Elana sat in the crowded waiting room with her legs clamped tightly together, avoiding contact with the people in neighboring chairs. They were strangers, all of them, and even though their lives had collided in perfect unison with hers, she did not feel akin to them. She did not like their purpose. Therefore, she didn’t like her own.
The spartanly decorated room managed to accomplish several important tasks. First, it kept people that were basically well away from the ill while certain procedures were being performed. Elana had learned to appreciate this function, and welcomed the opportunity to leave her father’s side when the staff entered to change a calibration or realign an implant. Second, it allowed family and friends of the invalids to pass the time, and time had become the most important commodity. Finally, these attempts to pass time, to pass much of it, and have it all seem very worthwhile were always made under the pretense of waiting.
Elana rose slowly and quietly from her chair. She looked again at the picture of a city that had puzzled her since she first entered the room seven long weeks ago. The unknown city, at least unknown to Elana, beamed with vitality and action from the park near its center to the schools, office buildings, and roadways that made up its structure. The paint used for the picture shone of bright colors, and filled every inch of the canvas with vivid images of something that seemed so out of place here in this waiting room. Its shine created a perfect picture of life.
Efficiently and without notice or fanfare, Elana walked to the door, and entered the long hallway. This section of the hospital maintained a quiet that seemed to be marred only by shoes on the incredibly glowing waxed tile floor. Nurses shoes, those of rubber sole, orchestrated an ensemble of music that became the last to ever be heard by those dying at the far end of this very same hall. Elana followed the young nurse with blonde hair and baritone feet. She could see three more women staggered down the hall ahead of them, each with their own sound, their unique tone and strangely unified cadence. She followed in silence, so as to not interrupt the music that may be heard by someone beyond one of these doors for the final time.
At the last room on the left, before the double doors that lead away from this ward, those that lead finally away, she stopped and pushed the door only partway open. Room four hundred held her father, held he whom she had waited for, he who now passed precious time. She stood, hesitant, for what seemed like hours and continued to listen to the death march being orchestrated endlessly on the glazed tiles behind her, and tried to see what conditions lay ahead through the nearly open door. She braced herself, as always, slowly pushed on the heavy wooden door until it retreated into the room, and finally, she entered.
Standing next to her father’s bed, Elana found the familiar face that belonged to Alan Pendergrass, the lead prognosticator, the decision maker, the man with a plan. He turned to her as she walked into the room, and said, “Hello.”
The word “hello” sounds like it has been bellowed from a canyon when a person has heard no one speak in several hours. It shatters the frame of mind, and destroys the attempted artistry being displayed by otherwise talentless musicians with their shoes and the buffed floor in the nearby hall. It beacons to Elana a message, a hint, almost a requirement that she must in turn, speak.
“How is he doing?” She asks the question that she has asked a hundred times before, and avoids looking to the monitor by which she could ascertain her own answer.
“He has come down to his final ten,” Mr. Pendergrass answers while looking at his own shoes, leather shoes, expensive shoes.
“They will go fast then?” She asks of his remaining lot, not of his health.
“I’m afraid so. We will need to collect the instruments right away. Please pardon that I stay with you at his side.”
“Is there nothing I can do?” Elana asks.
“We have searched his records. I’m very sorry, but there is nothing any of us can do. Do not blame yourself. He has run out. You knew he would eventually.”
“Yes, but the doctors said that given enough time, he could heal, he would heal.”
“Time. If only time could be dealt out like water. I’m sorry. He just ran out.”
“Yes. I said I understand, but I don’t have to like it.”
“No. I mean, he really just ran out. The meter shows zero.”
Mr. Pendergrass began to disconnect his instruments, remove his company’s implants, and unplug the meter. The Longchamp Health Insurance Agency had other customers to assist. His services would be needed immediately down this very same hall.
“My God. Where is the doctor?” asked Elana.
“The doctor has nothing to do with this,” replied Pendergrass. “Your father’s insurance ran out, his money ran out. You know that.”
“I know, but this isn’t right.”
“I have the final say in these matters on this floor. The doctors would drag these things out. They would offer procedure after procedure to sell their wares.”
“Yes, but what if they did some good?”
“Who would pay?” Alan Pendergrass got in the final word, and left the room pushing his meter stand, and carrying the instruments that had monitored Elana’s father since his accident.
Elana sat in the light blue plastic-covered chair at the foot of her father’s bed. Her legs were clamped tightly together, and her feet were planted on the shining surface of the floor below to keep her from falling over. She could no longer hear her father’s faint breath, no longer see any movement of the sheets atop his torso, no longer sense his presence in the room. He was gone.