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Staying Alive

"Aging man reviews life's chances"

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Hospitals have always made me uneasy, and that was only when visiting. Now, here I was, a patient, and breathing easy. Not allowed to get up yet, though.

They don’t half fuss over me. “You’re a special case, Mr Fuller,” the nurses keep saying. Doctors, who come and check me over, have said that too. But my darling Helen, bless her, says I’ve always been a special case to her. I just wish I wasn’t putting her through all this bother. I did try to keep her out of it for as long as I could.

They say I’m  lucky to be alive and I can’t argue with that. After all my worrying it’s all been decided for me.

I knew something inside me wasn’t right. Helen tells me, now it’s all over, that she knew something was wrong. I was getting bad-tempered, she said. Who me? And I’d slowed down so much, and I became breathless so quickly. Walking upstairs was like climbing Nelson’s column. Up the outside!

I’d tried so hard to ignore it. Funny, isn’t it? Your car starts acting up and you’re onto it right away. But your own chest gets queasy, and you hang back. Why? Because you’re scared, that’s why.

I wasn’t keen to face up to it, but barely two weeks ago I took myself to the doctor. He immediately booked me in to see this specialist. Just downstairs here, somewhere. Worried about it for days. But I didn’t tell Helen. They worry about you enough, women, don’t they?

I knew I was in deep trouble by the time I got to see this specialist. When I told Helen where I was going, she wasn’t happy about me going by myself, even less happy about me driving. I told her not to worry.

In the end, I got my own way—for once.

At last, shaking like a leaf I was with the specialist, who ran me through a range of tests and checks. Then sitting behind his desk, he looked across at me, tapping his fingertips together. That makes them look clever, I think.

Especially when they’re telling you unwelcome news. And it was unwelcome news.

My heart was close to giving up. Not his exact words, too many long words for me to take in, but there was something about ‘fib’ in among them. But it all came down to one thing.

I was in deep mire and my heart, which I’d had for over seventy years could pop at any time. “You have one chance, Mr Fuller—and only one,” the specialist said.

Transplant! That word entered unwillingly into my brain. Me, getting a spare part. I thought I was too old.

“No,” he tells me, “You might have been low priority a few years ago, but now—new millennium—new technology.”

Damn that word ‘technology.’ I hate it. Technology. Technology. Technology.

I didn’t tell you that I’m slightly old-fashioned, did I? But there’s just too much of it. I’ve tried to ignore it, but I fear that it is coming to get me.

Wherever you go these days, people have their hands stuck to the side of their faces. Mobile phones, I don’t know why they call them ‘mobile.’ They stop folk in their tracks if you ask me. People forget how to talk face to face.

Anyway, I was telling you about this transplant idea. I was given twenty-four hours to think about it. Specialist would tell me more once I’d made my mind up.

Crazy, isn’t it? Having to think about saving my own life? What’s to think about?

But, you know, it wasn’t that straightforward. A teasing voice in my head is telling me, it’s not my kind of world anymore.

I was all numb when I came out of that specialist’s office. He’d told me not to drive, but what else could I do with my car right there. I drove down to the Quayside, parked, and just sat watching the river flow sluggishly by as I thought it all through.

You see, so many things irritate me these days. Not just the technology – the machines, microwhatsits, and computers. Just the way everything’s shaping.

What about television? That started upsetting me years ago.

Oh, I know it keeps a lot of folk happy, fills their empty lives. But all this ‘Celebrity’ garbage. Whenever I see that word in a title, I know there’ll be nobody I recognise. And I cringe when an announcer introduces somebody as “The one, the only!” Hell, every one of us is ‘ one and only’ simply by being ourselves.

I’m against all the bad language in the plays or films they put on. Mind, all my years in the factory, I knew—and used—all the words myself. But I don’t want to have them pumped out in front of my dear Helen.

Then there’s all the sex—

Christ, you’d think they’d just invented it. Switch on any night, and they’re either talking about it or doing it—and badly at that.

It used to be special and private.

And all these bustling, no-time-for-nothing-or-nobody folk. Heads down, locked in their own stressed-out worlds. Folk has changed, all right.

Good manners ? Sign of weakness these days. Not long ago I held a door open to usher this young lady through. She looks at me with venom as though I’d kicked her backside. Feminists, they’re called. Would I do that again? You know, I do believe I would. Because that’s my way, my instinct.

Now the hard part, as I’m thinking of some poor bloke having to die before I can get his heart. But I could pop off anytime if I don’t get it. Even then, the specialist told me that there were no guarantees of success—until it was in and running.

Suppose I say ‘no’ and condemn myself for the end, what would I really be missing?

Well, the team, for a start. “Come on the Blues!” And all of that.

Now there’s a laugh. Supported them since I was a kid. No wonder my heart is crying, “Enough!”

But some things I’m best out of. I used to enjoy just strolling around the town, at one time. Hardly know it now. They’ve killed all the character. All the big stores eating up the small shops. Everything’s multi now—multi-story car parks, multi-cinemas, multi-malls.

No, this is not the kind of world I want to live in. So, my mind was near made up.

Then, for the first time, I was thinking closer to home, and I was thinking of my dear lady, my Helen. This heart that’s wearing out, is the one she won so many happy years ago. Would she accept a second-hand one? Only a coward would leave her to fend.

She’s been my life—but she’d be free and rid of running hand and foot after my needs.

 She’d be sad—I hope she would anyway. She’s still my bonny lady.

And our Jack?

 Well, not much use having a son out of reach in Australia, is it?

That’s been one of the hurts, him being out there. Photograph of Dina, his lovely wife, and their two little lasses, pretty as snowdrops. Look like their grandma. It means they’d never know their grandad. Hell, they don’t know me now.

Sat there for ages, I did, thinking of all of that. I was being a bloody misery.

Finally, I set off home, all set to take Helen’s advice—like I always end up doing anyway.

And that was when decisions were taken completely out of my hands.

Along City Road a big Merc pulled out against the lights. Desperately I slammed on my brakes, and the driver, all gold teeth and homespun hair, honoured me with a regal wave of apology.

But the shock of it. Suddenly I was all hot. Then cold, bitter, and shivering. I learned what vampires must feel when that stake goes in. My chest exploded, and I only had time to think, ‘Too late, I’m too late. I’m dead.’ And everything went black.

My first attempt at consciousness was very brief. All was white. A nurse whispered, “You must stay in this induced coma.” There was a needle, but I didn’t feel or see it.

Next time, I thought I was in Heaven. Your mind plays funny tricks on you when you’re all doped up. This was no Heaven, fastened as I was with tubes, tapes, and pieces of wire.

I was like bloody Pinocchio.,

A nurse told me to rest. Well, I needed no telling. My chest felt like a ploughed field. I closed my eyes and was away again.

When I came round, I was much more alert. A doctor was immediately there to inform me that I was an incredibly lucky man and that I had been kept in an induced coma for three days until my body accepted the changes.

 My thoughts immediately were about Helen. But the doctor told me that Helen was waiting to speak to me. “She asked if it was safe to scold you,” he laughed. “But she does want to be the first to tell you what has happened. I think she deserves that. I’ll give you full details later.”

 Helen came in, lovely in her ‘best blue.’ Her eyes looked like she’d been weeping.

A gentle kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the hand, and then she was telling me about being a special case, and how lucky I’d been.

Knowing what I’m like she clearly enjoyed the next bit. She smiled that gloating smile when she knows she’s got me.

“The ambulance wouldn’t have been in time,” she said smiling widely, “if it hadn’t been for a man with—" She paused, eyes gleaming, “—a mobile phone,”

But if she enjoyed telling me that, the next revelation had her all aglow, with the really good news. “Our Jack’s contract is complete; they’re all coming home.”

Marvellous. I’ll  get to see my grandkids, at last. If I stay alive.

And that’s when she starts telling me about this new heart, I could see she was getting all fidgety.

Like they do when they’re not sure how you’ll react.

“You were an emergency. But the surgeon said it was your only chance.”

Her lovely eyes filled with tears again. “It was still experimental, so I had to give my permission.”

“Permission to put me right?”

“Well, I wanted you back. That’s why I said yes.”

“Not a foreign heart, is it?” I’m not a racist but, I am patriotic. Always buy British.

Then as quick as that , she blurted it out---and do you know what?

I’ve got a pig’s heart ticking inside me.

Well, I was stunned for a minute.

“I thought they didn’t take?”

Helen nodded her head firmly, “They’ve got new drugs now—and with added technology they can make your body accept.”

That particular news set my new organ banging like fury inside me.

Helen had one more piece of information. “It was a British pig.”

That was something, but I’ve come to realise that I’m feeling better than I have for years. Mind you, I didn’t take kindly to the surgeon saying later,  as he explained more details, that I was a walking advert for modern technology.

Me? Kept alive to start acting like a modern man.

Helen says she’ll buy me a laptop computer for Christmas, and Jack, home with the gorgeous grandkids and charming wife, insists I should have a mobile.

But now, fit and well, only one thing bothers me. With all this technology around—

I just hope to God that I never damage my head!

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