Excerpt from We All Fall Down


February 2011

It wasn’t water that he found himself in. Its viscosity was thicker and murkier and his body floated sluggishly through it. He could breathe, that was something. And he could hear. The sound was feint and he struggled to decode it. He focussed on moving his body toward it. A single syllable, it came at him in regular waves, distorted by the thick fluid, it evoked a sense memory: he smelled the sea, a hint of honey and warm sunshine and… paint. The sound was louder now. It exploded from deep within him, each explosion a rupture of heat, longing and undefinable agony. The regularity of it reminded him of something, but his head hurt to think of it. He saw a halo of light and he tried to manoeuvre toward it. It seemed a distance. And his body hurt. Everything hurt. The sound became urgent. It was a voice. Not his own, but there was something familiar about it. It was hard to pinpoint, but that was the least of his concerns now; the voice became one continuous sound. He felt a weight like a truck on his chest and it pulled him down. Breathing became a struggle; his ribcage compressed against his lungs. The light seemed so close yet, he did not think he would make it.

His body jerked up and he gasped; his lungs filled and an almost animal sound escaped involuntarily from somewhere deep within. Hands pushed him down, voices jumped up from around him, each intense and desperate. Several indistinct alarms rang off in the background and his head felt heavy with the intensity of it. Jess… It was a sigh in the deep recesses of his mind. And then everything faded to black.

Jack Dhevan opened his eyes to the bolt of intense light. Closing them quickly, he allowed the light to penetrate through his eyelids, and waited for the burn to subside. The scent of his dream lingered for a moment – honey, paint and the sea – now it was only a whisper disappearing as he grew accustomed to his surroundings. It was a different smell, yet familiar – of antiseptic and… sickness, weakness and pain – an association he’d made a long time ago to hospitals, having been in them so often of late.

It was not his first rodeo show, as his optimistic doctor would have said. He concentrated once more on opening his eyes. This took a bit of effort. When his eyes could finally handle the bright overhead light, he used his other senses to help him determine his prognosis. So he had survived. There was pain. He tried to locate a source, but it seemed it was in nearly every part of his body. He moved his head slightly to the left and then to the right. Tubes were inserted in nearly every vein in both arms.

And then he heard it. The beeping was rhythmic, purposeful and strong. His new heart. It swelled in his chest – its rhythm already adjusting to the tune of his body.

He would live, he knew this and a smile played painfully on his lips. It was not that Jack was afraid of dying. He had seen death many times, observed its discrimination at close proximity. And had even dared it to take him on more than one occasion. After every brush, and with each rejection, Jack had come to know that death came only to the deserving. Jack did not deserve that yet. He had something he had obviously needed to prove in order to earn that release. Some purpose. And now the heart, his heart now, beat to an accommodating tempo.

A nurse peered over his rim of sight. “Welcome back, Mr Dhevan.” She had laughing blue eyes that flirted unabashedly – it was a good omen he told himself. Her mouth was covered with a white shield but he could hear the comforting and reassuring voice. He bowed his head slightly in a greeting not trusting the guttural sounds, that were his words eaten up by the pipe shoved down his throat, would suffice as anything pleasant. She checked on some of the tubes sprouting from him and said “Everything’s looking good. How do you feel?” He tried to smile, but the effort seemed enormous. She patted his leg gently seeming to understand, and said, “As long as you’re feeling something. If the pain gets worse we’ll try some other meds, mmh?” This was obviously not her first rodeo show too.

Later, he focussed on the beeping heart machine and marvelled at the determined beat. He remembered the moment he had been told that there was an available donor. His old heart had lurched, followed by short excitement that was checked. For him to have a donor, it meant that someone had not survived, death had found a deserving candidate. Dr Shapiro had beamed from ear to ear when he told him the news. “We’ll save you yet, Jack.”

Jack had felt compelled to ask about his donor. But all he got was, “Young,” Shapiro had looked sufficiently sympathetic, “Brain dead, but a healthy heart.”

Jack heard the pace of the heart monitor increase. Another mechanical sound added to the manic beeping. His blue-eyed nurse rushed over. The scene was becoming blurry and he felt his mind close like the shutters of his camera. The last thing he registered was that her eyes were not laughing anymore.

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