How do you want to die?
Everyone has to go through it, but for the right price, you could choose how, when, and where.
Travis is one of the world's most well-known Deathwriters, a very rare group of individuals with the unique ability to bring about death through the medium of the written word. A personalized death written on one's behalf usually comes with a kingly price tag, but after a close personal encounter with death, Travis begins to question the entire system.
DEATHWRITER - Chapter 4
"Alright, usually I ask my patients if they're good with needles or not, but you're just not going to like this one, even if you're a pincushion."
The anesthesiologist—Dr. Wu is her name—pulls out a sterile packet containing a frickin’ bayonet, giving me hardly enough time to draw Amber's eyes away. "Hey! So, what are you going to have first after the kid pops out? Coffee, wine, cold cuts?" I ask, snapping her attention to me, rather than the alcohol swab being rubbed on her bare back.
"Uhm, donuts, I guess."
She tries turning her head, but I pull her back in. "You could have donuts while you were pregnant," I snicker. "Doesn't count."
"Like hell it doesn't. In fact, I might have you go to Randy's after we finish up with this."
"Randy's it is," I confirm. "Anything in particular?"
"You know what I like."
"You like all of them."
"Did I stutter?"
She pauses and winces as the doctor inserts the needle with merciless persistence. She's already been numbed up a bit, but there's only so much you can do when someone shoves a flagpole into your spine, I suppose. All I can do is grab her hand and let her grind my knuckles together.
"We're just about done here," Dr. Wu chimes in. "Just hold on for a second longer."
"Okay," I croak.
Amber smacks my leg.
There’s some debate as to whether or not men could handle childbirth like women can. But there’s no debate, I realize, as I watch Amber get shivved in the back. Sure, maybe a few men here and there, but as a general population? I have my doubts.
“Alright, and that’s it! Let’s go ahead and have you lie down on your side, mom,” says Dr. Wu. She and the nurse help Amber down to the bed from a seated position, taking care not to jostle the epidural, then she packs up her gear and bids us good luck before departing.
“We’re going to go ahead and readjust the baby monitors,” the nurse says once the doctor has left. “Things got a little knocked around, so I think we may swap them out for new ones, just to be safe. We want to make sure we’re keeping a good eye on the baby seeing as we’re a bit higher risk on this one.”
“Jeez, Travis. I can feel it. So weird. It feels like ice dripping down my pants,” Amber says as the nurse removes the old monitors on her protruding stomach and switches them out for a pair of new ones.
“But you aren’t wearing pants.”
“Hence the weird feeling.”
“Hey mom, let’s have you turn to the other side,” the nurse directs as she stares into the monitor display. “See if that helps get things calibrated.”
I help Amber flip from her left to her right—an oddly difficult task considering her relatively small size. “Speaking of pants, I should probably get us some better clothes if we’re going to be here for a while. Maybe I can have the Wilsons drop some by?”
Amber shakes her head. “Nah, I don’t want Toby going through my underwear. I’ll just have my sister bring some when she gets in.”
“Oh, you’re sister’s coming?”
“Yeah, she got a flight—”
“Real quick, let’s have you flip back over,” the nurse interrupts.
Amber rolls her eyes, but then allows me to help her back over. “But yeah, she’ll be in early tomorrow morning, so we’ll just pay her back for the rideshare or whatever.”
“Mmkay. She’s buying her own donut though.”
The nurse reaches over Amber and places an oxygen mask over her face. “Alright, don’t let this bother you. Just take normal breaths. This is just to be safe.”
“Okay,” Amber replies.
It takes me a few moments to realize something is out of the ordinary, but then I brush the feeling off. The nurse would be less cool and collected if something were wrong, right?
“How are you feeling?” I ask Amber, noticing a shiver run down her body.
“Cold. This epidural stuff is out of this world,” she replies, her voice muffled by the mask.
“Mmm. I could get you a blanket?”
Four more nurses suddenly appear seemingly from thin air and start fussing around the hospital bed, while the first gives out hurried directions. And just like that, cool-and-collected turns into urgent-and-focused. It takes my brain a second more to realize that everything isn’t as it should be. Amber’s fine, of course. Nothing ever bothers her.
“Hey, hon, let's go ahead and have you get on your knees, okay?” the first nurse commands, her voice a little louder now. “Just right here, that’s good. Yeah.”
The other nurses push me out of the way and swarm the sides of the bed, leaving me to watch while they help adjust Amber from side to side. This isn’t normal, right? Now something’s up?
“Okay, we need to get her in. Call Dr. Simons. Lori, Russ, unplug her from the monitors. Those two lines there, yeah. Don’t let them drag. Mel, take the fluids.”
“Dad, you wait here,” one of the nurses orders as they roll Amber out of the room, still on hands and knees. A few moments later and the sound of their continuing back-and-forth commands fades.
And then there’s silence.
The room is empty. Unnaturally so. And I’m overwhelmed by the most intense feeling of loneliness and helplessness that I’ve ever felt before in my life.
What in the hell just happened? One second we were talking about underwear and donuts, and the next she’s gone. I’m still trying to stop my head from spinning. Not that I’m worried about Amber. I know she’ll be fine. I wrote her story years ago when we first got engaged. Planned out the full twenty-four hours. It will be a beautiful day. Decades from now.
June, on the other hand…
You can’t write a death story for someone that isn't born yet, in case you didn’t know. That’s another rule. I mean, you can. But it won’t take effect until they’re born and in stable condition. I actually have her story all ready to go on my computer back at the office. I got excited and wrote it all out the day Amber told me she was pregnant. But I didn’t even think of getting it code ready yet. I mean, Amber’s only at twenty-four weeks.
Ten minutes pass in complete silence, and I’m still frozen to my spot, paralyzed by shock, staring at the empty space where Amber’s bed was resting before they moved her. A nurse comes in after a while and turns off a few of the quiet alarms on the monitors, then hands me a couple of plastic-wrapped packages containing what looks like disposable scrubs. “Here, you can go ahead and put these on,” she says. “Mom’s in the OR right now with Dr. Simons. She’s taking good care of her, but we were concerned about a few things the heart monitor was telling us. Everyone’s fine for now, but there’s a good chance we may have to go in with a Cesarean. Not all that uncommon in cases like this. But I’m sure that was quite a bucket of ice water for you just now though, huh?”
I nod, and I actually feel warm tears well up in my eyes for the first time. Maybe it’s because the whole thing feels that much more real now, or maybe it was the touch of warm concern from the nurse. Whatever the reason, I quickly wipe my eyes and start putting on the thin, paper-like garments.
Once I’ve donned the whole thing—booties, hat and all—she guides me to the OR staging area and gives me masks and gloves in my size. My hands are shaking and a little sweaty, so it takes me a few moments to work my hands into the nitrile gloves (which are definitely not medium as advertised). Then she leads me over to the first room and has me wait outside while she continues in.
The first thing I notice is Amber’s body. She’s shivering harder than I’ve ever seen her shiver before. Every few seconds the whole bed rattles a little as a shudder rocks her body. And this is despite the layers of blankets on top of her, tucked into either side for warmth and modesty’s sake. Then there’s a large blue cloth draped over her, separating her upper half from her belly down.
So, she won’t even see everything going on. I’m not sure what would bother me more, knowing or not knowing.
I want to call out to her, let her know that I’m here, but I don’t want to disturb the nurses or Doctor Simons, all of whom are busy checking monitors and preparing materials for surgery. But then she turns her head to the side and locks eyes with me. And I can tell, that small connection is all she needs. Hell, it’s all I need. But it kills me, knowing I can’t just rush in and be by her side for the whole thing. And worse, I know she’s thinking the same thing.
A tear rolls over her nose, slides down her cheek, and drops onto her pillow.