By Justin Dickinson
It is Thursday morning at 04:30 am. Marcus gets a phone call from the care facility that his mother lives at. She got up in the middle of the night and fell, hitting her head on the solid tile flooring. Marcus's mother was taken to the hospital and is currently in the NICU. Marcus hurriedly gets dressed and calls for a cab to the hospital. On the ride to the hospital, he stares out of the cab window with tears forming in his eyes, yet his face is somber. Lost in his own thoughts he suddenly remembers his sister, and that she needs to be filled in on the situation.
He texts her “Hey sis, Mom is in the NICU after a fall. Will call and update as soon as I get there and get more information. Once the cab pulls up to the hospital entrance a pit forms in Marcus's stomach. Marcus realizes he is not ready to hear whatever the doctor may have to say. Marcus takes a seat down on a bench near the front entrance of the hospital. The frigid air blowing from the AC vent above his head helped ease his anxiety. As he started to calm down, Marcus shakes his head and lightly smacks his face. He starts heading down the brightly lit, wide hospital hallways towards the NICU.
When he arrives, he walks up to a circular desk with rooms and beds all within a 360-degree view. Sitting at the desk, just opposite from the hallway entrance, a woman, young, with short curly hair looks up from her computer.
“Are you here for someone”? she asks.
“Yes” Marcus replies.
“Name?” she says.
“Theresa Little.” Marcus could barely get the name out he was so nervous.
The woman pauses for a moment, “Sir, could you please wait a moment? The doctor would like to speak with you.”
As soon as Marcus heard those words, fear washed over him. He starts breathing heavily, the constant beeping of IV machines and O2 monitors drown out everything else. Suddenly a firm hand grabs his and puts his index and middle over his wrist for a moment.
“Your heart rate is 113 beats per minute,” the man in a white lab coat says.
“What?” Marcus says.
“You are having a panic attack. Would you mind if we sat down for a moment?”
“Sure,” Marcus says.
“I’m Dr. Johnson, I am currently overseeing Theresa Little’s care. What is your relation to her?”
“I’m her son, Marcus Little. I also pay for her to stay at a care facility.”
“Okay, Marcus, I have information on the status of your mother. Do you think you are ready?” the doctor says.
“I think I am.”
“Your mother has a brain injury; we suspect a few things but are waiting for the scans to come back. Currently she is unresponsive when we receive her, and her oxygen levels were dangerously low. The ambulance tried several methods to deliver oxygen to your mother and were unsuccessful. We intubated her as soon as she arrived as she was unable to breathe on her own. Now if the scans come back and we need surgery. I would advise against it due to your mother's age and the possible worsening of her dementia.”
Marcus takes a moment to process the information. “What do you suggest to be done?” he asks.
Dr. Johnson says, “There is the option removing her life support and administering medications to alleviate the pain so she will be able to pass comfortably, but it is up to you to decide between that or surgery depending on the scans.”
“I need a moment to call my sister.” Marcus says.
“Understood” Dr. Johnson says as he gets up and walks over to the round desk.
Marcus pulls out his phone and sees three missed calls, a voicemail, and multiple texts from his sister. Most of the text messages are positive affirmations about Marcus’s ability to handle the situation. After reading some of the texts he phones his sister.
“Hey, Marcus, how are you holding up?” she asks.
“I’m hanging in there, Katie” Marcus replies.
“So how is mom doing? Has the doctor spoken with you yet?” she asks.
“Yea,” Marcus says in a somber tone. “She sustained some sort of brain injury and is nonresponsive and is currently intubated as she was unable to breathe on her own.”
“Okay, well what are they proposing to do?” she asks.
“So far, it between surgery or an assisted death. They’re waiting on the scans to decide exactly what the issue is if we choose surgery but, the doctor advises against it due to her age and dementia.”
Katie says nothing and neither does Marcus. Marcus just looks to the floor with his phone against his ear. Finally, the silence is broken by Katie.
“Well, we just have to wait on the scans then.” Katie says.
“Are you serious?” Marcus says. “Putting her through surgery is the worst idea right now. She can barely function as is, due to her dementia and we don’t even know if she would survive!” Marcus hangs up the phone as he realizes his voice has reached a point where he is almost yelling in the NICU, he decides to walk outside to continue the conversation. As soon as Katie picks up the phone, she starts into him.
“It is not up to you to decide what happens to mom. She is just as much my mom as she is yours. Why would you want to kill our mom? She has given us her life, and this is how you wish to repay her?”
Marcus, now furious, calmly says to her, “It is up to me to decide, I am the power of attorney. You relinquished that right when you made her move all the way from Kentucky to North Carolina because you wanted to focus on your schooling. You haven't come to see mom in years, meanwhile I’ve given her everything I could. Even if she did survive surgery it’s likely that she’ll be even worse off than before. That wouldn’t be fair to her or to me.”
Katie simply responds, “Fine, do what you want.”
When Marcus enters the NICU again he asks if he could see his mother and to send the doctor in. While waiting for the doctor in his mother's room he takes a long look at her. Many wires coming from her chest, finger, and arms are all hooked up to multiple different machines. Her chest slowly rising and falling with labor as air is continuously pumped into and out of her lungs. Her face is lifeless, with no color. As if she has already passed. Marcus puts his hand over hers, cold and stiff. Suddenly Dr. Johnson enters the room again.
“Those scans came back,” Dr. Johnson says.
Marcus continues looking at his mother.
“She has many fractures along the side of her skull and a brain bleed. Have you made a decision yet?” Dr. Johnson asks.
Marcus stares at his mother for a moment. Takes both of his hands and puts them around his mother's. Leans forward and kisses her on the forehead.
“Turn off the Life Support.”
Justin Dickinson lived a majority of his life in Lynchburg, Virginia. He served with FEMA Corps in 2016, providing disaster assistance to many individuals across the United States, and worked as a CNA for nearly 3 years in the hospital. It was seeing everyday people faced with hard choices that inspired him to write "Marcus's Decision."