Characters: Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce/ Father John Patrick "Dago Red" Mulcahy
Rating: M for Sexual Content/Language
Summary: There's a difference between seeing someone and noticing them.
Author's Note: The final installment. Based on the characters from the book/movie. This is Hawkeye's POV. Please ignore any typos. I don't always catch them all. Also, I have no personal knowledge of medical conditions or treatment beyond what I read on WebMD and other various medical sites. Please take all procedures, conditions, and treatments with a grain of salt. Thanks for reading. Enjoy.
I had just finished another successfully routine surgery and was headed into the scrub room, when I saw Trapper standing there with a disturbing look on his face. I pulled down my face mask and cocked my head at him curiously.
"What's the matter with you?"
"Hawk…I think you should sit down."
"Why?" I asked, going over to the sink to wash my hands. "Don't tell me someone else we know is getting married."
"You really should sit down," Trapper repeated. The seriousness in his voice made my stomach knot and I turned my head to look at him as I shut the water off.
"About 45 minutes ago, Pancho called for you. Since you were in surgery, he asked for me." Trapper closed his eyes and sighed before looking at me. "Dago's in surgery right now. Earlier today he had stroke brought on by a cerebral aneurysm."
I suddenly wished I'd sat down, and I gripped the edge of the sink to keep myself upright. "What? Why the fuck didn't you come get me 45 minutes ago!"
"You were in surgery, Doctor." Trapper argued.
"Jesus….fuck…." I swore, unable to think. "I have to get there… I have to go."
"I already called the airline for you," Trapper said. "Your plane leaves in an hour."
Mary tearfully met me at the airport with a suitcase of clothes and toiletries that she had packed. I didn't want to see her cry because that meant that she had given up on Dago pulling through this. "Stop that…" I told her as I hugged her goodbye.
"Oh, Hawkeye…" she sniffled, unable to stop herself.
I pulled away, feeling my own eyes welling up, and got on the plane.
The flight felt like it lasted an eternity and I didn't even have the luxury of getting up and pacing the aisle to worry away the time. I was trapped in the middle seat between a rather rotund fellow and a portly older woman, while my thoughts poured over Dago.
How could this have happened? We'd been so careful in planning his treatment. Trapper and I had been certain this would work, but if Trapper had been right about Dago living with hypertension for so many years, then everything we'd done—the pneumonectomy, the repair of the fistula, the treatment option for the HBP and tachycardia—had all been in vain. No matter which way you looked at it, God had meant for Dago to meet his end. Be it the cancer, a heart attack, or a stroke, death had been stalking him.
I fisted my hands in anger, wishing I could scream in rage. Why the fuck did God do this to people? I knew if he took Dago from me now, that that would be it; I would hate God until the day I died. If by some chance I managed to go Heaven, I would get my revenge on the Almighty. He wouldn't get away with this.
The plane finally landed and I caught a cab to the hospital. Dago's affiliation to the Church made him a VIP, which meant that you had to have clearance to get any information on him. I fought with the nurse at the registration desk for nearly five minutes before she finally agreed to call upstairs. She grudgingly gave me clearance to go to the sixth floor where I was met in the waiting room by Pancho.
"He is out of surgery," Pancho said, though his tone did not propose good news. "The aneurysm ruptured and was bleeding into his brain. The doctors have done everything they could to repair the damage, however…"
"He's not going to make it." A ruptured aneurysm hardly ever had a positive outlook. I felt like my world had just been destroyed as Pancho looked at the floor and shook his head.
"They do not know."
"Is he conscious?"
"Can I see him?" I was barely able to speak as I neared my impending breakdown. I followed Pancho down the hall to a private room with a window. I hesitated at the door, afraid to cross the threshold. Pancho moved forward without me, over to the bed that was half-hidden by a privacy curtain. I heard him murmuring to Dago, though no response came. Finally, after several deep breaths, I entered the room and approached the bed.
Dago's head was bandaged with gauze from the tips of his ears and all the way around the top of his head with a small drainage tube running down from the surgical site to a collection bottle attached to the side of the bed. His arms and chest were riddled with wires and tubes that led to various machines, and there was an oxygen tube fed up one of his nostrils. My first instinct was to assess the situation as a doctor. He wasn't on a respirator, which meant that he still had enough brain function to breathe on his own. I tried to view that as a positive, but it wasn't helping much. This was Dago, my Dago, lying in this bed, barely holding on to life.
My vision blurred with tears as I stepped up next to him and took his hand. It was cold.
The dam burst on my emotions and I broke down. Pancho pulled a chair up behind me and I fell into it as he left the room, closing the door behind him. I felt lost, helpless, heartbroken, angry… and responsible. I couldn't have known that Dago would have a stroke, no one could have known for sure, but maybe if I'd been with him I could have seen the warning signs and gotten him to the hospital before the aneurysm ruptured. I had just talked to him less than a week ago… he'd been fine, he'd been so excited about going to Paris.
A fresh wave of tears washed over me as I experienced the sadness that we would never see Paris together; or anywhere else for that matter. He'd wanted to see the northern lights; he'd wanted to go so many places, do so many things, but the likelihood that he would was nil.
The thought of losing Dago was so agonizing that I couldn't bear to experience it yet. I had to hope that his God would grant him a miracle. I almost laughed at the bitter irony that Dago Red—the miracle worker of the 4077th, the man who we'd always called on for a little bit of Cross Action—now needed a little cross action of his own.
I don't know when I finally stopped crying, but I found myself sitting next to Dago, my chin resting on the rail of the bed as I stroked his hand in mine and spoke to him. I didn't know whether or not he could hear me, but I didn't care.
"You've really got yourself in a fix this time, Dago. I'm starting to think you might be addicted to surgery. I guess I'm to blame for that since I was the one who did your first procedure back in Korea. Maybe I shouldn't have done such a bang-up job, what do you think?"
The beep of the heart monitor was my only answer.
"Do you remember when I first got to Korea…one of the first few interactions we had was when I'd lost my first patient there. You were doing your job, just trying to help by seeing if there was anything you could do for me, and I was such an ass to you. You didn't give up though; you just came right back over to the Swamp with a bottle of scotch and got drunk with me and Trap. I liked you then and there. Anyone who wasn't too good to have a drink was alright in my book. You always knew just what we needed, even when we didn't know ourselves. I remember after that, when shit got to be too much, Trap and I would come to your tent and you'd pull a bottle from your little stash and we'd pass it around. I know we were still pretty horrible to you, what with all the stupid pranks we pulled…but I always liked you, Dago…always. Maybe that's why it was so easy to fall in love with you. God, I even remember the first day Duke and I pulled into camp. We went straight to the mess tent to flirt with Lt. Dish. You couldn't have been more than six feet away from me, sitting just down the bench from Duke. I remember you were reading that little book of yours, probably off in your own little world. You had that rosary all tangled around your hand and when Henry asked you to come over and meet us, you completely forgot it was there and had to untangle it before I could even shake your hand. Why do I remember that, Dago? Did I like you then and not even realize it yet? I'd give anything to do all again, to live each moment of everyday just one more time."
I closed my eyes against a fresh set of tears, letting them silently leak out.
"John loved you very much," Pancho's voice said quietly. I hadn't even realized he'd come back in the room. I wondered how much he'd just heard. He sat down on the other side of the bed and looked at Dago for a long moment before he spoke again. "He first told me about you many years ago. He was very lonely without you, very unhappy. He would tell me all the stories of the 4077th—I think talking about you to someone helped him through the sadness that you were not there with him, it helped him to not miss you so much, though I know he still did. I wish that perhaps I had told him he should write to you, but it was not my place then to say such things. When I did suggest he contact you, he told me that it was too late. Too much time had passed."
"He was too afraid that I would tell him to fuck off. I was such an idiot to tell him I resented him back then. Why can't I just take it all back?" The image of Dago's devastated look filtered into my mind as I remembered that fateful day and I started to cry again in anguish. "I want him back! Just for a minute…just let me look in his eyes… let me tell him I love him… let me see his smile. PLEASE! Just…let me say goodbye…"
I felt miserable, wretched, completely devastated. Pancho and I lapsed into silence, and I continued to hold Dago's hand, stroking it gently as I studied his face. He seemed completely relaxed, almost as if he was just sleeping soundly, and I felt a small bit of relief that perhaps he wasn't feeling any pain.
"How did it happen?" I finally asked, wanting to know where Dago had been when the stroke had happened and how long it had taken for him to get help.
"It happened so quickly," Pancho said. "He'd been complaining of a slight headache for a few days, and thought maybe he was coming down with something. I was at my desk and he was on the phone with one of his bishops discussing church matters. He called for me, but by the time I got from my desk to his office door, I knew something was very wrong. He was trying to stand up, and he dropped the phone. He was very, very pale. I was trying to get to him as quickly as I could, and he started to collapse. I managed to catch him and get him on the floor before I called for help."
I closed my eyes, imagining the scene in my head. He hadn't mentioned any headaches to me. I wondered if they'd come on afterwards. I wished he would have called and mentioned it. Would I have known? Would I have blown it off as nothing, like he seemed to have? No one ever gave much thought to the origin of a headache, or worried that it was the sign of a major condition. Headaches were common; he'd had no reason to think this one wasn't.
"He asked for you." Pancho's voice quietly cut in.
I opened my eyes and looked at him.
"Just before he lost consciousness, he said your name."
My eyes watered again. I had been his last thought. It was both traumatizing and comforting to hear that Dago had the presence of mind to think of me, to ask for me, to want for me at such a time. I wished with all my might that I had been there with him.
"I am going to go home for a while and try to get a bit of sleep. In the morning, I will go to his apartment and pick up a few things that might bring him some comfort," Pancho said with a sigh. "Would you care to accompany me?"
I shook my head, "I'm not leaving this hospital. I'm not leaving this bedside."
Pancho nodded in understanding, asked if he could bring me anything, then left.
By the time Pancho returned, I had somehow managed to fall asleep with my head resting on the mattress next to Dago's hand. Pancho gently shook my shoulder to wake me and passed me a cup of coffee.
"What time is it?" I asked, looking at my watch. I hadn't reset it to Rome's time, but it showed that it was the middle of the night in Maine.
"Almost six in the morning." Pancho said. "How is he doing?"
"The nurses came by to check on him several times last night, but there's been no change." I sighed and sipped the coffee. "Did you find anything at Dago's?"
Pancho held up a finger as he set his own coffee aside and reached for a bag containing a few items. He pulled out Dago's Bible and set it on a rolling table next to him. Next, he pulled out Dago's rosary beads and held them for a long moment before he handed them to me. Dago had carried this same strand of beads as long as I'd know him. I wondered exactly how old they were. The beads were heavily worn, but still had a polished look to them. I picked up Dago's hand and carefully looped the rosary around it, the way I'd seen him do so many times before. Pancho hesitated for another moment before he pulled one more item from the bag. A standard notebook.
"This was on his bedside table," Pancho told me. "Under his Bible. I wouldn't have even looked at it, but something told me I should." He held the notebook out to me and I took it. "I think you should read it."
I turned to the first page of the notebook and looked at Dago's neat handwriting that filled the page.
For a while now I have been beleaguered with the thought that there must be more to my relationship with Hawkeye than meets the eye. More than the physical connection, more than friendship and affection we share, more than him coming to my rescue and saving my life on so many occasions. With all that he has done for me, I have wondered if there was something I was meant to do for him; some task that God has for me to do before I die.
Tonight, be it a dream or a message from the Lord, I visited Heaven with Hawkeye by my side. As we walked side by side down a magnificent, celestial hallway towards the Almighty, our arrival was heralded by the trumpets of angels. On either side of us a sea of people had gathered, looking on reverently as we approached the Heavenly throne. I could feel nothing by happiness, awe, and wonderment for being in the presence of my Father; I felt joy and pride for Hawkeye. We bowed together at the feet of our Creator and I could feel the hand of God upon the crown of my head. I looked to Hawkeye to see that God was touching him as well. There were tears upon Hawkeye's face, but as he looked at me, he smiled brightly.
I cannot describe the emotion this dream has stirred within me; the thoughts and wonders of the meaning behind it. I have known Hawkeye so intimately for so long, but when it comes to matters of faith, I fear that I am still at a loss for his beliefs. When I first met Hawkeye, he righteously called himself a non-believer. He knew religion, but he would avow that he did not believe in God. He never called himself an atheist, which had always plagued me with curiosity—why would a man so devoted to denying the existence of God not claim to be an atheist? It was not until later that I realized what non-believing meant to Hawkeye. Hawkeye never doubted the existence of God, but he didn't believe in Him. He had lost his faith, his trust in God, when he lost his mother at such a young age. I have seen firsthand the impact that loss still has on him—the anger, despair, and devastation. He blames God for her death with complete indignation. He holds God personally responsible for not granting her health and sustaining her life. He bears a grudge, and believes that God has turned His back on him. He feels that God is not fair and just.
Hawkeye's is not the first case of injustice I've heard, or of anger towards God over an uncontrollable event, but his has affected me the most. I remember trying to explain to him that God had saved his mother, just not in the manner that Hawkeye had been hoping for. He had ended her suffering and pain. Whether or not Hawkeye ever accepted this, I am not certain, but over the years he and I have had more God-related talks than I have with anyone. I'm always surprised, and pleased, when Hawkeye asks about my faith, but also unsure. I never want to press upon him too much, I never want him to feel like I am forcing my beliefs onto him. He has mentioned before that he wishes he had faith like I do, but that he doesn't think he ever will. I remember wanting so badly to give him my faith, if but for a second, just so he could feel the love of God like I do. I have always prayed that Hawkeye might feel God's presence in his life, might be comforted by it, but Hawkeye is a raging sea in a hurricane, and faith is but a tiny boat that I am standing in amidst the chaos.
Not so long ago, I asked Hawkeye about how his beliefs had changed…or rather, if they had, and was saddened to find that he still lacked any faith whatsoever. I know that God is watching over Hawkeye, standing beside him each and every day…I just wish that Hawkeye knew it too.
Now, in the wake of my dream, I'm still left wondering what it is I'm supposed to do. Am I meant to somehow restore Hawkeye's faith? Will it be me that leads him into the Kingdom of Heaven? Have I had any influence on his beliefs at all? I selfishly want Hawkeye to find his faith, but not so I can boast about being the one who brought him back to God… When I die…when we both die…I want to go to Heaven knowing I will see him again. I want to know that he will share eternity with me. Twenty years without him is nothing to what eternity will be like.
I don't know how Hawkeye will react if I tell him about my dream, but I want to share it with him. I want him to share in my awe and wonder and love for God. I'd give anything for him to believe again, to accept that all things—the good and the bad—happen for a reason (even though I do hate saying that).
Maybe my purpose isn't making him believe, but letting him see and share in my faith.
I ran my hand down the length of the page as I finished reading his thoughts, feeling the depression in the paper caused by the pressure of the pen as he'd inked in the words. I didn't know what to think or how to feel about what he'd written, but I couldn't help but wonder about what would happen if Dago was right…
What if I didn't go to Heaven and had to spend all eternity away from Dago, away from Mary and my children, away from my mother and father and other loved ones who had passed before me. There would be no escape, no second chance. I couldn't even begin to fathom how long an eternity might be—surely it had to have an end at some point, right? Even if eternity only lasted the span of several lifetimes, that was a very long time in my eyes. It would be torture. It would be madness. It would be Hell.
I took Dago's hand again as I closed my eyes. What did he expect me to do with this revelation of his? What did he want? I knew he wanted me to believe in God again, but how—no, why should I? My mother had been religious, just like Dago. She had gotten sick, just like Dago, and God had taken her from me, just like Dago. God had only ever been cruel in my experience; how could Dago expect me to believe that He could be good?
"So you read this?" I asked.
Pancho nodded, somewhat guiltily. "I should not have, but I checked to see if it was something he might wish to have here and saw your name. I thought perhaps…"
I sighed softly, shaking my head. "Dago's right, I do wish that I had his faith and belief in God, but I just don't. God has only ever taken things from me, brought me suffering and pain. And Dago wants me to believe there's a reason for it? That God is wonderful and loving and whatever else? How am I supposed to just accept that God didn't save my mother? Or that he would do this to Dago—to a man who has devoted his entire life to serving the very God that fucked him over! It's—it's…insane!"
"I think, if I may, that you do not understand the meaning of faith."
I looked at Pancho, surprised by that assertion.
"Believing in God and having faith are two very different things. Faith is not simply agreeing that there is a God. Nor does having faith mean that God will do what we ask of Him. Faith means trusting in God absolutely and wholeheartedly. Like John believes, everything happens for a reason. He believes that all things in life have a purpose for happening—illness, death, good things, bad things, all things—and that purpose may only be known by God. John has faith in God's plan. He trusts that God knows what He is doing. Faith is trusting in that which we cannot see, that which we do not know, and that which we do not understand."
"Then I guess I don't know how to have that kind of faith. How am I supposed to have faith that there's a purpose for this?" I gestured to Dago's prone and unconscious form.
Pancho regarded me for a very long minute without speaking, then picked up Dago's Bible, flipping through it rapidly until he found what he was looking for, then handed it to me. He stood, briefly touched Dago's other hand, and left without saying another word. I looked down at the Bible in my hands, opened to the book of Job.
I looked at Dago's face, oblivious to the conversation that had just taken place. "He's not serious, is he?"
Dago's written words in his notebook surfaced in my mind, filling me with a sense of guilt.
"Alright…" I sighed. "I'll try."
I read the story of Job—all 42 chapters of it—annoyed for most of it by the repetition and long-windedness. Why didn't the storytellers of the Bible ever just get to the damn point? But by the end, when Job was facing God, I suddenly felt very, very small. Each of us was but a mere speck of microscopic dust when compared against the vastness of the universe. How could any of us understand the intricacies of all of it? We couldn't see beyond the scope of the here and now, beyond the relativeness of our own pathetic little lives...Maybe God did have a reason for all of this, but I still couldn't understand why. Then again, that was the point, wasn't it? I wasn't supposed to understand. I wasn't supposed to know. I was simply supposed to accept what was and trust in God the way that Dago did. Fine…but how?
I started turning through the subsequent pages that followed the book of Job, reading over some of the Psalms. Dago had marked Psalm 27 with an asterisk. I found myself ruefully wondering if he was supposed to be writing in his Bible as I read the passage, trying to glean the same meaning from it that he did.
It actually seemed to be the perfect passage for him. I envisioned that the wicked enemies and armies that were trying to devour him were all of his recent maladies. Dago had told me once that it wasn't death he feared, it was just the getting there part he was afraid of. I could understand that. No one wanted to experience pain, no one wished to suffer. I'd seen enough death and dying to know that those who were on their way out didn't seem all that thrilled about it.
I started flipping through the rest of his Bible just out of curiosity to see what other pages he might have marked as particularly important when I noticed there seemed to be something marking a specific page. I turned in the book to where the marker was and saw two photographs of me and Dago pressed between the pages. I looked at the pictures for a long moment, sadness seizing my heart once again at how beautiful and alive Dago had been. Then I looked at the page the pictures were marking. 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. He'd quoted this to me before. I read the verses again and again, knowing that 'charity' meant love. Of all the words on the page, the last verse struck me as the most pungent: "And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
I marked the page with Dago's pictures and closed the book, feeling no closer to figuring how I was supposed to find faith, but knowing that I had to try…for Dago.
I needed some air… Though I was reluctant to leave Dago for even a second, he seemed to be stable enough at the moment that I felt comfortable leaving him for a few minutes. I made my way out of his room and down towards the waiting room, looking out the windows at the brightening sky, half expecting to see God staring back at me from the pink and grey clouds. I got a fresh cup of coffee, then went to the phone cubicle and had the operator place an international call to Crabapple Cove.
"Hawkeye?" Mary's voice was quiet. I realized I had probably woken her up.
"I'm sorry to call so late…I keep forgetting where I am and what time it is."
"How is he?"
"He's unconscious," I informed her. "But stable for the moment."
"Will he be alright?"
"I don't know." I sighed. "I haven't spoken to any of the doctors yet, but from what Pancho told me the aneurysm ruptured and bled into his brain. I don't know where the aneurysm was or what part of his brain has been affected yet. He's still breathing on his own, which is a good sign, but…I don't know. I just don't know."
"How are you doing?" She asked softly.
"I'm a mess," I half-laughed and half-sobbed. "Dago wants me to have faith in God, but…fuck, I don't know how to do that."
"John spoke to you?"
"No…he hasn't woken up. He had a dream, apparently, and he wrote it down in a notebook that Pancho found and showed me. I've spent the last few hours talking to Pancho about what faith is and even reading a little bit of Dago's Bible."
"I'm sure John would be very proud to know that he at least inspired some consideration of faith in the great Hawkeye Pierce."
"I'm sure he would," I agreed, remembering again the description of his dream. I talked with Mary for a while longer, then meandered around the hospital as that last verse in Corinthians kept repeating itself in the back of my mind. Why was it so damn important all of a sudden? I sighed and looked up in exasperation, my eyes falling on a sign hanging from the ceiling written in Italian and English: Cappella/Chapel.
I began to think that maybe God was trying to speak to me…or maybe it was Dago's spirit guiding me. Feeling somewhat foolish, I went into the chapel, finding myself alone in the room of pews that faced a statue of Jesus on the cross. The air felt heavy around me as I moved to sit in one of the pews, staring up into the face of Jesus. His eyes seemed to be looking back at me, boring into mine, and for a split second he almost looked like Dago.
I wasn't sure at this point if I had lost my mind and had begun to hallucinate or if there was really more here than meets the eye. Was faith being torn between skepticism and certainty, but choosing certainty? Hell if I knew, but there was only one way to find out… I slid off the pew until my knees were resting on the padded riser and I folded my hands together. The last time I had been in a church praying like this, God had taken my mother…
Pancho had already told me that having faith didn't mean we got to give orders to God, but I wasn't ordering him to help Dago…I was asking. That had to mean something, right? I was doing the best I could to believe in God and trust that there really was a purpose to all of this, but I still felt angry and resentful towards Him. Why did it have to be Dago? Why bring us together again after so many years only to rip him away again so brutally? Was God punishing me?
I could almost hear Dago's voice in my ear telling me that was not God's way. It wasn't anything I had done, he would say, it was just part of His ultimate design. But for me, believing that was like trying to swallow a flaming sword without getting burned or cutting my throat.
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine what Dago would pray for in this situation. I'd listened to him pray over so many kids in Korea…what had he said then? How did he get his cross action to work? Bits and pieces of his prayers filtered through my mind, words like mercy, protection, and healing. I decided to focus on these, but my prayer seemed more like a mantra than anything as I couldn't seem to elaborate beyond 'protect him, heal him, have mercy on him.'
The thought repeated itself over and over and over again in my mind and I felt like I was pouring my entire existence into it. This had been the way it had felt when I'd prayed for my mother too—exhausting. But gradually, I started to feel something else settling over me. It was a calmness that I had never experienced in my entire life. A peaceful, comforting feeling that made me feel that I wasn't alone and that—no matter what happened—everything would be alright. Was this God? Was this faith? My skeptical side tried to reason that I really had just exhausted my mental faculties, or that I was simply accepting Dago's fate, but I wanted to argue against my own skepticism. I wanted to believe that this was something else, and I clung to that it tightly.
When I opened my eyes, I found my cheeks wet with tears. Of course I was still deeply upset about the thought of losing Dago, but there was nothing I could do for him now. I had to trust in God. I had to believe and hope and have faith that God would hear my thoughts and prayers. I didn't dare to think of how I might feel if Dago didn't pull through this…
Pancho was in the hallway talking to another man that I was certain must be the surgeon that had operated on Dago, so I quickly sidled up beside them, eager to hear what the doctor had to say and ask some questions of my own. The doctor paused in whatever he was saying and looked at me as I approached, obviously not wishing to discuss a patient in front of a stranger.
"Dr. Coletti, this is Dr. Hawkeye Pierce. He has been a long-time friend of the Archbishop, and performed the surgery earlier this year."
"Ah ha, Dr. Pierce," the doctor shook my hand. "I just came to see how the Archbishop is doing."
"Can you tell me about the surgery, Doctor?"
"He arrived at the hospital unconscious, and unresponsive, but breathing. Monsignor de Villa described what had happened, and we ran several tests to determine the extent of the damage before surgery. The aneurysm that ruptured was a blood vessel that runs through the frontal lobe, supplying blood to areas of the brain responsible for speech and fine motor functions. We were lucky in that it was very near to the surface and required minimal invasion into the brain itself. The time between the rupture and getting him into surgery, however was enough time for there to have been a significant amount of bleeding into the area. I feel confident that the blood vessel has been repaired, but right now it is hard to say what his chances of recovery are. He is still unresponsive, but once the swelling from surgery goes down, he could wake up, but there is nothing to suggest he will wake up. I'm sure, as a doctor, you know that chances of survival and recovery are quite low."
I nodded in understanding and considered what he said very carefully. If Dago did beat the odds and survive the aneurysm, the area of the brain that it had impacted could be—and probably would be—severally impacted. He could easily become aphasic, not able to communicate through speech; he could lose control of the muscles involved in fine motor skills like eye movement, grasping, writing, fastening clothes and dexterity. Many people who suffered strokes were often totally or partially paralyzed on one side of their body. So many possibilities loomed in the air like a dark cloud, and I found myself wondering which option would be better—death or continued suffering. If Dago did survive, the chances that he would have another stroke or aneurysm had now increased significantly, and he most definitely would not survive a second time. I swallowed the lump in my throat.
"Thank you, Doctor. I would like to stay with him around the clock, if I may."
"Of course." He gave a small laugh. "It will make my job easier to have another doctor presiding over his care. If you need anything, please ask."
Pancho and I watched the other man head towards the elevator, before Pancho turned to me. "I will need to advise His Holiness in the matter…but I am not sure what I should tell him."
"What typically happens in a situation like this?"
"The College of Cardinals will probably advise His Holiness to replace John…temporarily, of course, until the situation changes."
"If Dago does survive, the chances of him being able to carry on with his duties are very slim. I don't know if you want to tell that to the Pope just yet, but I think it's safe to say that Dago's days with the Church are over."
Pancho considered this for a very long, grave moment. "I will advise His Holiness that nothing is certain as of yet."
I quietly wondered if that was faith, hope, or naivety on Pancho's part, but whatever it was, I was sharing in it. I knew Dago's chance at a full recovery was 1 in a million, but I still hoped he'd be that one. Pancho excused himself and I returned to Dago's bedside. His bandage had been changed while I was gone, as had his sheets and they had obviously bathed and shaved his face. He was still resting just as oblivious to the world around him as he had been when I'd gone on my little jaunt.
I took my seat next to him and reached for his hand, it was still cool, but it wasn't as cold as it had been yesterday. I took that as a good sign—his circulation was beginning to return to normal. I wished that we were at the Clinic so that Spearchucker could have a look at Dago and give me his opinion. He was one of the best neurosurgeons I knew, and—given the choice—I would have called him in to take care of Dago.
"You really should have taken me up on my offer to stay in Crabapple Cove, babe," I told him. "You would have had the best care anywhere. Not that I mind whatshisface… Doctor…uh…Coletti? He's seems pretty sharp and you seem to be doing okay right now, so I can't complain too much about his work."
The steady beep of the heart monitor filled the silence as I paused, looking at Dago's face for any sign of muscle weakness or drooping. There didn't appear to be any. It still seemed unfathomable to me that this was Dago in the bed. How could we possibly be old enough to be dealing with this shit? I'd buried my mother and my father. I wasn't supposed to be burying my lover as well. And what if Mary died next? Or one of the kids? I would lose my damn mind, that's what. As a doctor, death should have seemed like a very natural course in life, but I hated death. I hated everything about it. The dead could move on, ignorant to the pain they'd caused the ones left behind, but the living had to deal with loss and grief and anger and remorse. We were left pleading with that unseen force behind it all; please…take me instead. We begged for just one more day. We wondered why…why did it happen this way?
I'd never decided what was better on the ones left behind—a sudden death or a gradual one. In a sudden death, there were so many unanswered questions, there was shock of the life-ending tragedy, there was no closure. In a gradual death, every day seemed like goodbye until finally you were left looking to God and asking 'please, just take them already.' You had to watch your loved one waste away until they were simply a worn out, tired old shell of the person they'd once been. I'd experienced both in my life; neither had been easy to cope with.
And now, here I was; hating death, but torn between considering whether it would be better for Dago to pass on or better for him to survive. It seemed cruel of me to ask that he live if it meant spending the rest of his life just struggling to survive on a day to day basis, but I couldn't let him go.
"I think you were right about me, babe," I found myself saying as I stroked his hand. "I am the most selfish person there is."
Pancho came in a while later and informed me that he had spoken to the Pope, who had given his most sincere condolences and had moved Dago to the top of his prayer list.
"So has he said who he's going to get to replace Dago?"
Pancho was quiet for a long moment as he looked down at Dago almost regretfully. "Me."
"I don't think Dago would have it any other way," I finally told him.
"But I am just an assistant, what do I know about being an Archbishop?"
"And Dago was just an army chaplain and missionary, I'm willing to bet he felt pretty daunted too."
Pancho laughed sadly, obviously remembering when Dago had taken the office. "Yes, he was quite lost for a time. But I could never replace him."
"Don't think of it as replacing him," I offered. "Think of it as honoring him. I know Dago well enough to know that he would want you to be happy, he would be proud for you."
Pancho sighed and rubbed his head, "I don't know where to start."
"Just start where Dago left off."
As morning began to wear on, my stomach began to protest the lack of food it had received since yesterday. I still wanted to spend as little time away from Dago as possible just in case there was a change, so I made a quick trip down to the cafeteria for something to eat, then back up to Dago's room.
It felt like a waiting game as hours continued to tick by with no change. It was late afternoon when a male doctor entered the room and asked if it was alright if he performed a few tests on Dago.
"Knock yourself out," I told him. Intrigued, I asked, "What kinds of tests?"
"It's a relatively new technique* I read in a journal a couple of months ago. It assesses a patient's state of consciousness on a scale of 3 to 15—three being totally unresponsive, fifteen being fully alert."
I watched in fascination as the doctor observed Dago's eyes, noting they were closed, then took Dago's hand and applied a fair amount of pressure to his nail bed. The doctor was watching Dago's eyes the entire time, which didn't open. He then placed a hand against Dago's sternum and again, applied pressure with the same result. He spoke the Dago and clapped his hands, but there was still nothing to suggest Dago had heard him. After several minutes, the doctor made his notes.
"So, what's that mean? Where's he at right now?"
"A three." He told me. "Completely comatose."
I knew that after six hours of being unresponsive, a patient was classified as comatose and that typically a coma resulted from injury to the cerebral cortex—or gray matter of the brain—or the reticular activating system that maintained a person's sleep/wake cycle. In this case, I was willing to bet that it was the cerebral cortex. The surgeon had said there was minimal invasion of the brain, but he still would have gone through a bit of gray matter in order to fix the rupture. If he hadn't been careful, then Dago might never wake up again. However, once the swelling had gone down and the site was healing, then there was a good chance he would. No matter which angle I tried to look at it, Dago's chances still seemed 50/50 at this point, and I felt frustrated as hell.
I decided to make use of my time by calling up Spearchucker at the clinic and asking him if he'd ever heard about the technique the doctor used. Chuck said he remembered reading that same article, but hadn't actually had a patient to try it on.
"Comas are common in this situation, Hawkeye," Spearchucker said. "There's still a chance he could pull through. I've done a few successful repairs on aneurysms."
"Yeah, I feel optimistic," I admitted. "I mean he's breathing on his own, his heart rate and BP are normal for the most part. He's just not responding to any stimuli."
"It's only been about 24 hours. It's too soon to tell anything."
I wasn't sure if I was getting my hopes up or not, but I was glad that Spearchucker was reassuring me. I trusted his opinion, as a friend and as a neurosurgeon. "Thanks, Chucker."
Pancho said that had things he needed to do, but assured me he would come by the hospital the next day to check on Dago. It was lonely just sitting alone with Dago in his room watching him sleep, but I filled the time by reflecting on my life with him.
Korea had been so unexpected in so many ways—first getting drafted, then falling for a goddamn priest. Who had seen that coming, really? I grinned as I remembered getting him to smoke pot with us, and all the subsequent times we had gotten high. Marijuana had always mellowed him out enough that he lost that nervous edge he always seemed to have when making conversation with people. He'd always told the most interesting stories, and had always held us Swamp rats as a captivated audience. Add a little alcohol in the mix and he would drop his inhibitions almost completely. Whether or not he realized it, he would openly flirt with me in front of the others—a look, a touch, leaning against me, stealing a kiss by blowing smoke into my mouth. Those were the times when I wanted Dago the most and I couldn't wait to get back to his tent and fuck him.
Dago was one of the most exciting people I'd ever met. He was a puzzle that I'd spent 20 years collecting the pieces for, and I still felt like some were missing; the puzzle wasn't complete. When we'd been in Spain, he had said that I was special to him, and I supposed that was the only way to describe my life with him: special. Never again would I know anyone as wonderful, as kind, as generous, as warm, as intelligent, as passionate, or as unique as Dago. Never again would anyone make me feel as complete as he did…not even my wife.
The next two days showed no change in his condition. The young doctor had come by to test his consciousness every day, but Dago remained at a 3. The surgeon had come by as well, displeased that Dago was still comatose, and telling me that I should start preparing for the worst.
"He should be showing some sign of recovery by now," he told me seriously. "We have to consider the fact that he is not going to wake up, and perhaps you should begin making some preparations."
I knew what he meant. The longer Dago stayed comatose, the less likely he would come out of the state and have any chance at recovery. As long as he remained unresponsive, his body would continue to deteriorate around him—his muscles would begin to atrophy and his limbs would start to draw up and become immoveable, he would be susceptible to pneumonia or diminished lung capacity that could lead to respiratory failure, he would likely get a urinary tract infection from the catheter that might eventually lead to sepsis, and eventually his body would develop ulcers and bedsores as his skin began to breakdown. Dago would need round the clock care, and would most likely be moved into a hospice situation until his body finally decided to stop function.
I felt another surge of anger and devastation as the doctor left me, and I found myself wandering back to the chapel, walking straight to the statue of Jesus on the cross. Maybe Jesus was only the Son of God, but he would do…
"Why! Why are you doing this to him? Have you made a bet with the Devil like you did with Job! Is this a test to see if he will renounce you and curse your name! In case you haven't noticed, he's not in a condition to even be aware that he may or may not hate you for this! You've made it very clear that you intend for him to suffer whether he lives or whether he dies. If he lives, what kind of life will he have? If he's able to communicate at all, he'll be damn lucky! How do you expect him to praise your name then! If he dies, it'll be slow and horrible, and if he feels anything at all locked away inside of himself like he is, you can be damn sure he's going to suffer like hell! Do something! Answer me!"
I drove my fist into the stomach of the statue, and fell to my knees in tears of anguish. I pressed my face against the floor as I cried, weeping in sorrow for whatever Dago would endure.
Despite my fury with God, I still clung to that feeling of faith—the belief that God did have a purpose for this, but I desperately wanted to know what it was. What had Dago done that had warranted such wrath from his God? Where was God's mercy? His compassion? How did He expect people to have faith when they felt there was nothing to have faith in?
I drug myself out of the chapel, swiping a piece of gauze from the nurses' station to dab at my bleeding knuckles as I made my way back to Dago's side. I felt sick at the situation, sick at the thought of continuing to wait—wait for him to live, or wait for him to die; sick at the realization that soon the hospital would request that family or the church have Dago moved to a different care facility. I wondered if Dago's family even knew at this point. Had Pancho called them? Dago had said his mother wasn't able to travel much anymore, would she come collect him? Would his brother? Would they take him to California? And if he woke up? Where would he go then? That much, I felt I had some control over—he would come with me. I would care for him until he had either recovered or until he died. I wouldn't take no for an answer this time.
I lowered the rail on Dago's bed and rested my head against his leg. "Please wake up, Dago…please."
The next morning, Pancho dropped by, bringing me a coffee and a jam cornetto. I almost couldn't eat it as I sullenly remembered that Dago had taken me to his favorite little café that served his favorite cornettos.
"Does Dago's family know about his condition?"
"Yes," Pancho told me as he sat next to Dago and I stood next to the window.
"The doc said yesterday that we should start…making arrangements." I closed my eyes against the sting of tears. "The longer he stays out, the less likely he's going to wake up."
"I will alert his mother," Pancho said softly.
He spent a couple of hours with me, asking how I was doing and that he was praying for me. "I know this must be very difficult for you."
"Yeah" I snorted derisively. "I even punched Jesus Christ."
"The statue in the chapel here…I got so angry that I was yelling at it and, well…hit it."
Pancho looked taken aback. "I believe that is the first time I have ever heard someone say such a thing."
I couldn't help but laugh softly. "He did more damage to me that I did to him. Busted my knuckles. I just don't understand, Pancho. I don't understand why He would do this to Dago. I know, that's the purpose of faith—to not know why and just trust that God has his reasons—but it's…"
"To say the least."
"Pain," he said. "Is never permanent.* What John endures in this life will be rewarded in Heaven and there he will feel no pain, nor suffering, nor strife. There, justice will find him when he is united with our Heavenly Father."
I took a deep breath and let it out through my nose, closing my eyes. I tried to believe that with all of my heart.
I was lost deep in thought that night as I sat, yet again, at Dago's bedside, his hand in mine. I thought about Dago's dream, about us kneeling at the feet of God and the description of the emotions that had surged through him. I wished that I could feel such things as him, I wished I could feel the presence of God, I wished that I could feel His comfort. I started to think about my mother, letting myself experience the grief and anguish at her loss. I closed my eyes as I thought back to when I had been little and she had been well, when she had tucked me in at night and kissed my forehead. I could hear her voice singing softly to me the sweet lullabies that had put me to sleep at night. I could almost smell her scent… The memories were overwhelming, but they brought with them that same calm I had felt when I'd prayed that first time in the chapel. Suddenly, I felt very at peace with the loss of my mother.
Movement made me blink open my eyes. Dago's hand had twitched in mine. My heart leapt and I was on my feet in an instant, leaning over him and squeezing his hand tightly.
"Dago? Can you hear me? Squeeze my hand, baby." I waited with bated breath, but nothing happened. "Come on, John…do something, let me know you can hear me."
When he still didn't respond, I took his hand and pressed the edge of my nail under his nail bed.
Dago groaned weakly in response to the painful stimuli.
My eyes welled with tears and my throat swelled shut with emotion. "Nurse!" I croaked, squeezing Dago's hand and holding it against my chest. "Nurse!"
A nurse ran into the room as my tears started to fall. She called in a doctor working the night shift, who tried to get Dago to open his eyes, but the only thing that we were able to get from him that night were groans and very slight movement of the hand I was holding. After an hour of poking and prodding at him, we finally let him rest again and I went to call Mary with the good news.
"He's waking up," I sniffled. "He's still not out of the woods, but his moved his hand a little and was making noises."
Mary sobbed happily on the other end of the line.
Again, before returning to Dago's room, I went to the chapel and approached the statue of Jesus once again. This time I simply fell to my knees, looking up at him. "Thank you… Thank you… Thank you."
I didn't sleep that night, too eager that he would open his eyes and afraid that I would miss it if he did. I spoke to him softly as I continued stroking his hand in the same fashion I had done for nearly a week.
"I don't know, Dago… I don't know, but I think I've managed to find a little faith after all. I don't know why God put you through this shit…but I know that you would say there was a reason for all of this, and…I want to believe that, too. I've been doing the best I can to believe it. I don't agree with it, but I suppose He didn't ask for my opinion. Did you hear me tell Pancho I punched the statue of Jesus in the chapel?" I couldn't help but laugh ruefully. "I was so fucking angry with God. I dunno, maybe I just lost my mind or something. It was a dumb thing to do."
I brushed the back of his hand against my cheek and pressed a kiss against it. "I want to take care of you, Dago. I want to spend the rest of our lives together. I know it's never been a perfect option with me being married, but I want you to come live with me and Mary. We'll figure out a way to make it work, baby, and I'll take care of you. I love you, John."
Dago's fingers lightly curled around mine and I looked up to see his eyes open just enough to know that he was looking at me. There was a single tear slipping down his cheek and he slowly opened his mouth as he tried to speak. My eyes stung so fiercely it made my nostrils burn. Dago opened and closed his mouth several times making unintelligible noises. I wasn't sure if he was trying to form words and couldn't, or if he was just making sounds, but either way I didn't care... he was awake. His eyes opened just a little wider and I could see the tears shimmering in their blue depths.
"Ha…H-Ha…" He closed his mouth and his tongue slowly came out to wet his lips before he tried again. "Hawk…"
Though the word was slightly slurred, and I wasn't sure if he'd actually meant to shorten it, my name had never sounded so sweet.
I wept as I leaned down and pressed my lips gently to his. He was slow to try and purse his own lips, but I knew he was kissing me back. I pulled back to see the tears had leaked from his eyes as well and I wiped them away carefully.
"It's okay, baby. Everything's going to be okay."
His face broke out in a slightly crooked smile as he looked at me lovingly and lightly squeezed my hand. "Hawk…"
In 1974, Graham Teasdale and Bryan J. Jennett of the University of Glascow, published an article about a new assessment they had developed that was used to objectively assess the consciousness of a person. The Glasgow Coma Scale is widely used today.
"Pain is never permanent." Is a quote from Saint Teresa of Avila.