A woman must make a life-changing decision for her COVID-19 infected ex-husband in this story by Bindu Suresh
No Visitors is an original short story by Bindu Suresh, part of CBC Books' Transmission series
"This is Dr. Ng calling from the ICU at the Jewish General Hospital. May I please speak to Clea Atkinson?"
Clea cleared her throat. "That's me."
"I'm calling in regard to David Monaghan. He's a patient in our ICU, and you are listed as his health-care proxy."
So, he hadn't changed that after the divorce. He'd re-written the rest of his will, a fact Clea knew thanks to her successor, Melinda, who had sat beside her at Celia's high-school graduation, her leggings-clad knee turned stiffly away as she let slip that David's legacy would now go 50 per cent to any children they had, 50 per cent to the 18-year-old onstage.
"Oh, I had no idea," Clea said. "That he was in the ICU, or sick at all, I mean."
"He was admitted a few days ago. Do you feel comfortable acting as his proxy? If so, I have a few questions to go over with you."
"Sure. Please go ahead."
He's in stable condition at the moment, but he's coronavirus positive and we needed to intubate him this morning.
"He's in stable condition at the moment, but he's coronavirus positive and we needed to intubate him this morning. He's been sedated, and is comfortable, but we always like to have these conversations before the moment of crisis hits. Not that it will," the doctor said quickly. "Do you know what his wishes for his care would be?"
Clea remembered the evening, 30 years ago now, before they'd had Celia. They had leaned over their kitchen counter, two glasses and a half-empty bottle of red wine between them, to sign the documents they assumed they'd never use. David had said, "Oh, just do for me what you would do for yourself." She now wished he had been less vague, especially since, as a doctor, he could have been.
"I think in general I'd know what he wanted."
The woman exhaled. "Okay, wonderful. If I need to get in touch with you over the coming days, is this the best number to call?"
"Yes. It's my cell phone."
"Great. I'll be in touch soon."
"Hi, there," Melinda said, standing at the entrance to Parc La Fontaine. She was dressed in black pants and a form-fitting beige sweater, her purse held in the crook of her elbow, her arms folded across her chest. They kept their distance, as agreed, and started down the lightly wooded path.
"Thanks for meeting me," Melinda said. "Did they give you an update today?"
Clea shook her head.
"They called me this morning. He's the same," Melinda said.
Clea moved a half-foot closer to her, avoiding a patch of soft mud. Melinda didn't notice.
"Though, to be honest, I don't understand a lot of what they say. Today his oxygenation index, or something, was worse. The number was lower. Or maybe that's a good thing."
Melinda crunched over the dried leaves and stones that bordered her side of the path. A jogger ran straight between them, and then continued ahead, not looking up. For a minute or two the pair walked silently.
Then Melinda stopped and turned to face her. "I really thought it would be me. It turns out it was you."
Clea thought of the embryos in their Petri dish — their cells dividing over and over each other, exponentially, like the viral particles in David's lungs.
Clea looked at Melinda. Now that they were a little closer, she noticed the thick black liner on Melinda's upper eyelids, the reddened skin around her nose, the childlike mouth. Clea thought of her prepared responses to this question: I'm sure he just overlooked that section, it's because we discussed this kind of thing extensively, it must be because I was a nurse. Instead, she said nothing.
Melinda resumed walking. "How is Celia?"
"I called her yesterday. I told her to stay in Toronto until I had more news, since David can't have visitors, anyway."
Celia, who was a third-year internal medicine resident, had said: Yesterday I sat next to a man while he died, just so he wouldn't be alone. And then, at the end of the call: Be gentle with Melinda, Mom, her last round of IVF failed and they were set to start their final round on Tuesday.
"That makes sense."
Clea thought of the embryos in their Petri dish — their cells dividing over and over each other, exponentially, like the viral particles in David's lungs — as they turned onto the lakeside footpath.
It was the only time Clea had ever wanted to touch Melinda, to place a reassuring hand on her wrist, and she couldn't.
Three days later, Clea was taking out the recycling when she received a call from the hospital. She answered, expecting Dr. Ng.
"Cee," David said, using his old nickname for her. "Thanks for not pulling the plug and getting your revenge."
Alone on the deserted sidewalk, the clear blue bag still in her hand, Clea laughed.
A former journalist and current pediatrician, Bindu Suresh is the author of the novel 26 Knots as well as of short stories that have appeared in various literary publications. She studied literature at Columbia University and medicine at McGill University. Born in Wales, she grew up in Canada and has spent equal parts of her life in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. She currently lives in Montreal and works in a designated coronavirus evaluation centre.
Transmission is a new series of original creative works, commissioned by CBC Books, that reflects on time, place, identity, community and purpose in an era of COVID-19.