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Thursday, February 23, 2006

The rites of passage

"I'm not goin' yet. Don't you worry, I'm not goin' yet."

His voice whistled through the air, thin and wispy through the clamour of the resuscitation room. A shimmer of sweat covered his face and he grasped my hand as I offered him the oxygen mask, and he looked at me with watery eyes, the blue of his eyes so pale it was almost silver.

"I'm still waiting."

I looked again at the large wounds on his legs, blood trickling through the mounds of gauze, the splintered ends of bones protruding through paper-thin skin, gleaming yellow in the light. He was too weak to survive an operation to repair his legs...and he did not want one.

He had lain on the floor too long after falling from a ladder. His neighbours, elderly like himself, were too deaf to hear his weak cries for help. His lungs filled up with fluid that he could not cough up. His blood soaked had through the carpet. He had waited until somebody noted his absence from the Sunday church service, the empty pew in the corner near the stained glass window with the image of Mary.

The morphine was bringing him very little relief, but he did not want any more.

"I want my mind to be clear for when the priest comes. I won't go until I've had my last rites."

He grasped at his blanket, twisting it in his bruised hands, the nails yellowed from years of nicotine use, the skin crisscrossed with white scars, the fingers bent and warped. His eyes were closed and his breathing became slower, fainter, slower still, fainter still.

And we waited.

The priest finally arrived in his dark robes and holding a small vial of holy water. His voice was deep and he when he spoke it was like a song, a lullaby that rose and fell, a haunting sound that felt alien in this land of green monitors and tinny machinic blips.

As the song ended, the old man opened his silver eyes, looked around at us all and then sat up, smiling.

Then the breath left his lips like smoke blowing away in the wind, and the light faded slowly from his eyes.


Blogger trisha said...

I felt a lump in my throat when I read this. You couldn't have portrayed a man's last moments more poignantly.

12:08 am  
Blogger jadeite said...

You make me cry.

12:59 pm  
Blogger tscd said...

trisha and jadeite: I think we all cried.

12:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very powerful story. Thanks for sharing it.

9:03 pm  

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