By Dan McClenaghan
The nurse from the hospital, behind the wheel of Frank and Jolene’s car, careened through the streets with the heart patient, Frank, laid out in the back seat. He was, she estimated, sinking toward death, about a thousand pulse beats away from the end. The patient’s wife cradled her husband’s head in her lap. The nurse turned left against a red light into the Walmart shopping center, tires screaming. And they screamed again when she stomped the brakes in the northeast corner of the lot, where the Urgent Care tent loomed.
A pair of moonlighting corpsmen from the nearby naval hospital lifted Frank from the back seat and loaded him onto a gurney with a practiced efficiency. Then they wheeled him tent-ward, toward the doctors.
Emergency medicine in The Tents is rife with confusing and incomplete information concerning the situations of incoming patients who are tiptoeing up to the edge of Kingdom Come. Worse, Jolene told a manic tale of her dying husband’s transplant, a baboon’s heart beating in his chest, and of a pacemaker installed in that heart and its need of a new battery, which she pulled from her purse.
A young surgeon named Dr. Nguyen cut Frank’s shirt open and took in the sight of a nine volt battery plugged into two wires that disappeared like burrowing snakes into Frank’s chest. The doctor used a scalpel to excise the subcutaneous pacemaker. He didn’t like the look of the thing. It appeared to be an outdated, discontinued model. He told the assisting nurse to check with the supply tent for a replacement.
While the doctor waited, Frank rose above his body and briefly scanned the scene of his potential salvation, before he soared into the cosmos, where he mingled with a billion galaxies and uncountable stars aligned along the laws of physics, emitting their cold, sterile light.
And then someone turned out the stars and there was nothing. A frantic temporal effort to restart the simian heartbeat failed, and an eighteen wheeler grumbled past the tent, bringing in canned goods and paper towels, cat food, cough drops and cake mix, and Jolene realized, with a punch-to-the-gut finality, that she was now alone in this world.
The nurse who had driven Frank and his wife over from the hospital cursed in a low tone. Then she called Uber, to drive the newly-widowed woman home. She, the nurse, would follow the Uber ride in the widow’s car, and she’d leave that car in the woman’s driveway, then continue on with the Uber guy for her return to the hospital. She’d stride back into the emergency room like she’d never left, and, if confronted about her absence, she’d lie about going on her lunch break early, and submit to an ass-chewing for not telling her supervisor of her plans.
In the morning she’d leave work, drive home and get her two daughters off to school. Then she’d sleep and dream of the man who’d died that night. She always did.
About Dan McClenaghan
I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.
I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.
Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!