Fork in the road

Caleb wiped off the sweat with his plead-sleeved arm and sighed, crunched over on the bench, looking older, more fragile. “I’m not feeling too hot, mother”. Darlene held his face in her cool, callous hands, couldn’t find a familiar, devilish sparkle in light-blue, cataract eyes and muttered in a deep voice: “We are going to see a doctor”.

The hospital was a mere 20 minutes away but, not knowing the area, she took extra turns before pulling up to the emergency room. “Oh Lord, Caleb, you’ve gone pale as paper!” She rushed to the passenger side and helped him out. The doors slid open and the air of death and desperation mixed with smell of blood, sweat and iodine enveloped them. “We have a real emergency here!”, her scream at the top of the human sound spectrum. Caleb crushed in the chair. “Mother…. It hurts really bad”. “Can we get someone over here, pleeeeease!!!”, Darlene started panicking, wringing hands, biting lips. Seconds later, Caleb in a wheelchair, carted behind the flap doors, Darlene by his side, consoling him: “It’ll be fine, Caleb, just hold on”. The doctor was older, a wise-looking owl with bushy eyebrows that he frowned, it seemed, upon everything. “So, Caleb, what happened?” Darlene butted in, “We are on vacation from Nebraska, headed to the ocean side, and Caleb always wanted to see the ocean. We’ve never left Hastings, you know, and…”. “Can you please just tell me what happened?” The doctor interrupted. “So sorry. We are on a road trip, and yesterday was so warm, so we stopped at a park, saw a lake and Caleb said, it’s still a ways to the ocean, I feel like a swim, Darlene. And so he went”. The doctor weighed each word, as if going through an encyclopedia in his head, and leaned towards the nurse. “Blood and urine, and CAT scan. No X-rays for now”.

The painkillers were still working magic on Caleb when the doctor briskly walked in, openly nervous. “Caleb, you have contracted necrotizing fasciitis, or more commonly known as flesh-eating disease. I cannot stress enough how dangerous it is. You have to treat it immediately”. Darlene went into offense. “Do what you need to do. We have insurance, you know, and some money”. Caleb interrupted, “How much time do I have, doc?” “24 hours at the most. Maybe less. You two stay put, the nurse will be here to get you”. Caleb looked at the wife and for a moment she saw that boyish glint again. He started peacefully, “Darlene, honey, what am I clinging to here? I’m almost done anyway. Nothing will ever bring Scottie back. Remember what he always dreamt of? And that was our dream too? I just want to see the sea, smell the wind, touch the sand. Please… I’m 84 years old, what am I doing here?” Darlene hesitated, wiped off a lone tear and carted him out.

When the nurse came back, they were long gone.

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