“Lance…Your wife is in a stable but critical condition. As her next of kin I have to discuss our options going forward with you.”
Lance looked over at his wife. Tubes wriggled and writhed in and around her body and the bruises had bloomed into bright patches like that dress she would wear with large flowers all over it. The largest started at her shoulder and spread across her chest and ribs; the seatbelt that saved her from being flung from the car and yet had done so much damage. The next largest encompassed her swollen right eye, nose and a large portion of her cheek from where the momentum slid her off the air bag, hurtling into the gear stick.
“Her body has been through a lot,” began the doctor.
“Broken nose, fractured cheekbone, snapped clavicle, three broken ribs, seven bruised, arm broken in three places, hairline fracture on her pelvis and shattered ankle.”
Dr Tanner stared at Lance a moment. Shock affects people in different ways, he thought, don’t judge. You can’t know what you would do in that situation. He made a mental note to ask pastoral to check in on him shortly to be safe.
“That’s right. We’ve been able to repair the immediate damage to her brachial artery and we’ve re-inflated the lung that collapsed as a result of the broken ribs. My concern is she is unable to manage off the ventilator thus far which leads me to think there is something else going on that we did not spot first time around.”
Mr Beaton, Lance, was a hard one to read. He seemed to be drinking in the information like he was in a lecture with a professor that liked to give pop-quizzes; mentally note-taking, absorbing fact after fact, all the while clutching the hand of his wife in the bed next to him.
“My next concern, however, is that we nearly lost her during the last surgery and I’m not sure how well she would fair with another round of anaesthesia. Her body needs time to rest and recover.”
“Right…” replied Lance, weighing up this new information.
“But if there is still a bleed we need to catch it sooner rather than later.”
“And what do you recommend?” asked Lance.
“I’m afraid you need to make the decision, Lance.”
“I understand that but what are the odds? What are the facts?”
A slightly skewed twist on a common reaction; wanting someone else to make the decision for them, though people usually asked “what would you do” rather than “what are the facts”. The Doctor breathed deeply, carefully constructing his reply.
“You have all the facts, Lance. The ventilator is keeping her stable for now but that could change at any moment if there is another underlying cause as we suspect. We managed to bring her back in her last surgery and we will do everything in our power to do that should we lose her again but there is no way to be sure.”
Both men turned to the doorway to find the source of the tentative voice. His children. But they didn’t rush to him as Dr Tanner expected. They just stood there, staring at their father, the air thick with apprehension until…
“Are you sure you should be making this decision?” The son posed this question in such a way that it conveyed his feelings perfectly.
“I’m her husband, your father, it’s my decision to make,” Lance replied, somewhat matter-of-factly.
“That’s not what he asked,” the daughter interjected.
Dr Tanner watched the dynamic in the room played out as if from a far. He felt like an intruder in a very personal situation but this was not the kind of atmosphere he had come to expect from such a difficult decision. The children spoke to their father quite tentatively, as if talking him down from a ledge. “What is going on here?” he asked.
“Dad has frontal lobe damage,” explained the daughter.
“He was in an accident,” clarified the son.
“He has no empathy, no emotions.”
“I see,” replied Dr Tanner, clarity behind Lance’s behaviour this far coming sharply into focus.
“That may be the case,” stated Lance, “but I am her husband, my accident is entirely irrelevant.”
“Irrelevant!?” cried the daughter, “Dad, it’s everything! This isn’t some stranger! You can’t just go off the facts, it’s Mum!”
“I’m well aware, I’m not a monster.”
“Then let us decide.”
“It’s not up to you.”
“But it should be!”
“I quite disagree, if anything I am best placed to make this decision. I can weigh the up options and come to a logical decision. You would likely let your emotions cloud your judgement.”
“We can’t lose her too!”
“You haven’t lost me,” murmured Lance, “I’m right here.”
“But you’re not the same, are you? You’re not the Dad that taught me to swim or helped Jamie tie his shoes. The one that tucked us in at night, that made-up stories until we fell asleep. You might look like him but you’re not him.”
A thick silence fell over the room and Dr Tanner surveyed the family; the children defiantly clinging to each other for support and Lance still clutching his wife’s hand. Tanner wondered if they noticed that. This seemingly emotionless person still holding on to his wife. There’s still so much we don’t know about the brain maybe there’s a chance some part of him was still in there…
“She’ll have the surgery.” Lance’s voice fell on the room like a death knoll.
“She’ll need the surgery eventually, it’s the logical thing to do,” Lance stated.
“Logic isn’t everything,” the daughter retorted with an edge of bitterness, “you heard what he said, she might not survive surgery.”
“I’m her husband, it’s my decision.”
“Doctor, is there nothing we can do?” pleaded Jamie.
“Your father has power of attorney in this situation, it’s his decision,” Tanner replied.
The emotions in the room had reached breaking point. The daughter crumpled to the chair sobbing, Jamie hugged himself a moment before the anger reached his eyes and he threw himself at Lance.
“You bastard! If she dies I’ll kill you myself!”
Lance blocked his attempts before catching his wrists to stop the pummelling onslaught. He held his son, waiting for him to grow still before speaking calmly, quietly, reasonably. “Jamie, she needs the surgery, if not now then later. We can wait but the Doctor said she could slip again at any moment, better that happens in an operating theatre surrounded by specialists and everything they need than in a room they have to run to first.”
Jamie softened and the daughter looked up from her clump on the chair. The air lightened a fraction as the three looked from one to the other before looking across at the Doctor almost as one. United, if only for a moment.