There was no sign of life in Elizabeth except the occasional movement of her bosom up and down. After a short while, the movement ceased, and her face paled and became static.
They should call the doctor. Ambrose sat in a corner with his head buried in his hands, dozing off. He’d been awake the whole night. Justin pressed the call button and paced the room, then pressed
it again. The nurse appeared, looking tired but still smiling. She took one look at Elizabeth and paged the doctor.
‘How is she?’ Katelyn asked, heaving, and panting.
The nurse hesitated, and Justin feared for the worst. He tapped Ambrose to wake him up. “Hey, we’ve called the doc.”
Ambrose rushed to the bedside. His wife’s breath came in ragged, shallow gasps behind the oxygen mask. “What happened?”
It seemed like there was little the nurse could say. She again paged the doctor. “The doctor is on the way.”
After five minutes that felt like a lifetime, the doctor entered his face without his usual smile. He instructed the nurse to get more morphine and turned to Ambrose. “We need to up the dose though
this might turn fatal, but it’s the minimum we can do in the circumstance to take her out of pain. There’s a strong likelihood her heart will stop. Given your wife has a DNR order, if that
happens, we must let her go. As her decision-maker, we need you to sign off on the treatment.”
Tears flowed freely from Ambrose's eyes, and his hand shook. ‘It’s okay, Doc, just give me the pen.’
Katelyn interjected. “No, when did she get a Do Not Resuscitate order?”
“She did it a long time ago… the first time she was admitted.”
Prompted by the flat lull that echoed from the heart’s monitor machine, the doctor turned to the patient, whose eyes were wide open but weren’t blinking. He put on the gloves, studied the machine
for a few seconds, then pressed Elizabeth’s eyes shut. She was gone.
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