Home > A Curve in the Road(10)

A Curve in the Road(10)
Author: Julianne MacLean

I gather my thoughts and try to explain as clearly and gently as possible. “Alan was on his way to Lunenburg, and it was foggy and dark, and the roads were starting to freeze. He drifted across the center line.”

Lester scoffs. “That little idiot. Was he drinking?”

The question, combined with his hateful tone, catches me off guard. “Actually, he was . . . but why would you ask that?”

“Because Alan never could hold his liquor. He was always a lightweight.”

I take another deep breath and try to remain calm when all I want to do is tell my father-in-law to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.

“So when’s the funeral?” Lester asks pointedly. “I suppose you’ll expect us to be there. Flights aren’t cheap, you know.”

“I don’t expect anything from you, Lester. It’s up to you if you want to come. I’m not sure when the service will be, but I’ll certainly let you know.”

“Fine. I’ll tell Verna and Bruce.”

“Good. I have to go now. Goodbye.”

Fighting against the rising tide of my anger, I end the call and slam my phone down on the bed. Then I stare at the ceiling and listen to the tinny sound of ice pellets striking the windowpane.

“How did he take it?” Mom asks.

“Sickeningly well,” I reply. “Didn’t shed a single tear. You’d think I was calling to tell him that his roof needs replacing.”

This comes as no surprise to my mother. She knew all about Alan’s difficult relationship with his father, who had always been mean-spirited and abusive.

She pats my hand.

“That’s Lester for you,” I add. “I don’t even know if he’s going to come to the funeral. I hate to say it, but I hope he stays away, because I don’t want to see him. Honestly, I don’t know if Alan would have even wanted him there.”

I continue to lie on the bed, quietly seething over Lester’s emotionless response to his son’s death. I think about Alan and how he turned out to be such a good man despite having been raised by a terrible father.

All I want is for Alan to walk into the room so I can pull him into my arms and hold him tight.

Then Lester’s words hit me full force, and I remember that Alan was driving drunk and nearly killed the both of us. The husband I loved—since the first moment we met—suddenly feels like a stranger to me, and I don’t like the feeling. I don’t like it at all.

For the next hour, Mom and I watch television in silence. Maybe it’s the pain medication or mere exhaustion, but I’m barely aware of what I’m looking at—a sitcom I’ve never seen before, with a laugh track that is strangely hypnotic. A nurse comes to check on us, then leaves again. Another nurse comes later. Ice pellets continue to beat against the window, relentlessly. Time passes slowly.

I wish I could shut down my brain, but I can’t stop thinking about the trauma room and how I was forced to perform CPR on my husband and then watch Dr. Sanders call the time of death. I see Alan lying there, dead on the table, and I feel as if I’m awake in a nightmare that simply won’t end, as it carries me lightly into a memory of how we met.

It was just the third day of medical school, when we were introduced to the dead body that would serve as our group’s cadaver for the year. The class had been warned in advance about the importance of behaving in a respectful manner, and the mood was solemn as we entered the lab, which smelled strongly of formaldehyde. I was nervous to begin with. We were also told that some of us might become nauseated or experience some other unexpected emotional response.

For me, the timing was unfortunate. I had buried my beloved father a month earlier. As soon as I saw the dead man, I became distraught and had to leave the lab.

Alan followed. He asked if I was okay. I said no and told him about my dad. Alan let me cry on his shoulder. He rubbed my back and said he understood because he had lost his mother to cancer when he was thirteen.

Alan and I formed an unbreakable bond that day, surrounded by death. The friendship carried us through the highs and lows of medical school, and when graduation loomed, I didn’t know how I would ever live without Alan if our professional lives separated us. He felt the same way, but fate was kind and placed us together in Halifax to complete our residencies. We tied the knot three months later.

Now here I am in another hospital, two decades later, wishing he were here so I could cry on his shoulder again.

Never in a million years could I have imagined I would lose him like this. Nothing about it is right.

My cell phone starts ringing and pulls me from my thoughts. I glance at the screen and pick it up. “Hello?”

“Hello, is this Abbie MacIntyre?”

“Yes,” I reply.

“This is Dr. Payne.” He pauses. “I’m very sorry to hear about your husband. Troy told me.”

I feel like I might start to cry again, but somehow I manage to keep it together. “Thank you.”

There’s a long silence before the vet clears his throat. “Please know that I’m doing everything I can, but your dog is in pretty bad shape. You’re lucky that Troy found him when he did.”

I sit forward on the bed. “Is he going to be okay?”

“I hope so, but as I said, it’s serious.”

My stomach burns. “What’s wrong with him? And please be clear, Doctor. I’m a physician myself.”

“I see. Well . . . he’s had some internal bleeding, which I believe is coming from a ruptured spleen, he has serious bruising everywhere, and his skull is fractured.”

“What?” All of this knocks me off-balance emotionally, and I fight to keep it together. “But he ran such a long distance after the accident. He did that with a ruptured spleen and a fractured skull?”

“Yes,” Dr. Payne replies. “Clearly, he’s a very faithful dog, but I need your permission to open him up. I suspect I’ll have to remove his spleen and see what else we’re dealing with internally.”

I squeeze my eyes shut and pray Winston will come through. “Yes, you have my permission. Do whatever’s necessary to save him, whatever the cost. I don’t care. I’ll pay anything. But no matter what happens . . . please don’t let him suffer.” I take a deep, shaky breath. “And, Doctor, you should know that after losing my husband tonight, I’d prefer not to lose my dog too. Not to put extra pressure on you, but my son would be devastated. We love Winston so much.”

“I understand,” he says matter-of-factly, without missing a beat. “I’ll do everything I can. You have my word. I’ll call you the minute he’s out of surgery, which should be in a few hours. Maybe more. It’s hard to say.”

I speak firmly. “It doesn’t matter what time it is, because I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight anyway. Call as soon as you have news.”

I end the conversation and tell my mother what’s happening. Then I call Zack to fill him in as well. My son cries softly with relief over Winston but also grief over his father. He wants to come and be with me and to be with Winston too. To be reassured. But I tell him he has to wait until the morning, when it will be safe to travel and the light of day will help us see everything more clearly.

I try to sleep, but I can’t. My emotions and stress levels are like a dark abyss from which I can’t escape. So when my phone buzzes at two in the morning, I’m already wide-awake. I sit up instantly and swipe the screen.

Mom continues to snore softly from the bed beside mine, and I try to answer quietly so that I don’t wake her, but it’s no use. She hears me talking, sits up, and switches on the light.

“Hi, Abbie. It’s Dr. Payne.”

“Yes. Hello.” My stomach lurches. “How did the surgery go?”

“Well, we had a few tense moments, but Winston is a fighter. He made it through, and he’s in recovery now.”

I bow my head and press the heel of my hand to my forehead. “Thank goodness.” I turn to my mother. “He survived the surgery.”

Dr. Payne responds immediately. “But he’s not out of the woods yet. There was a lot of bleeding, and we nearly lost him. I had to remove his spleen, and that skull fracture has me worried. I’m going to stay with him tonight and watch him closely.”

Suddenly I’m hit with a spell of déjà vu because everything reminds me of what just happened to Alan—the head injury and the internal bleeding and the damage to the spleen. It’s all too similar, and it brings back the same feelings of panic I had in the ER only hours before. I want to get out of this bed and go straight to the clinic, but I know I can’t. It’s the middle of the night, and I’ve been given pain medication. Besides all that, Winston is still anesthetized.

“When will he wake up?” I ask.

“It’s hard to say. He’s been through a lot. I’ll certainly call you if there’s any change, but in the meantime, I suggest you get some sleep. If he makes it through the night—and I have faith that he will, Abbie; he’s very strong—he’ll want to see you in the morning. He’s going to need a reason to wag that tail.”

Dr. Payne’s encouraging words fill me with emotion. My eyes tear up, and I find myself marveling at the fact that I’m still capable of feeling some form of joy, even if it’s tearful. It’s a tremendous gift on this night.

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