This one came to me at five in the morning. Horrible time to be struck by inspiration, but sometimes you have to go with it. Word count: 807.
Dr. Jane was working graveyard in the ER when an old man was brought in a few minutes after midnight. He was wearing pajama bottoms and nothing else. She checked his pulse, looked in his eyes, asked him if he knew his name. His mouth moved, but there was no sound.
She directed the EMTs to a curtained cubicle and gestured for them to move him to the bed. “What’s the story?” she asked.
The one called Salmon huffed a little as he lifted the patient. “Guy called 911. Cop was dispatched, had to break in the door. Found the guy on his bedroom floor.” Transfer complete, he pulled something out of his pocket and handed it to Jane: a wallet. “Cop said it was on the dresser.”
She flipped it open and immediately saw a driver’s license. The old man’s name was Copper Smith. That rang a bell. Smith was a writer. He’d won all kinds of awards for his last book. She’d read and liked it. No, loved it.
A male nurse appeared: Carter. “What have we got?”
“Not sure yet. Prepare for admittance exam.” She addressed Smith, who was staring at the ceiling, a blank expression on his face. “I’m Dr. Lisa Jane, Mr. Smith. Can you tell me what day it is?”
A few minutes later, Jane stepped back. “Schedule an immediate CT scan, CBC, and MRI.”
“Most likely.” She stuck out her hand, and Carter gave her the chart. Jane scribbled and initialed. The patient had not been able to say a word.
The sharp smell of ammonia pricked her nose. She pulled back the sheet, and it got stronger. “Help me strip off the pajamas.” Something crinkled in her hand. There was something in the pocket. She pulled it out as Carter efficiently cleaned the patient and changed the sheet.
Unfolding the paper, she read: This is hell: to be surrounded by people and loved by none of them.
Mr. Smith had no living relatives. He’d lived alone. After being diagnosed with a hemorrhagic stroke, he was scheduled to be moved to a rehab center. He’d stay there until his money ran out, then be shuffled to a state-run home.
Because of the extensive damage suffered, and his age, he would likely never leave. Dr. Jane felt terrible sadness as she signed the release papers. Mr. Smith’s writing days were over. They would stick him in a wheelchair, and with luck, he might recover enough strength to move himself around, but any way you looked at it, the remainder of his days would be bleak and empty.
Picturing him in that situation, surrounded by strangers, she remembered the piece of paper she’d retrieved from his pajama pocket. She’d clipped it to his chart. Retrieving it, she went to her office and typed the words into a search field.
It took only seconds to come back with a hit. The quote was from Mr. Smith’s award-winning book.
This is hell: to be surrounded by people and loved by none of them. A fate worse than death, you ask? Hell yes. If I am ever in that situation, please kill me. Take me out. Put me down with mercy and care, but make me die. What is life worth when it is nothing more than time passing?
Had he known it would come to this? She stifled a harsh laugh. Of course he had. Everyone came to this in one way or another. The end days of life were often filled with pain and misery.
She didn’t think about it much. She knew what she had to do. Unlocking her desk, she retrieved the bottle of potassium and a needle, filled it, locked up again, and quickly strode through the halls to Mr. Smith’s room. He was still there, as she’d known he would be. They wouldn’t come for him until morning.
She bent over the famous writer and smoothed the hair off his forehead. “I bring you the mercy and care you asked for. Safe journey, Mr. Smith.”
She gave him the shot.
Fifteen minutes later
After a fruitless attempt to revive the patient, Dr. Lisa Jane called it. “Death recorded at 11:48 p.m.”
Carter noted it on the chart. She drew the sheet over Mr. Smith’s head. Another soul sent to heaven. She wondered if he’d known, in those last moments, what she’d done for him? Saved him months, maybe years, of pain and agony. “‘This is hell’,” she murmured.
Carter looked up. “What?”
She smiled. “Next patient, Carter. Suspected Alzheimer’s, isn’t it? Such a tragedy, that disease. Killing your brain bit by bit over the long years.”
“My grandfather had it. When he was lucid, he kept telling me he wanted to die. I felt so bad for him.”
“Yes.” She exited the room and went down the hall to the next patient.