Friday, September 24, 2010

What the Doctor Ordered

When she arrived at the hospital, he was still in the intensive care unit.

Seven days since an ambulance brought him writhing with the pain of an intestinal blockage.

Five days since the operation that cut away the small section of knotted obstruction.

Two days since a nurse snapped an oxygen mask over his nose and parted lips. She explained he needed the assistance; he was a “mouth breather” and his shallow inhales did not feed his lungs.

One day since he looked at her with eyes narrowed in disapproval.

“If you came earlier, I could have gone home with you,” he said and pointed a tremulous index finger at her. “You missed the window of opportunity. I know it was on purpose.” He turned his head away from her.

Though she tried many times during each visit, no amount of cajoling or explanation could disabuse him of the notion that nurses hated him and waited for family to leave before a daily ritual of torture. Doctors told her confusion and paranoia were normal in patients his age – after all, he was still under the influence of disorienting painkillers.

After several hours of sitting and watching him sleep, while listening to the whirls and pings of machinery taking care of his bodily business, she stood.

“Leaving?” he said after pulling the mask from his face. So he was feigning sleep, she thought.

“I'll be back tonight,” she said.

“Don't bother if you're not prepared to take me away from here.”

She kissed his forehead and helped him put the mask back on his face. He closed his eyes and did not say goodbye.

As she left the unit, she nodded to the hospital staff who looked her way. Torturers? She smiled at the thought. Tonight she would return and listen to his complaints and know they were fueled by irrational fears that he was never going home.

Always was a bit of a diva – for a man, she thought and laughed.

She walked the maze of halls that were very familiar to her now and stepped out into the sunshine.

Upstairs, the torture continued.


  1. I loved this. This is an amazing bit of work, with just enough ambiguity at the end to leave me scratching my head. Excellent work!

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  2. I like the countdown in the opening. Works well providing background while pulling us into the main dish. The exit is nearly as smooth. A great example of flash.

  3. Welcome back, Marisa! So nice of you to leave this torture victim with us...

  4. More, more! I need more! (Yes, I know I am greedy but I don't care lol)

  5. Yes... THAT countdown was the bomb!!

  6. Damn right they torture him. You'd think he'd get up already and leave. Nice return.

  7. I really like the way the countdown brings us into the story too. As if we needed another reason to fear hospitals....

  8. Wouldn't it be awful to be in his shoes? Not that being in a hospital isn't torture enough, but actually being tortured! (I want to cue an evil laugh for some reason).
    Nice bright light tone to this piece, definitely told from her oblivious point of view.

  9. Very well done Marisa. I too like how the countdown leads us in, or I should say sucks us in, and the tone is perfect.

  10. Well done, Marisa. Torture or health care? Often it's one and the same :) Creepy, and I love the open ending.

  11. always a bit of a diva for a man - loved that line.

    Great story

    Marc Nash

  12. This is such a real representation of one of life's most unwelcome experiences -- the atmosphere is perfect -- and your 'victim' and the one who loves him are perfectly drawn.

  13. Chilling. Makes me wonder.

  14. Good story. I also have to agree that the countdown at the beginning really set the stage for this. Powerful piece.

  15. I certainly hope he's not really being tortured. When my dad was in the hospital, he was next to a woman who screamed all the time about being tortured when in reality she was just in the room alone. Poor thing just wanted to go home. Old, like this guy. Takes me back to a dark time, but a good tale.

  16. Love it!! I really enjoy stories like this where the person who seems 'crazy' is right. Well done.

  17. You see, I knew I hated hospitals for a reason.

    Perfect setup, perfect voices for both characters, perfect ending. Perfect story.

  18. Love the ambiguity of this! Hospitals...shudder.

  19. Anonymous6:39 PM

    I also like the countdown. I wonder what would happen if it ended with a final count? Just Curious. Empathetic story. I feel the same as him :D

  20. I just came from Valerie's and Eric's. This week sort of confirmed a feeling that there's a collective consciousness on the #FridayFlash community. One week's stories are mostly funny, the others are touching, sometimes bloody, and this one is gory.

    Great story though. As Eric, I like your countdown, but I specially like how you portrait the patient. A difficult person that feels very real. Great job!

    p.s.: I'm kind of annoyed at the ambiguity, I don't want the torture to be literal...

  21. Torture? What torture?
    How can you leave us hanging like that?
    What torture!??
    Literal? Non-literal?
    You know what... Doesn't matter. You've got us wondering. And told so well. I love the restraint.

  22. You left us hanging, but in a good way. I liked this! The poor woman being abused by an ungrateful patient, and yet...

    Nicely written.

  23. Great use of ambiguity. Health care IS torture, and often leaves us worse off then before we received care. Chilling little story -- not sure enjoyed is the word, but definitely mesmerized. Great stuff! Peace...

  24. Yep, the countdown worked for me too. I like it how you had the man blaming the woman - I think this happens a lot!

  25. I like the open-endedness of this. It really gives it a sense of foreboding, but perhaps, on the other hand, maybe the patient is making it all up. Something is there, lingering under the surface of this piece, and I like it. Great job.

  26. Great ending. It leaves you wondering still if the torture is real or in his mind. Loved the countdown.

  27. Oh, he really being tortured? Hmmm...this one will play on my mind all day and remind me why I don't like to enter hospitals!

  28. I was at work one and realized I didn't have anything to read on my two hour bus ride home. I thought of you and printed out 4 of your stories. Like this one all of them made me think, pulled me totally in. Love your writing.
    Let us know if you ever do a full lenght novel. Would be wonderful I am sure.

  29. Anonymous9:40 AM

    Oh my gosh! What?
    What next?
    Are they torturing him?
    Is he senile?
    Tell. Me NOW!!!

  30. Creepy! Hospitals make me shudder, yuck. And the build up to the end was perfect.

  31. Though hospitals can often be highly unpleasant places, and even sometimes purveyors of torture, that sure isn't the case here.

    I don't see ambiguity. I see a woman (wife maybe, or daughter) who has to some degree put up with the disagreeableness of this man all or most of her life.

    If anyone has been tortured, it's been her. And through this experience in the hospital she now realizes she has done her best and can't do any more. She can walk out into the sunshine. He never will.

    (Damn, I sound profound here! I ought to be writing brainy stuff like you, Marisa, instead of selling out to shlock comedy.)

    In any event, once again, Marisa, you demonstrate why you're one of the best writers on the planet!

  32. It may as well be called torture, from his point of view, but I like the diva line - her point of view.

  33. Anonymous5:05 PM

    Nice job, Marisa. I love the way it opens with counting down the days and the closing line is fantastic.

  34. Anonymous9:56 AM

    The torture is real to him, I guess and that's what counts. I like the no-nonsense feel to this. I also like the way they have no names and it's not totally clear what the relationship is. He is getting old and she is responsible for him and she gets to walk away after a visit...

  35. This is heartbreaking. Good writing.

  36. The countdown was awesome and the ending was OMG creepy! Great story Marisa! Loved it!

  37. hello alice,

    i liked the ambiguity, and the ending. and the beginning, beyond numbers was very descriptive so the scene was laid out very clearly. i enjoyed that.

    but, this sentence here: "Always was a bit of a diva – for a man, she thought and laughed" made me go back and read and re-read again and again as I thought it interrupted the flow. I didn't know who was saying it.

    Other than that, i liked the morbid undertone, like hospitals...

    ~the hatter.

  38. Beautifully written. You take the helplessness and anger and fear and all those emotions that wrap up an invalid and age... and you toss it together with grace. Amazing!

  39. I love the ambiguity of that ending. Is he being tortured, or isn't he? Very well done.

  40. Sorry I'm late getting to this. Wow. I felt the foreboding near the end of the story, but not until after feeling the emotions of someone who must deal with a parent who is in pain and delusional. To have that questioned strongly at the end was just...great storytelling. :) Excellent.

  41. The countdown was awesome and the ending was creepy. Great story Marisa.

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