Father leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. A full day had passed since Vincent had been placed in restraints, and although his wound from the IV site had been bandaged and the abrasions around his wrists had been treated, there was a new and ominous symptom. Vincent's heart was beginning to fail.
In one of his son's few quiet periods, when he'd worn himself out roaring and the chills were beginning to descend, Father had been able to get some basic vitals. His son's heartbeat, which was already a slow twenty-one beats per minute, was slowing. His breathing was labored, with long pauses between each one. They'd given him oxygen to help his breathing, but the wildness in Vincent didn't tolerate the mask.
Vincent was dying, and there was nothing he, or anyone else, could do.
Peter had come down, concerned. “He's not better, then,” Peter had said as he took in Father's white, anguished face and reddened eyes. “What are his symptoms now?”
“Delirium,” Father said as they walked back from the main entrance. “High fever, then chills. He's become violent and we had to restrain him.” The words were simple but the rough tone of pain and guilt was hanging in the open air, like a knife. “His heart is under...considerable strain.”
“Cardiac arrest?” Peter asked.
“No, not yet. But...soon, I think.” Father looked down, clasped his cane. “I don't know if I'll be able to bring him back.” His voice dropped until it was barely louder than the pipes around them. “And I don't know if I should.”
Peter stopped, aghast. “What are you saying?”
“I look at my son,” Father said softly, “and I see that the beast has overtaken him. What kind of life would I bring him back to?”
Dropping his medical bag on the ground, he grabbed Father by the shoulders. “While there is life, there is hope. You taught Vincent that---don't make yourself a liar now.”
Father nodded, chastened. “I'm sorry, Peter. It's just---”
Peter nodded. “I know. But you can't give up hope now. Remember when he came to you and he was so tiny and no one---including me---thought he would live? We were all wrong then and we'll be wrong again. You just have to have hope.”
And hope, Father mused, was all they had. Vincent's voice had gone hoarse with his howling and was now just muted, but the howls tore at his heart for all that. He strained at the restraints and had come close, even in his weakened state, to breaking them. Had he been completely well, they would never have held.
After a while, even Peter had left. He’d left behind some epinephrine and a large bore syringe if…when…Vincent’s heart should finally stop, but there wasn’t anything else he could do. Winslow had come by, and the younger Pascal, and Rebecca. Father knew their purpose, to say goodbye to a childhood friend, and was touched by it. Whether Vincent knew of their presence, as far gone as he was, Father did not know.
Mary had come too, gentle Mary who had lost her only child shortly after coming to the tunnels. She was all the mother Vincent had ever known. “It's near the end, isn't it?” she asked softly, wiping Vincent’s face with a damp cloth during one of his few quiet moments.
Father nodded. “He's struggling so much now, even to breathe.” When she left, when Peter had left, Father sat in the gathering dark and thought about his son.
There were so many memories crowding now, as he listened in a state of panic for that ragged breath to continue or fail. There was Vincent the infant kitten-child, and Anna’s white, frightened face as she handed him to Father and begged him to do something, anything, to heal this child. There was John Pater’s possessive madness over that same child and the first splintering of their community, a splintering which Vincent’s very existence had helped to heal. There was Vincent chasing Devin down the tunnels and climbing on rocks and learning to read and never failing to ask “Why?” There was breathy kitten laughter and blue eyes that trusted, always trusted, that Father could somehow make everything all right. And somehow, Father always had, though he’d frequently felt unequal and unqualified for the task of being a father.
The pauses between Vincent’s breaths were growing longer. Father came over to the pallet and undid his son’s restraints. If this was the end, Vincent would not die restrained. When the last strap was undone, he gathered Vincent in his arms---how light, how fragile he felt!---and pressed the tangled mane to his heart, as once he’d done when Vincent had been an infant and had cried for hours on end.
The ragged breaths hitched and slowed, hitched and slowed. At 3am, when life is at its lowest point, the breathing finally ceased and the only sound was Father’s weeping. Forgive me, my son. I failed you.
He fell to his knees and couldn’t have said, then or later, how long he sat like that. It might have been minutes or seconds. His hip throbbed but it was nothing. Vincent was dead. He had failed, as a father and as a doctor. And the penalty for his failure was life without the child who meant more to him than anything, anyone ever had.
Father rose and staggered back over to the pallet, filling the syringe Peter had left. Just as he was preparing to push its contents directly into Vincent’s heart, there was sharp intake of breath. He held his breath and the sound repeated, and a dawning hope caused him to pull back the blanket. “Vincent?” he muttered, and a low groan greeted his ears.
Alive. He’s alive. Ohmygodmysonisalivehowisthispossible? The thoughts ran over each other like water careening down a waterfall, and with just as much force. Dragging his stethoscope from around his neck, he placed it against Vincent’s heart, and there it was, the steady rhythm it had always had, save for these last few desperate days.
“Father?” Vincent asked, voice worn to a bare rumble. “Am I alive?”
Father managed to keep from sobbing at that first, tentative question. “Yes, my boy, you’re alive. How do you feel?”
There was a pause as Vincent thought that one over. “I need a bath,” he said finally. “And I’m starving.” And Father laughed, a deep laugh of relief and joy and hope. Whatever else might happen now, Vincent would at least be alive to face it.
Dawn came and the news rang out on the pipes, the first news of the new day. Vincent is alive.
2 months ago