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anne phillips choking game fainting game

The Last Chapter
An excerpt from my book 'Memories Reframed'. My silent thoughts are in purple italics.

Sunday, October 31 1993, 5am

Ring... ring... ring... ring... ring... ring... ring... ring... ring... ring...

What's that? Oh, the phone. Uh oh. Who's calling at this early hour? It's not even light out. It must be bad news. I don't think it's for me. I sure hope not.

I hear Ben answer in the next room. "Anne, it's for you..." he says from the doorway.

For me? Oh no! Who is it? What's happened now?

My heart beats faster as I crawl across the girls and hit the floor. I haven't disturbed their sleep; they're already awake.
"Mrs. Phillips-Orchard?"
"This is officer... Waterloo police... your son Mike..."

Oh no, it's Mike! I knew it. It's always about Mike. Oh dear, now what?

"He's been in emergency at K-W Hospital since ten o'clock last night. He slipped shovelling snow and hit his head..."
"Snow? I didn't know it snowed!"
"Actually very little... a sprinkling... but that's what his friends reported when they took him to the hospital. He's being monitored, and we've been trying to locate you all night... at your Hamilton residence."

Phew! Just monitoring! I guess they're just keeping him in as a precaution. So it doesn't sound so bad. Thank goodness for that!

I say I'll head for the hospital. I hang up and peek outside. I can see a sprinkling of snow on the leaves. From the light in the hallway I pull on yesterday's clothes. The girls are sitting up. They look worried and questioning, but after hearing what the officer had to say, I'm feeling a little less stressed.
"It's Mike. He's slipped and bumped his head. I'll call as soon as I've seen him."
Even though I've told the girls not to worry, as always happens when I hear of a child of mine in distress, I'm worried. My heart is pounding as I drive to the hospital and park in the empty gas station across the road. My hands are shaking as I rest them on the check-in counter. The nurse acts mildly disinterested when I tell her who I am and ask to see Mike. She tells me to take a seat.

Now what does that mean? Does she know something but doesn't want to be the one to tell me? No, she's probably just doing her job and doesn't know anything about Mike.

After a few minutes, she says I can go in. I tell a nurse I'm Mike Phillips' mum, and she takes me to a bed on the far side of the room. Mike's lying still with his eyes closed but opens them when I speak. He looks pale — also a little spaced out, I assume because he's been sleeping. My heart rate slows down a little.

He's okay. Thank goodness! Just another bump on his head, that's all!

He says he has a headache, and I can see he's upset — just as Angi was when I found her having the cut on her head stitched up. I hold his hand, assure him he'll be okay and promise to stay with him. The nurse approaches, checks Mike's chart and asks him what day it is.
"Halloween... and mum's graduation day," he answers almost immediately, although his voice sounds weak.
"Good! Very good," she says as she writes on the sheet. "Now that you're here mum, he's more responsive."

Good! Oh good! He's not too bad if he can remember that, and he's
already feeling better!

The nurse tells me they've been assessing Mike every half hour and that the doctor would like to speak with me. She takes me to a work station on the other side of the room. I'm surprised to see it's my mother's GP. He looks surprised to see me too, then recognizes me from all the times I took my mother to his office.
"Yes, of course. Phillips!" he exclaims as he clips what looks like a skull x-ray onto the light panel attached to the wall. "Mike seems stable right now, but on his CAT scan... do you see these dark patches?"
I nod and feel my heart beat faster.
"Mike's head's taken a pretty hard bash, and these spots indicate bruising to the brain, and some bleeding. Here too..." he points with his pencil at more dark splotches on a second scan. I nod and wait in silence as he turns to face me.
"The neuro-surgeon wanted to admit Mike to ICU earlier and monitor him there, as we've been doing all night here. But..." he hesitates and looks directly into my eyes, "... as the attending doctor, the decision was mine to keep him here in emergency until you could be contacted. The police have been trying to find you all night!"

I know. I know. I wasn't at home. I was here in Waterloo only five minutes away, and my son's been here all alone all night. And the doctor looks so worried, like I should be worrying too. And I am. Oh dear, Mike must be worse than I thought...

"In London University Hospital they have better diagnostic equipment..." he goes on.
I get the impression he wants to say more. When he doesn't, I follow his cue.
"So... you think Mike would be better off in London? I mean... are his injuries that bad?"
"It's hard to know right now just how serious, but that's what I recommend," he says, bringing my attention back to the dark blotches. "It could be that he'd be fine here... but just to be on the safe side... and as Mike's mother, it's up to you."

It's up to me? Why is that? Surely he knows better! Oh, I think I see. This is about hospital politics and a difference of opinion. I have to be the one to say it.

"Yes, of course. Given what you've told me, I'd like Mike transferred to London."
He looks relieved and goes off to order an ambulance, and I rejoin Mike. He opens his eyes when I take his hand and carefully choose my words to explain what's happening next.

I hope Mike doesn't get upset. I hope I can put this so that he doesn't.

"Mikey, the doctor says they could treat you here... but it might be better for you to be in hospital in London. They've got better equipment there to make sure they don't miss anything. And I'll stay with you until the ambulance comes."
He seems too groggy to respond but nods before he closes his eyes. The doctor comes over to say there will be a slight delay in getting an ambulance, and since Mike appears to be sleeping, I leave to find a pay phone to call John.
It's still early, especially for a Sunday, but John answers quickly, and I assume his response to out-of-hours calls is much like mine. Briefly I fill him in. He questions the reason for Mike's fall, and I tell him I think it sounds strange too. He says he'll meet us in London later on. I hang up, buy a coffee from the machine and go outside for a cigarette. Five minutes later I go back inside.
The wait is longer than I thought it would be, and I wish they'd hurry up and get Mike to where he needs to be. The nurse assures me that the ambulance won't be long coming now and wakes Mike up, asks a few simple questions and makes tick marks on a new column. Again Mike closes his eyes, and she explains about the assessment sheet they use for patients with brain injuries. After she finishes I decide to leave. I'd rather stay with Mike, but I need to get back to Ben's and pack a few things. I want to get to London before Mike does and besides, I know the girls must be worrying.
"Okay Mike, they'll be here soon," I tell him. He opens his eyes, looks at me and then closes them again. "We'll see you in London, okay buddy?"
Mike opens his eyes again to acknowledge that he heard. I kiss his forehead and give his hand a squeeze. I'm beginning to feel numb as I exit through the automatic door and head towards my car. I feel as if I'm watching myself playing the lead role in an unfolding drama. Tears form in the corner of my eyes as I head up King Street.

No! No! Don't get upset. There's no reason to get upset. Mike's going to London, and the doctor said he'll be okay there. He did, didn't he? Yes he did, I'm sure he did. Anyway, he's  always been okay before, so he will be this time too!

The girls are already dressed and eating breakfast with Ben. I join them although I'm not hungry. I fill them in and assure them that their brother will be just fine. I phone Jeff to tell him what's happened and arrange to pick him up. Anna is in Waterloo for my graduation and will come along too.
The girls drive with Ben, and Jeff and Anna ride with me. I watch for the ambulance. It doesn't pass, and I wonder if it's behind us or in front. The conversation is about this and that, and I have the feeling we're all pushing fearful thoughts aside.
We park, and I check in at the admissions desk. I'm surprised Mike hasn't yet arrived but glad I'll be there when he does. I join the others in a waiting room down the hall and after it seems too much time has passed, I go back to the desk.
"Oh, there you are!" the nurse exclaims before I have a chance to ask the question. "Mom's here!" she calls to the ambulance attendants standing just inside the doors.

Oh, there he is! He's here, and we've been waiting over there. What the hell?

I sign the sheet on the clipboard without reading it. The nurse has already told me it's an authorization for surgery.

Not surgery! Oh my God! What's going on?

The attendants are already wheeling the gurney, and Mike, in my direction. I walk quickly towards them.

Hey, wait just a minute! I want to give my son a hug and a kiss. I want him to know I'm here with him and that everything will be alright. I want to tell him I love him. Hey, slow down!

But they keep on going, and I'm running to catch up. Now I'm running along beside him.
"Mike. Hi Mike..." I call out. A nurse tells me to get out of the way.

Why is Mike's hair soaking wet? And why is he unconscious? Wait...

The procession's gone before I get a chance to talk to Mike or ask questions. I go back to the waiting room. I'm stunned and confused but I manage to tell the rest what has happened and can see they feel as I do. Then the same nurse comes back to apologize.
"I'm so sorry... we had to get your son to surgery right away," she explains, kneeling in front of me and taking my hand. "He suffered a bleed in the ambulance... and the seizure caused him to sweat a lot."

He sweated so much that his hair's soaking wet? Or maybe they threw a bucket of water over him to cool him down? What's going on?

"But he's young and fit and has the strength to come through this," she tells me, and I have no choice but to believe her. I have to believe her!
The wait is excruciating. I phone Andrew to tell him where I am and that I won't be attending my graduation. I ask him to phone my mother, and promise to call again as soon as I have some news. As I hang up I give myself a mental pat on the back for managing to sound so calm. I'm still play-acting my way through the drama.
At last the surgeon appears and gathers us in a quiet room. He says Mike has come through the operation and explains that they removed a piece of his skull, inserted shunts to drain off the excess blood to relieve the pressure on his brain, and put the piece of bone back in place. We all breathe a sigh of relief. I thank him, but our relief is short-lived.
"Although as I said, your son's condition is stable... I don't want you thinking he's out of the woods," he cautions. "Any complication... a further build-up of pressure... could precipitate another emergency."
His tone frightens me as much as his words, but my fear recedes a little when he ends the briefing on a positive note. He repeats that Mike's condition is presently stable and the nurse's assurance that youth and strength are on his side.

Yes, that's right! She did say that, and it's true. So he is going to pull through!

Now that Mike is over the first big hurdle, we head for the cafeteria — except Ben who leaves to visit his niece. She lives in a large house only blocks from the hospital, and he intends to ask her if the girls and I can stay there, at least until Mike's condition improves.
Jeff, Anna and I order the soup of the day. There are large pieces of mushrooms floating in a thick light-brown sauce, and I'm the only one who likes it. I'm still not hungry, but eating seems a normal thing to do in the midst of chaos. As I eat I lose track of the conversation and conjure up a comforting vision.

When Mike's better, I'll take him home... not to Waterloo, but Hamilton.
He can have my bedroom, and I'll bunk in the attic with the girls. We'll
be one big happy family again! After what he's been through, he'll need a lot of care, and I'll nurse him back to health. Thank goodness I haven't
found a job yet! Oh, I can hardly wait to get him home!

I phone my mother who's relieved to hear Mike is doing okay following surgery. I don't elaborate on the doctor's warning, perhaps as much for my own benefit as hers. I'm surprised that Andrew, Jane, Jennifer and Graham are there with her; she explains that since they were planning on attending my graduation they came anyway. I'm glad they're all there for her.
Ben returns with news that Joanne will be happy to accommodate us and that he will return to Waterloo now that Mike is stable. Jeff and Anna decide to ride back with him. I need to follow Ben to Joanne's because I don't know where she lives, but first I want to see Mike if I'm allowed to.
At the door of the intensive care unit, I have to press a button and talk through the speaker in order to gain entrance. Once inside, I find Mike's bed past the nurses' station and to the right. I stand watching him, not quite knowing what to make of the situation. His head is completely bandaged, and there are many tubes and wires attached to Mike and the machines circling the head of his bed. A nurse hovers, checking the dials and intermittently adjusting the apparatus.

Oh Mike, you poor boy. Look what's happened to you! Whatever were you doing to get so badly hurt? And look... they've shaved off all your hair, and only a few days ago you said it would soon be long enough to wear in a pony tail! But you look good... all pink and peaceful, as if you're sleeping. I know you're not, and soon you'll wake up. Please wake up soon. Please?

I hold his hand — the one without the intravenous needle in it — and watch his chest rise and fall. His breathing is quiet and even, but I know the machine is breathing for him.

Mike, I don't know if you can hear me. I hope so because I want you to know I love you, and how frightened I've been. But I'm here with you now, and you're going to be okay. When you wake up and they say you can go home, I'll take you to Hamilton and look after you until you're completely better.

I don't know what else to say, and Ben's waiting to be on his way. I kiss Mike's warm cheek and smell the sweetness of his skin. I bring my mouth close to his ear, just in case he might hear me better.
"I love you, Mike, and I'll be back soon. 'Bye love."
I stroke his hand and glance back once as I pass the nurses' station.
I haven't seen Joanne in quite some time, and she's friendly and welcoming. She has a toddler who the girls can play with. After the others leave, the girls and I sit in the kitchen while she makes coffee. She asks Amanda and Angi if they're going out for Halloween. When they tell her their outfits are back in Waterloo, she offers to find something for them to wear if they want to go out. They do. She invites them upstairs but first puts a frozen turkey in the oven. I can't imagine it will be ready in time for dinner, but I think I still won't be hungry anyway.
After the girls and Joanne go off to search through her closet, I don't know what to do with myself.

Maybe I'll go up and watch. No, I'm feeling too antsy to get involved in anything so trivial... but I don't mean trivial  to the girls, and it will be good for them to go out. I wonder how Mike's doing? Maybe he's awake by now. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Or maybe he'll wake up soon, and I want to be there when he does. Yes, I'm going back. I don't think the girls will mind.

They understand, and I promise to be back in time to see them in their costumes. As always on Halloween, outside it's dull and chilly, and I shiver as I walk the three blocks. I reach the entrance to the long hospital driveway just as a car approaches, but only once it's passed do I realize it was John and Diane. An ominous chill runs through me, and I pick up my pace.
At ICU I press the buzzer and ask to be let in. I'm told to wait. I don't understand why but presume Mike's nurses are working with him, and I would be in their way. I sit and wait five minutes before pressing the buzzer again. I don't want to be a bother, but my son's in there, and I need to be with him. Again I'm told to wait, and my imagination catches fire.

Something's gone wrong! Really wrong! I know it! Why else won't they let me in? They don't want me to know what's happening. Oh please, please let me in and let him be okay. I can't just sit here. I don't care if they get mad at me. I'm going to buzz again.

This time I'm allowed in, but the flurry around Mike's bed keeps me on the periphery. I watch as one nurse checks his blood pressure. Another is working in behind on one of the machines. Finally, a third nurse notices me and explains that Mike's blood pressure is up and he's on his way to surgery again. I ask no questions while the wires are reconnected to smaller portable machines. I step back out of the way as they wheel Mike's bed past me and out of sight.
I can't leave, but I can't stay here alone while Mike's in surgery again. I'm crying as I phone Ben. He asks if I want him to come back, and I tell him I do. He says he's on his way. Then I phone Joanne and speak to the girls. They tell me they don't care about Halloween and say they'll walk over to the hospital. The waiting room is empty except for me, and I use my time to compose a scenario that caused Mike's blood pressure to soar.

He was stable when I left this afternoon. Did he know John and Diane were here and reacted to their visit? That would mean he can hear me... or at least he could when I saw him earlier on. And if so, did they say something that upset him? Or maybe he tried to respond and got frustrated when he couldn't? I don't know. I just don't know. But now he's even worse than he was before. Oh dear... please will something good happen? Please?

I'm still musing when the girls arrive, and I'm glad they're here. I tell them John and Diane have visited but spare them the details of my trumped-up scenario. As we sit and wait for Mike to be brought back from surgery, a minister comes to take us down to what he calls a family room on the main floor. He says he's concerned about us and that we can wait there rather than in the waiting room. I ask if we can sleep there.
"Usually we don't allow the room to be used for sleeping overnight in case another family needs to share it..."
I feel let down and a bit angry and tell him we're staying at the hospital all night and will have to try to sleep in the waiting room. At that he gives us permission to use the family room for one night. Ben finds us in there; so does an office worker to deliver a fax. It's from Andrew; he must be back home already. In the first paragraph he asks that I read the note to Mike.
I glance down the page. He's saying he's only recently become reunited with his cousin and wants to get to know him better. He talks about the strength and joy of life he saw in Mike the day we moved and implores him to hang on. These words that I can barely make out through my tears bring home the bitter truth. Mike's in big trouble!
Ben has brought along our bags, as well as dinner in a Tupperware container. It's turkey and vegetables, and we take it up to the cafeteria to find some plates and cutlery. The counter is closed, and we're the only ones present. It feels cold and stark, and the girls and I aren't hungry. It's been a long day and we're all tired, but we're waiting for Mike to come back from surgery before we go to bed.
We return to ICU. Mike's back and we're allowed in.
I stare mindlessly at a nurse with a carpenter's level in her hand. She moves it up and down close to the right side of Mike's head. She notices I'm watching and explains she's trying to find the right level for one of the machines. Mike looks the same as before, but I've already been told they didn't replace the piece of his skull this time, to give his swelling brain more room.

It's getting worse, and I don't think he's going to get better! I know it. It feel it. The doctor sounds even more worried now than he did this morning. Oh my God! What are we going to do? What are we going to do without Mike?

I share my fears with Ben before he leaves for Joanne's, but not in front of the girls. He says Mike has every chance of recovering. I want to believe him more than anything else in the world, and I know he's trying to help. One thing I do know is that I'm grateful he's back.
We bunk down on the two black leather couches. They've given us two pillows and light blankets, and I'm glad I'm sharing my couch with Angi because we're warmer together than apart. There's not much room for the two of us; she's lying on the inside, and I pull a coffee table close so I have somewhere to put my left leg. I lie on my back, wide awake, and clutch Mike's school picture that I carry in my wallet. I hold it over my heart. I repeat The Lord's Prayer over and over again and add my own personal supplications.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name... Please God, please save my son. I'll do anything you ask and never ask you for anything else. I'll quit smoking and anything else I shouldn't be doing. Only please don't let him die...

I sleep fitfully for short periods. Each time I wake up I repeat my prayer then go to see Mike. It's deathly quiet in the hospital halls, and the elevator's always empty except for me. In ICU, the lights are dazzling bright and hurt my eyes. Every time I get buzzed in I'm hopeful that Mike will show some signs of life, but each time he doesn't I'm more sure he never will. I don't stay long, and yet I can't seem to stop myself from going back again and again and again.

Monday, November 1

I wish I could take a shower. I think I'd feel a bit better if I could, but I clean myself up as best I can. I stare into the mirror and hardly recognize the face gazing back at me.

Who are you? Surely you're not Anne! She should have a happy face. She was supposed to graduate yesterday, and all her children, except for Cathie, were going to be there to congratulate her and tell her they're proud of her. She was going to get cards and flowers. So who's this staring back at me from the mirror in a hospital washroom?

Ben's back at the hospital, and soon Jeff arrives with Irene and Chris. I'm surprised to see Irene because she's had surgery which would have prevented her from attending my graduation. But she says she had to come to London, despite the pain she's in, and I appreciate that. Also I'm thankful that Joanne's house, and her heart, is big enough to put everyone up.
John is in ICU when I get there, and he asks if I know the real reason that Mike fell. I tell him I heard it wasn't snow he slipped on, but leaves. He says Mike's friends have told the truth — that they smoked a joint and then played a game.

Snow or leaves? And a game? But what does it matter what caused the accident? Mike fell, he's fighting for his life, and we're all here praying he wins. That's all I'm thinking about and all that matters. And I'm scared... so scared.

There's another meeting in a quiet room. Jeff sits one side of me and Irene the other. I'm glad she's here, especially since she's a nurse and can tell me what's going on in layman's terms. The doctors explain to John and Diane why they didn't replace the piece of Mike's skull and add that even so, his brain is still swelling and bleeding. Their tone is ominous, and I sense the rest are as frightened as I am.
I feel physically sick and ate very little of my breakfast. I'd rather drink coffee and smoke than eat. I spend the morning going between ICU, the front entrance to the hospital and the quadrangle at the back. It's wintry outside but I hardly feel the cold.
Mid-afternoon I get talked into returning to Joanne's and taking a nap. I lie on the couch in the living room, next to the kitchen where Ben and his sister, Mary, are chatting. They're using quiet voices, but the few words I catch send me into a panic.

Oh no. Please no! She's whispering about how I'm going to need a lot of support, and Ben's agreeing. I knew it! I've known all along Mike's not going to make it, even though they all keep telling me he is. Now they think I can't hear them and are saying what they really think. But I can't go there! I don't dare go to that place in my head where I know Mike's going to die. If I do I'll go totally mad and never ever get sane again. So I must not think, I must not think, I must not think, I must not think...

The pizza delivery boy ringing the door bell wakes me up. I feel a little better for the nap and am glad of the food and the company. It feels surreal to be eating and chatting around Joanne's kitchen table, and I wonder if I'm not the only one who's not 'going there'. I wish Mike was here too and, for a short while, pretend he is. But I know he's not.
Back at the hospital I see a familiar couple step off the elevator, and it takes me a few seconds to recognize Chris' parents.

What a coincidence to see them both here. Are they visiting somebody as well? Oh yes. Oh no, I just remembered. They're here because of Mike, and that's how serious this all is.

They ask after Mike and tell me Chris and Cathie are flying in tonight. Tomorrow we'll all be together.
It's late evening, and I go to the hospital pharmacy to ask for something to help me and the girls sleep. I can't understand why the pharmacist is asking so many questions. All I'm asking for is enough medication to get us through the next couple of nights. Eventually he gives me six pills, and we head back to Joanne's.

Tuesday, November 2nd

The girls and I slept a little better, together on Joanne's pull-out couch with me in the middle. The pills helped, as did my being able to feel and touch the girls the few times I awoke in the darkness.
We head back to the hospital. I ask the nurse why Mike's hand is so cold, and she explains he's lying on a pad of ice to keep his body temperature down. Apparently the part of his brain that's supposed to do that isn't doing it now. I tell the nurse I don't like the thought of him being so cold, and she promises to move the pack. The next time I hold his hand it feels warmer.
He's covered to mid-chest with a white sheet, and I can see that his tummy's bloated. Again the nurse offers an explanation and a solution: Mike's body is retaining fluid, and it will be drained off soon.
Cathie and Chris are here, and they attend the morning's meeting in a quiet room. There are so many of us around the table — everyone except Amanda and Angi who are being spared the first-hand details. The doctors drone on.

Okay. Okay. I hear you. What? You're asking for permission to  unplug Mike's breathing machine. Oh no! Please no! But yes! Yes, Mike did sign the back of his driver's licence. Yes, he wants to donate all his body parts upon his death. Death!  When? Soon! His brain is dead. Soon he'll be dead. Not today though. Tomorrow. Are you sure? They're sure. Okay, tomorrow.

Bobbie's here in the quadrangle as well. It's colder today. Mike's tummy is now flat beneath the smooth white sheet. Every so often the nurse pulls down the bottom edge of his eyes to put in drops. Irene explains that they need to keep Mike's corneas lubricated so they can be transplanted into a recipient. I'm on auto-pilot. I put one foot in front of the other and time after time find myself standing beside my sweet son's bed. I talk to him but don't know what I'm saying. I kiss his cheek. I leave and come back again.

Stay away from that scary head space, Anne. Don't think. Don't go there.
Don't think about anything. Don't think about tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow...

I use the pay phone to call David Morris. He assures me that he and Helen Reesor will visit my mother and tell her the news.

Wednesday, November 3rd

Today  is the day my son is to die. Today is Amanda's 14th birthday. How could I have forgotten? I'm sorry, Amanda, even though you say it's okay that your brother dies on your birthday. It's not okay, and I'm so sorry...

There's another meeting in a quiet room. Mike still has one reflex left — which means he can't be pronounced completely brain dead — which means he won't be donating his main body organs — which means that only his corneas, long bones and skin will be harvested.

Harvested! Harvested? What an odd word to use! And of all the reflexes to be the last, of course it's Mike's gagging reflex. Didn't he always have a tough time when Dr. Hustwitt put wax in his mouth to make impressions for moulds for his braces? He had them on for so long because he didn't like wearing the elastics. But I bugged him about it, and now his teeth are perfect. Wasted effort... wasted time... wasted life!  And didn't he gag in the back of the car and ask to stop so he could vomit outside? I remember, and so does Irene. I remember so many things. And again I remember it's his sister's birthday as well.

John and Diane give Amanda a card, and John asks me, Jeff and Cathie to go to a quiet room with him. First I visit Mike.

I'm so sorry Mike. It's too late to ask you to wake up. It's too late to kid myself that I  can take you home. And look! Look at your poor head... your poor face! It's such a strange shape with that piece of your skull missing. You're still beautiful, but we can't put you back together again. I'm so sorry... and now I have to go to the quiet room with your dad and Jeff and Cathie...

We wait for John to speak. He's having trouble getting started.           

So what's he going to say? That he's sorry for all he did and said to Mike? Now that will be something to see and hear, I must say. What's he saying? That we have to look after the girls? What does he mean? Of course we have to look after them! Oh, right. He feels guilty about the way he treated Mike and wants to make up for it. I guess that makes sense, but if that's all he has to say...

We all exit the little room, but soon I find myself back inside with the minister who set us up in the family suite that first night. We talk about Jesus and God, and life and death and heaven, until someone raps on the door. A woman's voice is urging us to hurry.

Already? Only a few minutes left you say? Oh no! Only one more chance
to talk to him... to  say goodbye. Oh God... no...

The minister and I find Mike in a small curtained area in a different section of the ward. The others are already there, except Amanda and Angi. I stand in my usual spot and hold Mike's left hand. The intravenous needle has gone — and the breathing apparatus. In fact, without so many tubes and wires, I could almost believe he's just sleeping.

But he's not sleeping. He's dying, and Angi and Amanda should be here! They're so close to their brother and old enough to be here to watch him die! I'll go get them? Oh no, I can't. Mike's having trouble breathing, so there's no time, and it would be rude to leave in the middle of the prayers...

I watch Mike's chest rise and fall. I'm still standing right beside him, but I feel as if I'm watching from a great distance.

That's it, Mike. In and out. Keep on trying. You can do it. Please. Up and down. Uh oh, that breath was noisier and it took you a long time. Oh dear, how can I make you keep on breathing? There must be something I can do. But there isn't. Oh no, please don't say that shuddering breath was your last gasp? I think it was, and the machine's quiet like in Flatliner, one or your favourite movies...

My son's sweet spirit crosses in front of me and disappears up past the curtains to my left. I kiss his cheek and whisper 'I love you'. I touch his yellow lips with my fingers. They feel rubbery as I remember Lynne's did.

'Bye Mike. I love you Buddy. Come on everyone. No sense staying
 here any longer. Let's go and get the girls and go home...


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