~ Connecting Hearts ~
by Cephalgia and MJ
Disclaimers: This is an original work of fiction by Cephalgia and MJ. We are proud of it and prefer that you not move or post to any site without contacting us first.
Warnings: Violence: no. Sex: yes, some graphic. Language: mostly English but a few mild swear words also. Unless otherwise attributed, the poetry in this work is the property of and is copy righted by MJ. Please do not purloin, abuse or tamper with it in any way.
Thanks: Cephalgia would like to thank Jane W. for her expertise in the field of Neurology and insights into ALS. MJ would like to thank Monica C. for her inside information. The authors would like to express their thanks to one another, but felt it would be a bit too sentimental and will therefore only admit to a Mutual Admiration Society.
Feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
by Cephalgia and MJ
"There's no medical evidence I can find in the literature to suggest a garlic chest rub will prevent the common cold." Randa chuckled as she typed, knowing viruses might not stay away but most of Herblady's friends probably would.
Herblady was a frequent visitor to the Brightwood Information Network.com website. Her questions regarding folk medicine and herbal remedies were a welcome change of pace at the recently established Internet site.
"Thanks, dear. You're always so helpful" came the reply onto the chat screen. No, not chat screen, Randa smirked - the company preferred "consultation room".
Brightwood Pharmaceuticals Inc. had established the website six months earlier as a public service but it was more likely as a shelter against taxes and corporate guilt. Three years before, Brightwood had been researching a more effective way to de-worm dogs. The canine project stalled, but in a case of corporate serendipity the new medicine was proved to enhance the function of several antibiotics giving doctors a new weapon against the increasing number of resistant bacteria in humans. The windfall profits from the new drug put the company on the map. Determined to be a player in the public's opinion, they established the website and hired several qualified nurses to answer questions and dispense advice 24 hours a day. Now here Randa was, dealing with people from all over the planet. The nurse marveled at how some people could have a computer and Internet access but no available medical services. "Even right here in California," she thought.
She clicked the "available" button under her name and the Internet community was made aware of the fact that Miranda Martin, RN was ready for the next question. As no new user name appeared in the consultation room, Randa rolled her chair back, ran fingers through her thick honey blonde hair and picked up her can of Diet Dr. Pepper. Taking a large drink and propping bare feet on her desk, the nurse reflected that her current job was a lot less physically and emotionally stressful than the hospital work she had done the previous six years. Randa shook her head as she realized how different this job was from her former one. In the hospital she had dealt everyday with frustrating paperwork, angry families, doctors determined to be the enemy and the never-ending bureaucracy. It made her 29 years on the planet seem so much longer.
Now Randa worked from her home using a huge database of research literature, pharmacy information and medical school expertise to supplement her natural instincts as a nurse. If Randa didn't know the answer to a question, a few keystrokes later she knew where to go to look for it. Though the nurse was still getting involved with the people who accessed the service, she didn't go to work with the dread that someone's life could literally be in her hands. If she never did CPR on a human being again in her life it would be fine with her.
Randa's reverie was broken when a too-perky electronic voice announced, "One entering from the waiting room!" She rolled her eyes and wished Derek, her friend and the site's webmaster, didn't have quite the weird sense of humor he did. She would send him an email when her shift was done. It was 4 a.m. and she had three hours to go. Pulling back up to the screen Randa saw the user name Angelsmom. Karen Garcia was having trouble with her colicky baby again. The young woman smiled and prepared to try to soothe both the baby and the new mother.
She was a nurse; it was what she did.
There was only one bench in the park. It stood almost neglected at the far end of the public recreational area, sheltered by a thick overgrowth of coniferous trees. On one side was a single bronze plaque; a dedication to an unknown patron's loved one who had died years before. Its rusted, dull surface proclaimed its weathered age, and the abundance of overgrown weeds around its legs demonstrated the park groundskeeper's lack of diligence in maintaining the bench's preservation.
Denise Jennings approached the bench with her usual long stride. It's old, battered wood a welcoming beacon and escape from the realities of every day life. She sat down slowly, positioning herself in the centre of the seat as she looked out across the park. It seemed that everything was in the distance from this position. The children's recreational play area, the cycle stunts track for the older teens, the neglected bandstand, all far away from this little place of inner contemplation.
It was raining, not heavily, but enough to soak the ground with it's continued fall. Denise was thankful that in her small place of solitude she was sheltered from the constant droplets. She breathed a sigh, a puff of condensation billowing from her lips as she exhaled. It was cold, incredibly so. Still she had been aware of this when she left the house earlier today and had remembered to put on her new dark navy parker and thickest jeans. She had tucked her long black hair up into a thick black woolly hat that brought out the colour of her vivid blue eyes. The forecast for the rest of the week looked grim and Denise knew that the British winter was fast approaching. Maybe it would bypass autumn altogether, she thought.
Looking down at her watch, Denise checked the time. She was only supposed to be gone for about two hours; enough time for her to run the errands that needed doing and be back for her Aunt Sara. Sara had an appointment with her local general practitioner and Denise wanted to make sure she attended the surgery with her. Sara had been feeling unwell for days now - weeks even, with a shortness of breath and the occasional trouble swallowing. It was upsetting for Denise to watch and it was she who had initially made the appointment with the doctor. Still she had a few more moments before she needed to get back to her aunt and Denise welcomed these moments of quiet contemplation.
Denise was a poet, a fact unknown to many people as she kept her identity closely under wraps. Unlike most poets in this day and age, Denise was very successful. Her expression of emotion, her beautifully sculpted wording, and her ability to bring to life each word she wrote had catapulted the name of 'D Jennings' into critical acclaim and financial success. Of course she wrote under a shrouded name, the very idea of being remotely in the public eye an almost unnerving concept to imagine. She would never have considered writing for publication if it wasn't for her love of the craft and her desire to reach the people of the world with words that she hoped, in some way, would touch the heart of at least one person.
The bench was her place of contemplation where she could let her mind wander and allow the constant thoughts that stormed around in her head time to calm and flow into carefully constructed verses. Unfortunately the time she was able to spend in this clandestine place seemed to lessen by the day. Denise took her responsibilities very seriously and at the moment, one person in her life became more important above all else. Her aunt. With Sara's health taking such an unknown turn Denise devoted all her time to helping the elderly woman.
Her aunt had taken the poet under her wing at the tender age of ten years old after her parents, Sara's brother and his wife, had both been tragically killed in a house fire. They had died trying to save her and although she was lucky enough to escape - her parents were not. So she had lived with Sara since that moment and for the next twenty-two years onwards.
Denise looked down at her watch once again. "Bollocks!" she muttered, realizing that she really should be on her way back to her aunt. Adjusting the collar of her thick parker, Denise stepped away from the bench and into the cold mist of rain.
Hands shaking from the cold, Denise managed to push her key into the lock and open the small double glazed, UPVC door. A wave of heat enveloped her and she shivered as the cold began to leave her body. She walked into the house she had called home for the past twenty-two years.
The dwelling was modest; what would generally be known as a 'coal miners cottage'. During the early nineteen hundreds the village she lived in had been a lively mining town, but when the mining pits began to shut down the workers drifted away. Although the house was small, it was still larger than the other houses on its street. Sara had an extension built on the back many years before. It served as a bedroom and study for Denise; a place where she could write in relative silence and tranquility. It was the place where she brought to life the poetry and rhymes she created with such reputed beauty and finesse.
She walked into the front room to find her aunt sitting quietly in her chair, rubbing the palm of her right hand. Denise frowned as she noticed the pale complexion. "Hey, Sara, are you feeling alright?"
The old woman smiled. "DJ! Yes I am fine. I didn't hear you come in."
Denise nodded as she pulled off her black woolly hat; inky black tresses falling softly down her back. She strode over to her aunt and bent down to look into matching blue eyes. "Are you feeling short of breath again?" The concern was evident in her voice.
Sara nodded slowly, she was eternally thankful to have her niece back home. "I wasn't doing anything strenuous though. I just don't understand this."
Denise nodded and placed her hand upon her aunt's. "That is what the appointment is for remember? We will find out what this is once and for all. Then we can get the medication or whatever it is you need to make you feel well again. Okay?" Sara had waved these symptoms off for weeks now but as they became more pronounced, Denise decided enough was enough.
Nodding the old woman shifted to the corner of the chair. "What time is the appointment?"
"Twenty minutes." Denise replied after checking her watch. "She moved to her feet. "Are you ready to go?"
With a sigh the old woman held out her hand and Denise pulled her up gently. "As I'll ever be." She replied with a weary smile.
Randa stretched and forced herself from the comfortable sofa in her living room. She had been watching a taped episode of "E.R." on the VCR and relaxing before her shift on the Brightwood Information Network. It amazed her how comfortable she had become in the farmhouse since buying it less than a year ago. She never regretted the decision to leave suburbia to the young families, their lawnmowers and leaf blowers. An acre of land wasn't much but she loved the peace and the solitude it provided and she would never tire of standing on the hill behind the farmhouse to watch the blazing orange sunsets. The golden brown fields of late summer would come alive then with a fiery brilliance.
"Okay, time to stop being lazy and get ready for work but boy, if I could work with Dr. Carrie Weaver in real life it might tempt me to work in a hospital again. Or maybe that Dr. Elizabeth Corday, her curly hair and British accent knock me out!" Randa had to snicker as she thought of the picture she would present in the hospital, coming to work in the well-worn cutoff Wrangler jeans and tank top as she was going to do now.
Using the remote she flipped the television off and surveyed her work area. Database computer up and at the ready. Computer link to the website up and working, waiting for her to sign on. Supplies were handy; a large bag of corn chips, adequate supply of Diet Dr. Pepper and in the fridge a seafood enchilada and a black bean tostada awaited microwaving on her lunch break. Stopping at Miguel's Mexican Café on the way home from her workout had been genius on her part, Randa mused. There had to be some reward for the half hour on the Stairmaster and a full circuit on the exercise machines at the gym in town.
The nurse made a quick stop in the bathroom, pausing for a moment to eye herself critically in the full-length mirror on the back of the door. Though not tall, her 5 foot 5 inch frame was compact and toned from her exercise regimen.
Skin clear, no wrinkles yet. Randa observed as she continued the mental inventory. Green eyes bright, passable looks. Not bad for pushing thirty.
She left the bathroom thinking, No real vices if you don't count Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk Ice Cream, good sense of humor, wonderful personality and I'm so humble, too. She chuckled "Not too full of ourselves now are we, Miranda? If I were that great I'd have to beat back the suitors with a stick."
In truth, Randa had many admirers, both male and female. If the nurse had given them the smallest amount of encouragement, they would have swarmed around her like bees to honey.
Randa settled in the chair at the computer desk and logged in. After she typed her name and hit the "enter" key, a voice very much like Sean Connery's intoned "Miranda Martin, RN, online." The nurse shivered in delight.
Bless you Derek for listening to me this morning.
The consultation room remained empty for the moment and Randa used the time to study the framed photograph of her parents sitting on the corner of the desk. The picture had been taken only a few months before Leonard Martin had suffered a massive stroke and died, leaving his wife a widow for the past two years. Janice Martin continued to live in the same house they had always lived in but it was obvious her real joy in life was gone.
I saw what you and Dad had, Mom. That's what I want too but it's tough being a true believer in this day and age. Randa wanted the fairy tale romance, the grand passion and the happy ending and was willing to wait for it but oh, the waiting was hard. She resolved to call her mother first thing in the morning; she needed to hear her voice.
The nurse needed a diversion and seeing the consultation room still empty, picked up a recently purchased book and perused the cover. Speaking of voices I love, if 'Derbyshire Dreams' is as good as this author's previous books of poetry?
Randa's thoughts were interrupted by the pseudo-Sean voice stating "One in from the waiting room, you sexy thing." The nurse burst out laughing and turned to the consultation room screen as a new user name appeared. It was time to be a true believer in earning a living.
The haunting melody of Beethoven's 'Adagio sostenuto' drifted softly across the air of the dimly lit study. The room was of a decent size with a large mahogany desk that curved around two walls of the area. Lined up against one wall were a row of carefully constructed shelves; each one filled to capacity with an abundance of well-worn, well-read books on many different subjects. Fiction and non-fiction, history, science, reference, any type of book you could imagine - it was somewhere on those shelves, placed with pride and read with interest and enthusiasm.
The only light in the study came from the glare of a large computer screen that stood in the centre of the desk. Denise Jennings sat facing away from her computer. Sprawled out in her chair with legs crossed at the ankles, she rested her head in one hand as she gazed into space.
It was strange how life worked, Denise thought. Never an essence to grace you with the slightest of ease, it existed to test your endurance, wear your patience and force you into submission at the most unexpected of times.
This was one of those times.
Sitting in the near darkness, Denise leaned forward and rested her elbows on her knees, still staring into nothingness, trying to organize her emotions - emotions that bordered on tearful confusion. She couldn't imagine, didn't understand how in the short space of one week the lives of the two occupants of the Jennings household had been completely turned upside down. From the moment Sara had walked into the doctor's office, things just hadn't been the same. Sara had talked with the doctor, explained her symptoms, and in doing so had realized other changes and possible symptoms that would seem to have been related. Periods of clumsiness, cramps in her muscles and a change in her normal speaking voice; these symptoms had all progressed slowly but seemingly were all related.
So tests had been carried out, blood taken, scans recorded and results gained. Denise remembered with absolute clarity the expression on Doctor Macarthur's face as she and her aunt arrived at the hospital for the results. Sara had a disease called Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS and although the factors of this disease had been carefully explained to them, Denise couldn't believe that Sara had just been handed her death sentence. From here on out, things could only get worse.
Rising to her feet, Denise left the confines of her study and walked out into the well-lit back hallway of the house. It was almost midday and though the day had started bright, now the absence of the sun hiding behind the white sky - broken only by darker, grayer clouds - foretold the coming of change. More rain was on its way, dark and thunderous in its descent.
Moving through the house the poet decided she would check on her aunt. The woman had still felt tired when she'd woken that morning so had decided to go back to bed. Pushing open the large white door, Denise looked into the dim bedroom; a room that had literally not changed in the whole twenty-two years she had lived there. Fresh coats of paint had been added, curtains may have been changed for ones with different floral motifs, but in essence the room was the same.
Standing between the gap of the door and its frame the tall woman studied the sleeping form resting peacefully in her bed. She took a deep breath, feeling a profound sadness swell within her chest. Why? It was a question that she had internally asked. Why did this have to happen to Sara? The woman who had selflessly given up her own space and solitude to share it with a young ten-year-old tearaway who was hell bent on making her life a nightmare. A young Denise, so hurt by the knowledge that her parents had died while saving her, had lashed out and rebelled against the prospect of getting close to another motherly figure, especially the aunt whom she did so love; even then. But Sara had been patient and persisted. She had broke down the barriers that the young child had erected around her broken heart and had given her the parental love that she had so desperately craved.
Feeling a single unexpected tear fall from her eye, Denise shook her head. "That can't be it." She whispered. "I refuse to believe nothing can be done." With a shuddering sigh, Denise turned from the room, closing the door quietly behind her. She needed answers; needed to know if this really was 'terminal' as Doctor Macarthur had stated.
Returning back to her room as the last notes of Beethoven's melody filtered through the air, Denise sat down at her computer, eager to gain some answers.
Before you I would fall,
Helpless upon my knees,
My heart in my hands,
And I'd pledge my soul to you for eternity.
Randa let a small dreamy sigh escape her lips, closed the book and gently placed it on her chest.
"A pact with the devil, that's what it has to be. Nobody can write like that, touch my soul, without Satan being involved somewhere." The blonde shook her head.
"Get real, Randa, something that brings me so close to heaven couldn't possibly be written by anything less than an angel."
Turning the book over, Randa noted once again there wasn't the usual type of picture of the author on the dust jacket. Instead there was a picture of a tall, probably female figure in the distance, back to the photographer, apparently walking away. The figure was dressed in a heavy jacket and some sort of dark hat. Details were difficult to pick out because the picture had a blurry quality to it, as if it had been taken through raindrops. Or maybe teardrops, Randa thought then wondered why such an odd idea would cross her mind.
Opening the back cover, Randa read the brief note. "D Jennings lives in Great Britain with family. Previous works include the poetry collections Without an Umbrella and From the Lea." No more details than that. The blond wondered who D Jennings was and how she could speak to a heart an ocean, a continent and a life away. Randa had read the author's two other books and had looked forward to this new volume with anticipation. The earlier books had been wondrous and this one was no exception; at times the nurse imagined she heard the voice of the poet reading to her alone.
I wish, she thought ruefully. I hear D Jennings doesn't do readings or even book signings in public. Well, whether you're a tortured genius or disfigured or just shy, my poet, I thank you for this gift. Live your life how you want, just don't stop writing.
Randa looked around, taking in her surroundings. She had only meant to take a short break from the list of chores she had given herself to accomplish today. Having not worked the night before, she rose from bed feeling ready to tackle all the projects that came along with being a homeowner. She had re-potted plants, hammered down a loose mopboard and cleaned the gutters in preparation for rain later in the year. The porch was littered with fall-out from her efforts. Bits of leaves, twigs and dirt needed to be swept up but the nurse had elected to take a brief respite with her book instead. That had been an hour and a half ago.
She slipped from the hammock and found the broom where she had propped it against the porch rail. Deciding she needed a little motivation, Randa went inside the house and grabbed her CD player. Looking over her collection of music she selected the soundtrack from "The Full Monty". Flipping the track to Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing", she began humming and sweeping. Soon it was impossible not to sway, and then dance, to the catchy tune. The broom was no longer a cleaning implement but a dance partner and the porch a dance floor. "Come here often?" she asked the broom. Hearing no reply she said "Strong, silent type, huh? I can get into that. Say, you don't have much of a figure but you've got all the right moves." Randa laughed at her own silliness and was happy to note she had worked her away across the entire back porch. As the song ended, a sexy Tom Jones tune came on and the nurse couldn't help but think of the picture on her book's back cover.
Placing a small empty terra cotta pot upside down on the broom handle Randa proceeded to croon saucily to the broom along with Tom.
"Baby, take off your coat? real slow. Baby take off your shoes?I'll help you take off your shoes. Baby take off your dress? yes, yes, yes! You can leave your hat on? you can leave your hat on? you can leave your hat on!"
Randa punctuated the last lines of the verse with a sexy bump and grind. Just as she was about to launch into a full-throated chorus a voice behind her said "Woo-hoo! You go, girlfriend!"
The blond jumped and spun around so fast the terra cotta pot flew off the broom handle and into the back yard breaking neatly into several smaller pieces.
"Jesus, Derek! You just took a year off my life with that little stunt!" Randa shouted as she blushed furiously and clicked off the CD player.
"Sorry, babe, but you didn't answer the front door so I just came on through when I heard the music. Nice show you had going there for a minute. You know, if you're not done I can just sit here and watch until you are." Shaggy brown eyebrows wagged up and down suggestively.
"I'll show you something, Derek, and it's going to be the business end of this broom!" she growled in mock annoyance. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"Well, before I knew there was a floorshow going on I was just going to bring by this new software. It's a little program I worked up to prevent hackers from getting into our reference system by the back door."
"Got anything like that for my front door, Derek? I seem to have a problem there too." The two old friends laughed and went into the house, Randa grabbing her book as she went. As Derek was downloading the program into the blonde's computer he looked at her seriously.
"Has it ever occurred to you that if you used some of those moves somewhere beside your back porch you might not need to be dancing with a broom? Honestly, Randa, if women were remotely my cup of tea I would be on you like white on rice. Why don't you let someone have a chance with you? It would be nice to see you settled down and happy."
"I am happy, you big dope. Believe me, the rest will happen in time. Eventually I'll meet the person who can reach right into my heart and I promise then I'll do the happily ever after thing. Okay? Now that we're done discussing my life can you get this thing finished? I need a shower and a nap before my shift tonight."
Eleven o'clock came quickly and Randa was just barely in time to log on for the shift. She noticed her IM icon flashing and brought it up in another window as she kept an eye on her consultation room. Melanie Allen was one of the evening shift RNs on the website and they frequently chatted a moment at shift change. Melanie informed her that a particularly offensive gentleman had been online and in the consultation room twice already.
"God, not him again! Randa frowned as she typed. If he brings up Viagra one more time I'm going to scream!" Randa had no doubt which body part "Mr. P." had gotten his user name from. It was at that moment the consultation room announcement was made. The nurse closed her eyes and crossed her fingers. Opening one eye slowly she spied the user name "DJ" on the screen. She slumped forward in relief and smiled.
"Thank you, God, I owe you one for this."
At first Denise hadn't known where to start. She had sat down at her computer, staring intently at the screen as she wondered what to type into her search engine. Of course, she knew that it was completely obvious that she should have just typed the name of Sara's disease into the search criteria and see what her server offered, but she didn't want that. They both now knew what ALS was; Doctor Macarthur had more than adequately filled them in on that aspect. What Denise wanted was explanations, reasons why and basically - hope. She wanted more than just information; she wanted assistance, guidance and some form of reassurance.
It was at that point that Denise decided that there had to be something better and more personal than just the usual information sites. Somewhere that she could talk to a human being; somebody that would answer her questions in an easy and friendly manner. Not a stuffy Doctor, sitting in his office as he spoke clinically about Sara's disease meanwhile checking his watch every five minutes. Overall, Denise was glad she had chosen to take Sara to a private hospital. The only drawback was getting a doctor who seemed more interested at times in his fee rather than his patient. Of course money was not an issue to the poet; she was more than covered in that department. Continuing to live with her aunt and not fond of the opulence of extravagant life styles - apart from the car, a brand new Lexus and her only vice - Denise had more than enough stashed away in several bank accounts. After all, with three best selling books under her belt and many people paying exorbitant amounts of money just to purchase a signed copy, she was definitely 'comfortable'. Of course there were also her other little side projects that she seldom spoke about but provided her with an average persons salary every time she undertook the task. The odd occasion where she would write on behalf of another who would then claim her work, theirs.
It was quite by accident that Denise had come across the Brightwood Information Network.com website. She had meant to choose the site above but her rather uncooperative mouse had chosen that moment to stall and she had accidentally clicked the link below. She had initially cursed the object, annoyed at the day last week when she had accidentally stepped on her infrared mouse and broken the device. She had made a mental note to go out as soon as possible and buy a new one. Maybe one of those ones that are shaped like pens, she thought.
Fortunately, and as fate would have it, Denise had taken a quick look at the page and had been captured by the sites boastings. It appeared to be a medical information site where you could enter a chat room, or as they had so named it in rather large bold letters, 'Consultation Room' and talk to qualified medical personal. Ask them questions; gain information on apparently anything you needed to know.
It was the sites pledge of privacy that had swayed Denise's decision. Never one to enjoy attention or be a subject under the microscope, she found the anonymity of it all very appealing. So she had registered herself into the system, and was just about to enter the room and talk to an available Melanie Allen - RN, when Sara had entered the study.
Denise spun around in her chair and faced the woman who was holding out a bottle of mineral water. "I thought you might want a drink. How long have you been in here? Is it your new book?"
The poet shrugged. "I have been in here a while. I was trying to write a few thoughts down but couldn't concentrate." She looked at Sara, her long gray hair hanging past her shoulders. "You didn't have to bring me anything."
"If I didn't remember to bring you something to eat and drink at times I swear you would waste away. How ever am I going to make sure you remember to feed yourself when I am gone?"
Denise bristled at her comment. "Don't say that!" She rose from her chair and took the bottle gently from Sara's hands. "Please don't speak like that."
Sara smiled sadly as she gazed upon the pleading expression in her niece's eyes. It may not have been instantaneous, but she had come to terms with the news of her sudden decline in health and just wished Denise wouldn't have to witness how her body would slowly turn against her - as she was beginning to feel a little more every day. Although Denise would never openly admit it, Sara knew she was finding it hard to deal with the news. "Alright, DJ. Listen I am going to make myself something to eat. Are you hungry?"
Denise shook her head. "If you want something I'll make it for you? hmm?"
"I can manage." Sara replied with a smile. "You get back to your work. We don't want to keep your adoring fans waiting too long for book number four now do we?"
"Are you sure?"
Denise nodded. "Alright." She stepped back and sat down in her chair. "I'll be out in a little while."
Sara nodded as she smiled. With a wink towards her niece she stepped back out of the study and shut the door behind her.
Staring briefly at the closed door, Denise turned back around and faced the computer. She gazed absently at the screen until her mind moved into gear and her eyes focused on the page before her that had now turned into a series of rapidly moving blocks. With a shake of her head she pushed her mouse and the consultation room came back into view. Denise read the name on screen. It had changed and now a Miranda Martin, RN was available and waiting. Decision made, Denise entered the room, ready to speak with Nurse Martin.
Okay, DJ, lets see what your problem might be Randa thought.
"Welcome to the Brightwood Information Network" she typed, using her usual opening. "I'm Miranda Martin, how can I help you, DJ?"
Denise watched the screen carefully feeling a flutter of nervousness as the site's nurse acknowledged her presence in the consultation room. Her fingers moved slowly over the keyboard as she thought of how best to word her question. "Miranda," she typed then paused. It felt too personal to use this person's first name when she didn't even know her. Denise shook her head knowing this wasn't the time to start feeling closed and reserved. "I have a friend who has been having some problems lately and I'd like some information."
"I'm afraid I cant help with any diagnosis on the website. I have to refer you to your own doctor for that."
The poet sighed as she typed. "We've done that. She had been feeling a little weak but then started having occasional shortness of breath and some difficulty swallowing. Her physician said the tests show she has ALS." She held her breath as she waited for the nurse's reply.
Randa heard herself let out a small "oh." She knew that Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis was a degenerative disease of the motor neurons that over time progressively weakened then paralyzed muscles in the body, finally affecting the respiratory system and causing death. Before nursing school she had heard it referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease" after the great New York Yankee baseball player. The disease had ended his playing career then ended his life. Even while thinking this, the nurse was searching the huge database for more information.
Striving to maintain some sort of professional demeanor with this person who had received the devastating news was going to be difficult. "This friend, she's close to you?" Randa typed, hoping she wasn't prying.
Does is matter who she is? Denise thought then shook her head, knowing that this woman, whoever she was, was only trying to help. She continued to type. "I'm her niece. I'll be taking care of her."
A stab of sympathetic pain coursed through the blonde, knowing this woman, really both of these women were going to have a difficult time ahead.
"I see." Randa typed. "What kind of information can I get for you?"
This was the question Denise had been waiting for. What indeed, she though with a severe frown. When Doctor Macarthur had explained the disease to her and Sara, he seemed to leave little room for the possibility of a cure. Was it really as cut and dried as the physician had led them to believe? "Is there really no hope then?" She typed cautiously.
That short sentence brought tears unbidden to the nurse's eyes. Glancing at the information the database had provided confirmed what Randa already remembered. The cause of the disease wasn't known and as yet there was no treatment or cure. It was always fatal; it was just a matter of time. Damn it! The blond thought. If I was in the hospital and had to tell this woman what I'm going to now, I could sit her down or hold her hand; anything to let her know someone cares. She again cursed the impersonal computer.
"DJ, I'm so sorry. I'm not finding any effective treatment currently. There is always research in progress but at this time I'm afraid the disease is terminal."
Denise stared at the final word in the nurse's reply. She felt the breath leave her body and covered her mouth with one hand as the words on the screen blurred into a watery haze. She had known this but didn't want to believe it was true.
The nurse's shoulders slumped. She felt she had just administered the coup de grace to the other woman's hope. It wasn't a good feeling; no wonder executioners in the Middle Ages frequently asked pardon from their victims.
Letting her head fall back, Denise took a deep breath before looking back at the screen. She had to ask? "How long?"
No, Randa thought, don't ask me that. Haven't I given you enough bad news? Please don't make me hurt you anymore than I have. Biting her lower lip, the nurse typed, "What did your aunt's doctor say about that?"
The poet typed quickly. "He said 'not long'. I need to know, Miranda. Please." Just tell me, she pleaded in thought.
Randa sat, unsure what she should do. Technically this was overstepping her bounds. She should just refer the woman again to a doctor. She shouldn't get involved but the nurse thought she could feel the other woman's anguish through her words. Taking a deep breath, Randa touched the keyboard.
"Six months to a year."
She seemed to have waited forever for that little statement, yet when it came Denise suddenly wished she could have taken back her words. Was it really good to know? Did knowing how long Sara had left make things seem easier? No, she thought, how could it? Wiping the tear that had sneaked its way down her cheek, Denise placed her fingers back onto the keyboard yet didn't respond.
When no reply came back, Randa typed "DJ? DJ, are you still there?
"Yes." The poet answered, suddenly wishing she had never entered this site. "Ignorance is bliss," she mumbled to herself.
"DJ, I know you said you will be taking care of your aunt but do you have some help or support for yourself? This is going to be hard for both of you. Is there anyone you can talk to?"
"There's always just been the two of us."
"Listen, DJ, you can talk to me if you want. I'm on here 5 nights a week. Honestly, I would like it if you would talk to me, maybe let me help you out in any way I can."
"Won't that interfere with your work, Miranda?" Denise wondered why this woman would offer her services. Surely that wasn't part of the sites offerings? She didn't even know her.
Randa thought for a moment. Brightwood wouldn't appreciate their website being used for personal communication no matter what the situation. Not really understanding why she cared so much, the nurse made her decision. She typed out her personal e-mail address.
"Please use this e-mail to contact me at anytime, DJ. I want to help if I can. I know I might not be able to do much but I know sometimes it just helps to talk to someone. Please tell me you'll consider it at least.
As the email address appeared on the screen Denise frowned. Now this woman was giving her an obviously private mail address? She had never asked for help before, it wasn't in her nature, yet a deep-seated intuition told Denise that she would need this. "I'll consider it," she typed; surprised as she read back her own words on the VDU.
"Thank you, DJ. And DJ? Its just Randa. Really it's only my Mom that calls me Miranda anymore."
"Thanks for your time, Randa. Have a good day."
"You too, DJ. I hope to hear from you soon."
As the user name disappeared from the consultation room screen Randa shook her head. What have you gotten yourself in for here? Wasn't this why you left the hospital in the first place? No more personal investment, no more getting involved with the patient's lives? Won't you ever learn? She thought back to DJ's situation and her heart went out to the other woman again.
No, I guess I never will.
Looking down at the slip of paper, Denise stared at the e-mail address that she had jotted down almost absent-mindedly. She tapped her pen upon the surface of the desk, wondering why she had agreed to even consider this woman's offer. She and Sara didn't need any help - did they? Doctor Macarthur had definitely given the impression that this would be hard, but she could cope. They had always coped with everything together, why should now be any different?
Feeling a surge of anger, Denise scrunched up the slip of paper in her hand and threw it into the waste paper bin at the side of her desk. She slid further down into her chair as her mind wandered back to her conversation with Nurse Martin - Randa.
"Six months to a year." The poet muttered. Macarthur had never given a window of time. He had stated that ALS was terminal. Denise pushed herself away from her desk, the wheels of her chair rolling along the royal blue carpeted floor of the room. She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She and Sara were to go back to the hospital tomorrow, she would ask more questions then. Denise couldn't help thinking that there was just something so impersonal about the way the physician spoke to them. He didn't carry any of the warmth or compassion that Nurse Martin had shown. Unconsciously the poet's eyes strayed back to the waste paper bin and the single ball of paper in the otherwise empty container. She rolled forward and picked out the rumpled slip of paper, opening it and once again reading the address.
Getting up Denise pulled her silver framed eye glasses from her nose and walked out of the confines of her office, as she folded the address and placed it in the pocket of her jeans. Standing in the hallway she jumped suddenly as a loud smashing sound echoed through the house. With a start she set off to find Sara, instinctively heading towards the kitchen. It was the only room in the house with a hard wood floor and the sound was definitely that of something that had smashed upon the ground.
Entering the kitchen the poet found Sara on her knees attempting to pick up the remains of what looked like a broken vase. Shards of white and blue porcelain covered the pine laminate flooring.
"Whoa, Sara, what happened?" Denise asked as she moved forward to help the old woman to her feet.
Sara accepted her niece's help. "I was just going to put some fresh flowers into this vase but the thing slipped straight out of my hand." She sighed warily and pushed her long grey hair over her shoulder. She had always kept it up in a loose bun but recently couldn't find the energy to even bother.
Denise carefully escorted Sara out of the kitchen and into the living room. "You really shouldn't be kneeling when you are wearing a dress like that, you could have cut yourself."
The low hum of the television set broke the quiet of the room as Sara sat down upon her easy chair. She smiled up at her tall niece, always amazed at the striking resemblance she had to her father, Sara's brother. "So did you get anything written for me to look at? You know how much I love to be the first to read your work."
The poet shrugged slightly. "I was just looking up some information really. I didn't get much of anything else done." Denise bent down and noticed a slight scrape on Sara's knee that was bleeding. She shook her head as she pulled a piece of tissue from the box beside Sara's chair and dabbed at the blood. "I'll go back in there and finish cleaning the floor. Did you want anything while I was in there?"
"A cup of your wonderful tea would be nice."
Denise smiled with a nod of affirmation. "One cup of tea coming up." Scrunching the tissue within her hands, the poet rose to her feet and headed back out to the small kitchen. Once out of her aunt's view she fell back against the painted terracotta wall. Her lip trembled as she looked down at the mess on the floor knowing this was all due to Sara's disease. The cramping of her muscles, the clumsiness; it was all related and served as another reminder that Sara was only going to get worse. Six months to a year, Denise thought and wondered how the disease would progress. She sincerely hoped they would learn all they needed to know tomorrow and for Sara's sake, the poet hoped beyond all reason this wasn't going to be in any way painful for her aunt.
The shift seemed like it would never end but 7a.m. finally came and Randa logged off the network with a weary sigh. There had been few breaks in the questions this night and the nurse's shoulders were stiff from sitting over the keyboard.
Note to self, she thought. Remember to buy a bottle of eye drops. Randa's eyes burned from long hours staring at the monitor screen. Rubbing them now, she leaned back and mentally reviewed her work that night. Being honest with herself, Randa knew the reason this night seemed more difficult than most was the first consultation of the night.
You really blew that one, girl. Randa thought. You've barely been doing this job for six months and you went and broke your one and only rule; never get personally involved again. The ringing of the phone interrupted the mental self-flagellation.
"For cripes sake, Randa, what were you thinking?" a voice shrieked as she picked up the phone.
"Good morning, Derek. What's happened that you feel the need to lose it so early in the day?"
"Randa, you know you're my oldest and best friend. We go way back and we've been through a lot with each other. You even let me look under your skirt in grade school, remember?"
"Yeah" the nurse replied "And I remember you didn't find anything remotely interesting to you there either as I recall."
"Petty details, Randa," Derek pouted. "You know, if you ended up hacked into pieces and buried in a shallow grave I'd still be devastated."
"Derek, shallow grave?? What the hell are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about you giving your personal e-mail address out to a strange woman and using the Brightwood site to do it. Yeah, I know about it. I was checking the consultations as part of the quality assurance program." the Webmaster said. "Do you know what I could do with just your e-mail address? I'm not even a good hacker, but with that information I could learn enough about you to become a very effective stalker."
The nurse felt a brief ripple of panic run up her spine. "God, Derek, I didn't think about?I mean I just felt?I just reacted." Randa used the heel of her free hand to beat against her forehead. "What have I done?"
"Lucky for you, maybe nothing. I ran a little tracking program on that consultation. Seems it originated in England. That would have to be a very determined stalker to want to get you from there."
Randa's panic was replaced by annoyance. "Just a cotton-picking minute! You tracked the consultation? You broke the anonymity of the process? What the hell were you thinking about?" The blond felt her protective nature and her hackles rise.
"Randa, I was thinking about you. Thinking about protecting you and your job. You could be fired for doing something like that just like I could for running that tracking program. Look, when I ran the tracking program and found out the user came from another country, I stopped it right there. The process is still anonymous for her and as an unfortunate 'computer glitch' deleted your consultation and my tracking, I guess it is for us as well."
A wave of relief washed over the nurse. "Thanks, Derek. I appreciate it, really I do. This won't happen again."
"Sure it will, you can't help it. It's just who you are, but be careful, okay? Don't forget why you wanted this job in the first place."
"I never can, Derek"
After quick good-byes, the nurse hung up the phone and wandered over to the sofa in the living room. Lying down, she let the events of a year ago play across her mind as they had done about a million times before. Closing her eyes she could see it clearly, as if it were only yesterday.
Another night from hell. Why does the full moon bring out all the weirdos? These thoughts and more flashed through Randa's mind as she moved quickly between her patient's rooms. The Cardiology floor was busy as usual but admissions from the overflowing Emergency Room were coming almost faster than they could be absorbed. It seemed everyone was having some type of heart problem and required monitoring on Randa's unit. Each patient wore a small transmitter attached to five wires strategically placed on their chest. The boxes sent out signals to a central monitor, which was closely watched by a technician. At the first sign of a change in a patient's heart rate or rhythm the tech called a cell phone carried by the nurse responsible for that patient. Randa had already received two of those calls tonight.
Moving into the medication room, Randa entered her code to remove narcotics from the dispensing machine. This was her seventh trip into the medication room in the first four hours of her shift and each of those times was because of Mr. Johnson. Hydrocodone, Acetaminophen, Lorazepam and Morphine, Mr. Johnson had requested it all. The nurse tried not to be judgmental, but the amount of medication Mr. Johnson had taken over the last few hours would have put her in a coma for a week. Mr. Johnson had been admitted with chest pain but subsequent tests had showed he had not had a heart attack. Despite an abundance of medication, the man continued to complain of pain.
This should be the last trip for a while, this is everything he can have for a few hours. Taking the medication into Mr. Johnson's room, she noted the patient was dozing. Turning to leave, Mr. Johnson roused up. "That my medicine, nurse?
"Yes, Mr. Johnson, it is. This is everything I can give you for a couple of hours so why don't you try to get a little rest now?"
The nurse handed the small paper cup containing the pills to the elderly black gentleman. His deep brown eyes looked steadily at the young woman. "Nurse, I hurt something terrible all the time. I'm not getting any help at all from what you gave me. Isn't there something else you can do for me?"
Randa knew the day shift nurse she had received report from had already addressed the problem with the patient's physician. Dr. Stevens had refused to increase Mr. Johnson's medication noting that the patient had a history of drug seeking behavior. The doctor had practically bitten the day nurse's head off when she asked about a change in the medication regimen. " I'm sorry, Mr. Johnson, but Dr. Stevens wouldn't approve any additional medication for you."
Mr. Johnson's eyes narrowed and his voice took on a coolness Randa hadn't heard before. "Listen here, nurse. I can go home and suffer like this as well as stay here so why don't you just get me my clothes out of that closet there and let me go." The patient started to get out of the bed and get dressed. The nurse stopped him with a hand to the shoulder.
"Mr. Johnson, don't go yet. Let me try to call the doctor one more time, okay? Just wait and give me a little time." The patient agreed and lay back down on the bed.
Leaving the room, Randa thought I really needed this tonight. Now I'm stuck between a rock and Dr. Hardass. Going to the nurse's station the blond paged the doctor and waited for the return phone call while mentally listing all the things she needed to get done.
"Randa, Dr Stevens on line one" the unit secretary called out. Randa picked up the line and explained the situation to the physician.
"He's threatening to leave against medical advice," she concluded.
There was a moment of silence on the line and then the doctor spoke. "I'm not in the habit of having to repeat my orders more than once. There will be no increase in medication and no change to my orders, now or later. Is that perfectly clear, nurse? If Mr. Johnson wishes to leave, tell him to find a new doctor on the way out." With that, the phone was slammed down in Randa's ear. The nurse clenched her jaw tightly to prevent a string of filthy words from escaping her lips and bent to retrieve a Discharge Against Medical Advice form from the filing cabinet beneath the desk.
Randa informed the charge nurse of the problem and went back to Mr. Johnson's room. As expected, the patient got dressed, signed the form and went outside the building to wait for the friend who would give him a ride home. The nurse's night continued to be busy and approximately one and a half hours after Mr. Johnson left Janet Gayner, the Hospital Nursing Supervisor sought Randa out and asked her to step into the nurse's lounge.
"What was the deal with Mr. Johnson tonight?" Janet asked. "Why did he leave AMA?" Randa gave the supervisor the story in as concise and factual a way as possible.
"Randa, sit down." Something in the supervisor's tone of voice told the blond that whatever was going to come next wasn't going to be pleasant. Janet told Randa that Mr. Johnson had returned to the Emergency Room a short time ago. He had apparently gone home, taken a gun out of his closet and used a .38 caliber pistol to send a bullet into his brain. He came in by ambulance and under CPR but had been pronounced dead on arrival.
Randa sank to a chair and stared blankly for a moment then told the supervisor "I have charting to do and I need to re-start Mrs. Davis' IV." She moved to leave the lounge then turned back to the older nurse. The blond felt the tears rolling down her cheeks and was helpless to stop them. "It's all my fault, Janet. It's all my fault."
Randa opened her eyes, returning to the present and her own living room. No matter how many times she had gone over the scenario of what happened to Mr. Johnson and no matter how many times she had decided she could do nothing different than she had, the nurse couldn't help but feel she had let the old man down. She thought about DJ and her aunt and came to a decision.
"It won't happen again, DJ. If you need me, I won't let you down."
At ten minutes past midnight the supermarket was almost empty. Voices tended to echo around the vacant aisles. The only other people present consisted of the store's night staff and the odd late night shopper. Denise included.
This was her favourite time to shop. The night air was peaceful and quiet, and there was no influx of agitated parents as they pushed their trolleys round the store with half a dozen children hanging off the handlebars. At this time there was only the same group of people that the poet began to recognize every time she did the shopping.
There was 'Munchies boy", a man who seemed to arrive at the store most nights heading straight to the junk food section, eyes glazed, pupils dilated. Denise didn't need to think too hard to know what his recreational past time was; presumably every night it seemed. The there was "Waitress woman", a tall blonde with heaving bosoms who stunk of stale cigarettes and alcohol She always bought either breakfast foods or headache pills. And of course Denise couldn't forget "Stalker guy.' Not that he was exactly stalking Denise but he did have a tendency to follow her around the store whenever he noticed her. She presumed he was just too shy to talk to her, and she was damned sure she wasn't going to give him any reason to do so. The supermarket's "singles nights" were on Tuesday evenings. She hoped he would realize this and change his shopping routine. "How much time does he need to buy his stack of microwave meals for one anyway?" Denise often thought.
Taking her trolley, the tall woman strode down the first aisle, already spotting 'Munchies boy' as he walked along a shelf of chocolates, picking up one of each variety and chucking it into his hand-held basket. She smirked as she picked up Sara's favourite 'jelly babies' and placed them into the trolley.
"I knew you couldn't hide from me forever!"
Denise turned around to see Michelle Barlow standing behind her, one hand on her hip the other placed upon a trolley brimming with a wide variety of foods. Michelle was a small woman with long auburn wavy hair and an ever-present smile. They had known each other from the very day Denise had moved in with her aunt. They had eventually become good friends after much effort on Michelle's part. Apart from Sara, Michelle was the only person, other than the publishers, who knew the real identity of the famous D Jennings - poet!
"Well I do try." Denise deadpanned.
Michelle pushed her trolley forward, smile firmly in place. "You are such a charmer, DJ. So here I am on a weeks shore leave and I haven't been able to get hold of you all that time. Your phone is always engaged, or I call round and nobody is in. Hell, you even drove past me two days ago and I almost jumped out in front of your damned car just to get you to notice me. You seemed a million miles away."
Denise smiled. "Must have had something on my mind at the time." She looked down into Michelle's trolley. "As it seems do you." She picked up a box of condoms and a jar of chocolate hazelnut spread. "Making the most of your last night with Brent are you, Shelly?"
The woman shrugged. "Well being as though I am being shipped overseas for a couple of months I need to get as much in as possible until I return."
"Anyway, how are you? How is Sara? I haven't seen her either this week. My mum says she hasn't been to the bridge club for almost a month now."
Denise briefly looked down into her trolley. "She is a little under the weather." She didn't want to lie to her friend but wasn't sure how to tell her the complete truth either.
"I guess it's pointless asking whether you need anything isn't it?"
She smiled. "You know me."
Michelle rolled her eyes. "That I do." She grinned before looking down into the contents of her trolley. "Okay. Well I getter get back home." She picked up the jar of chocolate spread. "Wouldn't want this to go to waste now would we?"
The poet rolled her eyes. "Have fun."
"Oh I am sure I will. I'll see you again soon, DJ." Michelle turned to head back towards the checkout but stopped and pulled Denise into a quick hug. "By the way, DJ," she whispered. "I think the new book is wonderful."
"Thanks, Shelly." Denise said as she watched her friend stroll off towards the checkout.
Turning back to the aisle, Denise took Sara's shopping list from her pocket and opened the sheet of paper. Her aunt had already gone to bed, but knowing her niece had a fondness for midnight shopping she had prepared a list of things they needed, knowing Denise would prefer to get the chore out of the way as soon as possible. Denise picked up her pace as she headed around the store. She remembered Sara had her appointment with Doctor Macarthur at nine o'clock that morning and she was definitely going to be there.
Heavy rain fell hard upon the city streets; hitting the ground with such a force that the heavy pounding of each drop sounded out along the congested early morning traffic filled roads. Denise squinted as she peered out through the rain blurred window screen of her black Lexus. Even the rapid pace of the car's window wipers weren't effective enough to keep the screen clear enough for easy vision. She sighed, drumming her fingers upon the black leather steering wheel with annoyance. It had been raining since they had risen that morning and showed no signs of relenting.
Holding her small brown handbag upon her lap, Sara stared out through the car's passenger side window. She smiled in remembrance. "This brings back memories, DJ."
Sara shook her head. "Do you remember when you were eleven?"
The poet frowned. "Vaguely, why?"
"Do you remember that spring when we had the heavy rains? It rained so much parts of the lower lands flooded." Sara's smiled widened. "Do you remember that I got up one morning to find your bedroom door missing? I went looking for you and found you in the front room with a saw, hammer and nails ready to turn your door into a raft - 'just in case' - as you so seriously stated. I only just caught you before you cut that door in half and turned it into a mini boat!"
Denise smirked at the memory.
"You stuffed your school satchel with tins of beans and mushy peas for rations. I thought that was so sweet of you."
Laughing, Denise looked over at her aunt. "Sweet? I can recall you saying something very different when you discovered I'd emptied away your bottles of homemade wine to make airtight floats around the boundaries of the 'raft'."
"Well I did come home the next day to find that you had bought, grated and juiced 30 lemons to help me make another batch of wine."
"And what a potent batch it was! It was a good job that you didn't drink because I heard that stuff could have put hairs on your chest." Denise smiled as she steered the car into the hospital car park. Turning off the engine her smiled faded. She turned towards Sara with an apprehensive look in her eyes. "Ready?"
Sara looked out through the now completely blurred window screen; the exaggerated sound of the intense rainfall hammering upon the thick glass. Sighing, she adjusted the floral scarf around her head and pulled the collar of her long winter coat around her shoulders. "As I will ever be," she replied.
The examination room, Denise observed, was of an average size and although it was typically clinical in appearance, it definitely had a much more comfortable feel to it. She realized it seemed you get what you pay for and she was suddenly very glad she hadn't stuck with the National Health System for this. Sara deserved the best as far as her niece was concerned.
Standing next to a large, gray, comfortable examination table, Doctor Macarthur took Sara's hands. He leaned forward slightly, the ends of his stethoscope hanging from around his neck. His white and blue stripy shirt was unbuttoned at the cuffs with his sleeves rolled up tight to his elbows. "Okay, Miss Jennings, Sara. I would just like you to squeeze my hands if you will."
Sara did as requested.
"As tight as you can."
Sara squeezed with all her might.
Nodding, but his expression blank, Doctor Macarthur released her hands and moved down to the bottom of the table. "Alright, Sara. Now I would like you to place your feet against my hands and push as hard as you can."
Again Sara did as bade, all under the watchful eye of her niece who sat beside the examination table observing the young blonde doctor carefully. This guy doesn't look more than twenty-five years old, she mused.
Sara pushed against Macarthur's hands as requested. She held a fixed expression of concentration as she pushed as hard as she was able.
"Okay." The Doctor released Sara and gently laid her feet back down on the examination table. "I do have a few more things I would like to do, Sara, but first I would just like to ask you a couple of questions."
"Ask away." Sara replied.
Macarthur leaned against the table. "You have said that you started feeling periods of cramping and twitching at first. You began to have trouble swallowing at times and you felt increasingly weak and tired. These are all classic symptoms of ALS. Do you feel these symptoms have progressed?"
Denise looked down at her feet, knowing the answer to the Doctors question was obviously yes. Every now and then she would hope that maybe the hospital had made a mistake and had wrongly diagnosed Sara, but as the days wore on she realized it wasn't so.
The old woman nodded. "My right hand has started cramping a lot. Sometimes I am finding it hard to pick things up, or objects just fall out of it. This morning I had trouble dressing myself and found it incredibly tiring to climb the stairs."
Denise looked up surprised. "You never said anything."
"I didn't want to worry you, DJ. I do need to be able to do these things by myself."
The poet frowned. "Maybe so but whenever you do need help, no matter what, I will always be there for you. Always." She sighed. "I know it must be hard for you, but you must understand that I want to do whatever it takes to help you."
Sara nodded quietly. It was hard, and she was positive Denise understood this. They were both very much alike: independent and private people. The notion of having to rely on somebody else for assistance was almost unthinkable. At the same time Sara knew that she would much rather have her niece helping her than anybody else.
Doctor Macarthur nodded. "We have discussed the progressive symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and you are well aware that what you are experiencing will and is advancing." The Doctor moved over to a small desk and looked down at a small pile of different coloured folders on the surface.
Sitting rigidly in her chair, Denise watched Doctor Macarthur nervously as he picked up a large manila folder and opened it up, briefly scanning the documents inside. She then turned worried eyes to Sara who was smiling at her with a gentle understanding expression. The poet frowned wondering what her aunt was thinking.
"Okay, the purpose of this talk is because I think we need to discuss your making a living will." The Doctor turned his eyes towards Sara with a soft smile.
Sara nodded briefly.
"Living will?" Denise questioned. "Why does she need to make a living will?"
Macarthur looked at Denise, pulling small circular spectacles from his nose. "This is a standard procedure in your aunts situation. I hope you don't mind, DJ, but I need to be blunt with you here and explain ALS in its advanced stages."
Sara looked away. It was terrifying to think about how this disease was going to affect her, yet she had accepted it. What else could she do? Go into denial, cry, scream to the world that it wasn't fair? Sara knew that the only way she was going to cope with her disease was to accept that there was nothing she could do to stop it and nothing she could have done to prevent it. It may not have provided much comfort but it did help her to face her future a little easier. This was going to happen.
"ALS is a neuromuscular disease characterized by a progressive deterioration of motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Basically when the motor neurons can no longer send impulses to the muscles, the muscles begin to waste away." Macarthur looked intently into Denise's blue eyes. "This is progressing rapidly in your aunt's body and for patients in the later stages of ALS there is usually a complete paralysis? even though their mind will remain unaffected. Do you understand what I am saying, DJ?"
Denise nodded, stunned. "You mean?" She looked towards her aunt. "Sara will eventually become paralyzed yet still be full conscious mentally."
Sara reached out and took Denise's hand.
"Which is why we need a living will." Macarthur added. "We need to know in advance exactly what Sara's wishes are. If there comes a point that she will no longer be able to breathe, will she want a ventilator to maintain that? If her heart were to stop beating, would she want CPR? Would she want a feeding tube for nourishment if she were no longer able to ingest food?"
An expression of confused disbelief crossed Denise's features. She swallowed hard as the Doctor's words took shape in her mind and she realized that her worst fear was to transpire. Sara was to experience much discomfort in the later stages of her illness and the worst of it would be that she would probably not be able to communicate her thoughts, feelings and needs.
Lowering her head, Denise closed her eyes and massaged her forehead as she tried desperately to will her emotions under control. She couldn't lose herself right there and right at that moment. She couldn't. Taking a very deep breath, the poet looked back at Sara with a pleading expression in her eyes.
Clearing her throat, Denise spoke. "Um? I? Sara?"
The old woman nodded sadly. "I am aware of this, DJ, and I want you to know that when that time comes I trust you to carry out and enforce my wishes."
Sara shook her head and blinked as tears clouded her eyes. "I don't want to rely on any artificial forms of life support, DJ. When that time does come," a tear escaped Sara's eye as she watched Denise desperately trying to keep control of her emotions, "I want to die peacefully. What point would there be in prolonging the inevitable?"
"Inevitable?" She could feel her control slipping. Salty tears stung her eyes as her breathing laboured. She rose swiftly. "Excuse me a moment please?" Denise said as she fled from the room as quickly as she could.
Out in the hospital corridor, Denise stormed down the hallway passing doctors and patients alike as she desperately searched for the exit. She noticed a green sign to her left and took the turn, finding a small door leading towards the outside world.
The rain was still falling fast and furious as Denise pushed open the door and walked swiftly into the heavy downpour. Leaning against the wall her head fell back against soaked masonry as she closed her eyes against he onslaught of rapid raindrops and insistent tears.
She thought of all that Sara had gone through in her life, of all the things that had happened. She thought of the woman whom she had come to love as her own mother. She thought of this terrible disease and its increasing hold upon her. The effects it was to have and the inevitable outcome. And she cried.
Two hours later Denise sat in the quiet confines of her study. She and Sara had been home a short while and Sara had retired to her room for a rest, the events of the morning leaving her drained and emotional. Denise sat at her computer, staring at an empty screen. She had hoped to take her mind off things by trying to work, but it seemed she was less than able to concentrate.
Denise hadn't been able to give her response to Sara concerning her living will and had asked for a short while to think about her request. With anything else, Denise knew she would deny Sara nothing, but this was different. She just didn't know whether she could enforce her aunt's last request for an uncomplicated and dignified death. Denise wanted it to seem an unfair request to make, but inside she knew Sara asked her because she loved, respected and trusted her. It just hurt too much and if Denise was to admit it, to herself as much as anybody else - she needed help.
Unconsciously her hand moved to her top desk drawer and she pulled out a small slip of paper. Opening it slowly she read the address. As hard as it was, Denise had to accept that she needed to speak to this Nurse again and as she accessed her email account, she wondered what she was to say.
Denise stopped and deleted the words. She started again:
She stopped again; didn't she say to call her Randa? Denise thought.
I sincerely hope that you don't mind that I contact you but as you may recall you gave me your address not long ago on the Brightwood consultation room. I will admit that this is hard for me to do but I think I need your help, some advice.
Today I found out that my aunt intends to make a living will. I discovered just how debilitating and dreadful her disease is and for once I am wondering how I am going to cope with watching her declining health. I accept that there is nothing that can be done to prevent this from happening, but I don't know how I am going to be able to watch as this disease slowly takes her away from this world.
She is dying. I know that, I have to accept that. I am writing to ask for any help and advice you may be able to give concerning her comfort and progression during this time. I want to do whatever I can to help her and although I am finding it very hard to accept some of her decisions concerning the later stages of her disease I know that I want her to experience as little discomfort as possible. I want to help her however I can.
I hope that I haven't imposed on you at all, and any help you can give me will be very much appreciated.
Reading over what she had just written, Denise's hand covered her mouse as she moved to the small 'send' icon in the corner of her screen. She paused, debated cautiously as to whether she was making the right decision in taking this step and as she realized that she could no longer deal with the events alone; she clicked the icon and sent her e-mail.
End of part 1
Continued In Part II
The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive