This was posted on the Moose in November, 2008. I decided to repost it after reading about today’s announcement of President Obama’s mandate on hospital visits. Hopefully, the scenario in the story will now be a thing of the past.
Friday, April 16, 2010
President Obama mandated Thursday that nearly all hospitals extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients’ choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them, perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans.
The Death of a Love Story
Life is often like a smooth flowing stream. Day follows day with only small ripples to disturb the surface and then, unexpectedly, a large rock breaks the current. Sometimes that rock is more like a surging rapid and at other times, it takes a sudden plunge over a waterfall. We have little control over the current. We can only ride out whatever the stream brings our way.
When Jim and Reggie awoke on that quiet Wednesday morning, life seemed tranquil and serene. As on any other weekday, Jim prepared for work while Reggie set the table for their shared breakfast routine. There was little to indicate that this day would be any different from the days that had come before it. Unfortunately, unknown to this loving couple, a waterfall loomed ahead.
Reggie, as a self-employed writer, spent the day in front of a computer while Jim went to work as an accountant at a large corporation. The two loving partners had played out this same routine for nearly thirty years. They both agreed that life had been good to them.
All of that changed in an instant that evening when Jim walked through the door to find Reggie lying unconscious on the living room floor. Jim rushed to the prostrate Reggie. Shallow, irregular breathing was the only sign that Reggie was still alive. With trembling hands, Jim dialed 911. When the operator answered, Jim shouted into the phone, “I need an ambulance at 137 Oak St. Please hurry, I think it’s a heart attack.”
The long minutes until the sound of a siren could be heard seemed like hours to Jim. When he heard the ambulance pulling into their driveway, Jim rushed to the door and threw it open. Minutes later, they were on their way to the closest hospital.
Those long minutes waiting for the ambulance were nothing compared to the agony of the wait while the doctors worked to save Reggie. Minutes stretched into hours and still no one came to tell Jim the outcome. There was no comfort to be found in the companionship of the other people sitting in the waiting room. Each person was wrapped in his or her own misery and fear of the unknown. The only break had been a short call to Reggie’s sister to pass on the word of the emergency to the rest of Reggie’s family. Time dragged on, agonizingly, until finally a doctor stood in front of Jim.
The words that came out of the doctor’s mouth only confirmed the worst of Jim’s fears. “Heart attack…, massive damage…, stable, for now…, little hope…, only a matter of time…, I’m sorry…”
The next couple of hours passed in, at first, a blur of activity and then nearly unbearable inactivity. There was the move to a room on the cardiac ward. At first, Jim stood out of the way of the doctors and nurses that came and went, then when the activity died down, sat at the side of the bed holding Reggie’s hand.
Never had Jim felt so alone in the world. For nearly thirty years, the two of them had never spent a day apart. The two lovers had become so close that their friends rarely thought of them as individuals. They were “Jim and Reggie”. One entity. A couple in love. Now Jim was facing the frightening reality of a life alone.
The sound of the monitors and medical equipment in the room played a soft refrain in the background as Jim spoke to the unconscious Reggie of their life together. Of their love. Of their commitment. Of the good and the bad they had endured.
Time passed slowly until the door opened and Reggie’s brother and sister, Carl and Monica, walked into the room. Reggie’s sister rushed to the bedside, while her brother stood in the doorway looking at Jim. Finally he spoke, “Jim, can I talk to you outside?”
Jim jerked at the naked hostility in Carl’s voice. Reluctantly, the devastated lover dropped Reggie’s hand and walked out to the hallway.
Reggie’s brother wasted no words, “The rest of the family will be here shortly. We want you to leave before they get here.”
“But, Reggie needs me…”
Carl’s face was set in enmity. The words that came from his mouth seemed to be part of a nightmare, “The family doesn’t want you here.”
“This is the wish of the whole family.”
The dejected lover saw no mercy in the brother’s eyes. Sadly, reluctantly, Jim conceded, “I’ll be in the waiting room.”
“You don’t understand. We don’t want you here, period. You have no legal status here. Please leave.”
“What? You can’t do this.”
“Yes, we can. You are not wanted here. Leave now or I’ll have to call security.”
In a daze, Jim turned and stumbled down the corridor. Each step seemed more painful than the one before it. When the distraught lover turned the corner the pain finally became too much. Wobbly legs became limp appendages. Bony knees struck the hard, unyielding stone floor. Painful sobs burst from a suddenly constricted throat.
A passing nurse rushed to the weeping lover’s side. She spotted a doctor leaving a nearby patient room. She called out his name, “Doctor Parker!”
The doctor hurried to them. He bent over them and asked, “What’s wrong?”
“They’ve sent me away,” sobbed Jim. “My partner is dying and they’ve sent me away.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” said the doctor.
“We’ve been together for thirty years, yet the family has never accepted me. They told me to leave and not come back,” sobbed Jim.
“Ah…, well the family has final say on something like this,” said the doctor.
The nurse looked from the sobbing lover to the doctor. Her eyes pleaded for the doctor to do something, “Couldn’t you speak to the patient’s doctor?”
The doctor seized on her suggestion as a way to extricate himself from the uncomfortable situation.
“Yes, that’s a good idea. What is the patient’s name?”
“Reggie. Reginald Carter”, replied Jim.
“And your name?”
“Jim. Jim Abbott.”
“I’ll see what I can do”, said the doctor as he turned away.
The nurse helped the stricken lover to his feet and led him to the waiting room. Once he was seated, she asked him if there was anything else she could do for him.
Jim seemed not to hear her question. Instead of answering her, he spoke of Reggie. “I have to be there”, he sobbed. “What if he wakes up and I’m not there?”
“I’m sorry”, replied the nurse. “But, as doctor said, the family’s wishes must be honored in situations like this.”
“But, I love him and he loves me. What of our lifetime together?”
“I’m sorry”, was all the sympathetic nurse could offer in response.
Jim sat hunched over in the chair with his face in his hands. The nurse looked at her watch and then spoke again, “I really must get back on my rounds. Patients are waiting for their medication.”
She wasn’t sure whether the grieving lover nodded in acknowledgment or if it was only the bobbing of his head as he sobbed, but she took it for consent. She squeezed Jim’s shoulder one more time and then left the room to return to her duties.
As she walked away with a troubled look on her face, she turned to look at Jim’s hunched figure a final time. Her eyes noticed the sign over the door to the waiting room. The irony of that sign was as painful as anything this encounter had engendered. The sign had three simple words – Family Waiting Room.
She turned away with suddenly moist eyes. The corridor seemed cold and sterile, lacking human feeling. The remaining four hours of her twelve hour shift stretched before her. A last thought ran through her mind before shifting back into work mode, “Why did I ever think I wanted to be a nurse?“