When she woke that spring morning, Kate had no way of knowing that her life, as she knew it, would be forever altered that day. That in fact she would no longer exist in a matter of days. It was a typical spring weekday, with birds trilling, light clouds promising a shower later, the paperboy swinging his arm in wide arcs to land the plastic covered print on door mats, and the occasional car revving or backing out of a driveway. The early commuters had already left, and it was time for the school kids and nine o’clockers to start their day.
Downstairs, her mother, Marnie, heard the soft buzz of the alarm sound in Kate’s room for the third time, and the ensuing light footfalls across the floor as Kate raced to the shower. Smiling to herself, Marnie gathered an orange, a paper napkin, and a hot bran muffin lathered with butter at the end of the kitchen counter, and paced these in a paper bag. Her younger children were quietly eating their cereal, and having drunk their orange juice, were already pushing their chairs back. By the time Kate flew lightly down the stairs, her hair a mass of dark tumbled curls, eyes mascaraed and lips glossed, her shoes unlaced, backpack still open, her younger siblings were ready for school and half out the door. Marnie stood by the door, Kate’s make-shift breakfast in hand.
“Yum, thanks Mom! Love ya, kiddies. I’m late – clear a path,” Kate shouted as she raced by, stirring the air and scattering the hall mat. Rolling her eyes, Marnie let out a sigh. “Some things will never change. ’Bye Stu and Ella. I hope your day will be less stressful than big sister’s.” Having dutifully kissed or hugged them, she watched her little brood as they left. Stuart and Ella, deep in argument over yet another video game, hardly noticed Kate as she quickly tied her shoes, zipped her pack, rotated it onto her back, crushed her helmet on the messy hair, and mounted her pride and joy, the baby blue scooter her parents bought for her third year at college. She winced a little as she did so – darned tackle, my knee hurts like heck still. Silly cow; her soccer game leaves a lot to be desired, as Mom says. The scooter definitely cut down her travelling time, but if she would only set her alarm a bit earlier, maybe all this rushing would be unnecessary.
Kate looked fondly after her younger siblings as she rumbled off. Look at nerdy little Stu with those big black frames. He used to be so cute. Now he’s helping his sis with her pack. Little goodie two shoes. And I do adore Ella – about as much as she seems to adore me, I guess. Oh, God – look at the time! Mom is right; I need to set that alarm earlier. And now it’s started raining. F - udge! Accelerating harder, she whizzed along her street, past the elementary school, barely slowing; waved to the crossing guard with a huge smile of apology, and not paying any attention to the stop sign, skidded slightly as she rounded the corner. She didn’t see the large black sedan on her left, and was unaware until she heard the horn, then the crunch and felt her scooter skidding out of control into the oncoming traffic. Everything became a swirl of dark colours, and she was aware of pain in several places. She felt herself tumbling over and over and then it all went black.
Marnie wasn’t on duty until the afternoon shift, and her husband had left for the bank an hour ago, so she had time for a soak in the tub, and to start some laundry. As she ascended the stairs, she noted the rain had started, and thought again of her madcap older daughter. I hope she goes slower; it’ll be slick out there. She’ll get soaked, no doubt. Oh, Kate. She has always been so headstrong, right from the get-go. When the younger ones were born, she certainly was more than a bit jealous. Now as a young woman, it’s like she can’t wait for life to happen. I suppose she doesn’t realize how she affects us all. I can’t wait until she becomes my sweet girl again…like the beautiful baby I once had! Singing quietly and reflecting on her family, she ran her bath and luxuriated for a time. She had hardly stepped out of the tub, when she realized her cell had been ringing for some time. Darn, I hope they aren’t cancelling me at the last minute again was her thought as she snatched up the phone. Moments later, she sank onto her bed while trying to understand what she was being told. “In emergency? Is she ok? How bad is it?” Taking a deep breath, she allowed her nurse’s mind to click into gear, and asked several more questions before dressing and, pulling her coat from the closet, shoved the phone in a pocket. Must be calm. Drive carefully. Let Graham know on the way. It will be fine – she’ll be fine. The thoughts came fast and furious as she moved as quickly as she could to the hospital; the same hospital where she worked on-call and part-time shifts in the Operating Room. Graham arrived from the bank at the same time, and clutching each other for support approached the triage desk, almost afraid to ask how their oldest child was faring. Told that the resident emergency physician would meet with them soon, they found two chairs near the desk, and clasping hands sat in silence, unable to look at each other, eyes constantly scanning the room. Marnie could feel the tears pricking her eyelids, but blinking rapidly, resolved to stay calm. Time to cry later. Graham could only think how much he regretted now buying the scooter. As Dr. Sawyer, clad in OR greens, strode in through the swinging doors, Marnie leapt to her feet and crossed to him, Graham close behind. She knew and respected this decent, caring man and also knew he would tell them what they needed to know. Guiding them to a side area, Dr. Sawyer took in their demeanour at a glance, and clearing his throat, told them the situation. Kate had been triaged, and was now in the operating room. She had been unconscious when she was brought in by ambulance. She appeared to have suffered a severe brain injury in the crash – at the least a concussion - along with scratches, contusions, scraped skin, and a probable fractured left leg. Her good health and physical strength would help her, but the outcome was unknown, and there was little to do except wait out the surgical team’s skills, and the various x-ray and scan results when more would be known. He squeezed Marnie’s hand, shook Graham’s and left to assist at the operation, promising to let them know as soon as he could. Marnie slumped against Graham, and let the tears fall. He held her until she calmed, and quietly suggested a hot tea in the cafeteria might be a good idea. His own eyes were filled, but like Marnie, he held back for a later moment to let them fall.
The next several days flew by as Marnie and Graham spent most of their days at the hospital. In the Intensive Care Unit, Kate had been cooled and placed in an induced coma due to the swelling in her brain, and they could only hold her hand and talk to her. Marnie insisted she would hear what they said, and told Kate over and over how much she was loved, while tending her. Dr. Stewart provided daily updates. Stuart and Ella, aged thirteen and nine years, were not supposed to visit the ICU, but the nurses knew Marnie well, and allowed them in. Barely understanding how this could have happened in their family, they were all in shock. Stu and Ella were quiet, seeming to realize how serious the situation was, and having their Nana come to stay at their house helped them cope each day. Marnie was merely going through the motions of day to day living. She tried to spend time with the younger children, but felt she had so little to offer, she felt guilty. Graham kept his thoughts to himself. He played computer games with Stuart, and tried to read with Ella, but continually lost concentration. Marnie’s mother was a rock of support through it all. All Ella wanted was to cuddle her big orange cat, Marmalade. Marmalade didn’t object; her instincts telling her that her young mistress was distressed, she complied and allowed herself to be squeezed tightly and rocked.
Ten days after the accident, Dr. Sawyer met once more with Graham and Marnie in his hospital office. After inquiring about the family, “It is not good news,” were his first careful words. “Kate’s condition has not changed, and is in fact deteriorating more rapidly. As you know, she is still alive only because of the technology; in fact, she is brain dead. There is no recordable brain function. And I want you to think seriously of removing that support. I see your distress, and yes… yes she will most likely die without the technology, but we can ensure she has no pain or distress. If we did this fairly soon, we could harvest her organs for transplant, if that is your wish.” Marnie and Graham listened with heartache, and clasping each other’s hands, asked for some time with their daughter to think. They spent the rest of that day at Kate’s bedside, talking to her, telling her the situation, holding her hands. Later that day, they were able to make the decision for termination of all life support. Dr. Sawyer sadly agreed. Stuart and Ella, and their Nana visited briefly to make their farewells, and Marnie and Graham sat on either side of her bed as the machines were switched off, and still holding her hands, they felt her slip away forever.
The following weeks were hazy and unfocused for Marnie. They all were bereft and barely able to understand the why of it all. There was a funeral, attended by many, and Kate was buried where her grave was overlooked by a lilac tree (her favourite). Her friends, teachers, soccer team-mates, all brought flowers to lay on the grave. Her death had provided hope and life to others through donation of her heart and other organs, but life would never be quite the same for her family.