Full Code
by Peter Zelchenko December 18, 2009

Paulina's eyes, like spider legs, danced a path along the network of wires. Her ears were sensors, passively consuming the tones of the machines with emotionless and relentless obedience. She couldn't think straight. The words "FULL CODE" flashed in that little room in her mind labeled "COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS ONLY."

"All those machines are keeping him alive," she thought to herself. "So, why am I so numb about this? Is my own life too complicated for me to really care about his?" Her index finger traced the window glass, along the wires, stopping at a button here or there, finally coming to rest on that small gray head in the center of the still life. "Or did we just drift apart?"

"...and if we give him too much fluids, then his blood count will get too low. That's the problem, you see, Ma'am."


She jerked, then pushed up her glasses. "Oh, yes, doctor. I'm sorry, could you----"

Pauline's phone hummed at her. She flipped it open. "It's my sister Olivia. Excuse me, doctor."


"What's up?"

"The doctors said his own systems are shutting down, but he could stay alive for a long time on life support."

"Uh huh."

"They say that he'll be fighting for his life for the next 24 hours. But he's what they call 'full code' now -- it means that the doctors will do everything possible to prolong his life."

"Uh huh."

Those two syllables always did it for her. She walked down the hall a bit. "Ookay, listen, Liv," she whispered. "You know why you can live a million miles away in your Carmel by the Sea while he's dying here in Chicago? You know why I can get good work in high tech? Because he put us through school, while Mom got to live her artsy life!"

"Uh, yeah, thanks for the litany, babe. The man was a mess. We grew up in a hellhole. And what part of child abuse don't you understand?"

"Liv, you're not the only person he mistreated. But the man drove a taxi every day of his small life, bought us our freedom, gave Mom hers. Now, can you support his bid for it? You don't have to do anything, just take five minutes and feel a little. He's got this huge tube down his throat!"

"Sorry. I just don't have any feelings about this at all."

"I just need some input here!"

"I really don't have an opinion one way or another."

"Look, Liv. No matter what happens, he may have only two or three days to live, and it's going to be painful and lonely. Why not come out? There's a Days Inn two blocks from the hospital."

"I don't think so. I've got way too much going on here."

"But it'll be the weekend. You could all come out. You have the money. We can take the boys to Zoo Lights and skating. Make it more of a gathering."

"It's a recession, haven't you heard? And for what it's worth, I'd like to remember the positive things, not see him like that."

She put the phone in her bag. Left, right, where to go? She walked back to the room, made her way through to its center, leaned over the old blanched face, ran a hand through the white hair.

"You've really got nobody but me. Now please."

Nothing moved. That poem fragment passed through her again. "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." And the machines hummed.

In the vibrating fluorescence of this state-of-the-art hospital, it was like nothing was telling her anything. With all of the information, she had no information. She looked down, and traced the grey flesh of the face of the man who'd brought her into the world. They really had grown apart in recent years.

"I like to go with Daddy everywhere! I want him to take me with him everywhere!"

"'Lina, dear, listen to me. If you put your coat and hat on and stand over there, right by the door, as he's walking out he'll probably take you."

"Okay, Mommy."

And there she would stand. Every day. And he would take her. She would sit in the front seat of the cab while he drove. On cold winter days she would point the heater louvers so the air blasted straight on her cheeks and hands. She even got to work the fare flag, watch the money counter go up, total it up, take the money, make change, organize the change. She was his helper. On family trips to the cousins in Indiana, Mommy would sit in front and Paulina and Olivia got to sit in the fold-up jumpseats in the floor of the taxi in back. Mommy was right, because Daddy was her best friend.

"My friend Daddy. My friend Daddy."

It was her mantra. Rhythmic like a steady heartbeat. But heartbeats are supposed to last.


Where am I? How did I get here? What stairs? Elevator?

Paulina put her head against the corner of the wall in the deepest and deepest bowels of the giant hospital, its cold-rolled-steel bowels with its eggshell walls and concrete ceilings; rocked the tears aflood through time-wrenched eyes; kneaded the suffering from heaving lungs. The humming of massive fans soothed her, took her down, as they shipped tons of warm air on up through the bright corridors of the building above her. She sat against a wall and pulled out her notebook. The warm floor pulsated with the fans' hum. There was, and would be, no one in sight.


Late on a Sunday night, in an intensive-care unit in a hospital somewhere in Chicago, a woman walked into a room and approached a patient. "Don't cry, just tell him," she repeated to herself. She took a bony hand, leaned up to an old ear, took a deep breath, and read.

Good night, gently go.
Some were not meant to flail away their dying light.
Turn the lamp down now, turn it low.

Yes, you've been brave:
Guarded your den all day, manned the watch all night.
Good night, gently go.

Good night, gently go.
Waste not these last few moments in a feeble fight.
Take it easy now, take it slow.

Yours was a hard road,
Yet you took the gravel path with faith and might,
Unfazed by men equipped with more on left and right.
Good night, gently go.

Good night, gently go.
But take this with you:
That which is painted gold is sham and shame.
Some rough, unpolished stones are gold all through.
You were my dearest friend, my warmest light.
I take the best of you and hold it tight, I hold it tight.
Gently go, old man.
Good night.

(Poem after Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night")

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