The Man He Used to Be, ch. 12

by: Marty Chrisman

           Three exhausted Dukes sat on the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the hospital waiting room. They had been waiting for over an hour to find out if Luke was alive or dead. Finally, the doctor came through the swinging doors and ushered the family into his office. Closing the door, he sat down at the desk facing them and addressed Jesse somberly, “Mr. Duke, your nephew is still alive but he’s having trouble breathing and his heartbeat is very irregular. We have two choices, we can put him on life support and hope that keeps him alive until his body gets stronger or we can do nothing and let nature take it’s course.”

“Then you gotta put ‘em on them machines.” Bo said in a broken voice, tears welling in his eyes. “Uncle Jesse, you can’t just let Luke die.” His eyes pleaded with his uncle to make the decision.

“Now Bo, settle down.” Jesse said absently. He looked at the doctor closely and asked the question he needed to know the answer to before he made any decision “If I tell you to put him on the machines and he makes it, will he be the same Luke he was before?”

“Mr Duke, I can’t guarantee anything. His injuries are extensive and there may be some brain damage from the near drowning. We have no idea how long his brain was without oxygen before you got him breathing again.”

“Then you put him on those machines” Jesse said firmly “Because my boy ain’t gonna die if I can help it.”

“Can we see him?” Daisy asked, tears running down her face.

The doctor pondered it for a moment, then said somberly “Alright. But only one of you can go in at a time and for no more than fifteen minutes. You’ll have to work that out among yourselves.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Jesse said

“If you’ll have a seat back in the waiting room, I’ll let you know as soon as we’re finished.”

The three Dukes went back out to the waiting room and sat down. They all knew that the doctor expected Luke to die they could hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes. But he was a Duke, he just might fool them all yet. While they waited, the Dukes decided that Jesse should go in first, then Bo, then Daisy. Daisy was apprehensive about seeing Luke in his present condition but she knew she had to be strong for her cousin and for the family.

Two hours later, the doctor came out and told Jesse that he would take him to Luke. Jesse tried to keep his feelings from showing on his face as he followed the doctor into the intensive care unit. Luke was in a room directly across from the nurse’s station where they could keep a closer eye on him. In spite of his efforts to keep himself under control, tears filled Jesse’s eyes when he saw Luke.

His bed was surrounded by machines with tubes and leads attached to various parts of his body. His face was swollen and battered almost beyond recognition. It seemed like there were bandages or casts on every part of his body that Jesse could see. Luke looked so frail and small lying there in that bed, almost like a china doll that had been broken into pieces and glued back together.

Jesse sat down in a chair that one of the nurses had placed by the bed for him. He gently reached out, careful not to disturb the IV line that was inserted in the back of Luke’s left hand, and took his nephew’s hand in his. Luke’s hand was cold as ice. Instinctively, Jesse rubbed Luke’s hand with both of his, trying to warm it up.

“You hang on, Luke. Ya hear me?” Jesse said quietly “You hang on and you come back to us. Don’t you dare die on me.” Jesse continued to talk to Luke in a soft comforting voice. He wanted Luke to know, if there was any awareness at all, that he was safe now and that he wasn’t alone. If Jesse could have brought Luke back with the strength of his own will power, he would have.

When his time was up, he left and went back to the waiting room. Before Bo went in, Jesse tried to prepare him but Bo was still shocked when he saw Luke lying there for the first time. He sat in the chair, and like Jesse had done, he held Luke’s hand and talked to him. “Hey, cuz…you gotta wake up and talk to me. I ain’t ready to lose you yet.”  More emotional than Luke, Bo’s voice broke and tears began to fall down his cheeks without shame. “I need you, cuz…..who else is gonna keep me out of trouble?” Bo’s time was up much too soon. He returned to the waiting room to give Daisy her time with Luke.

Daisy couldn’t help it. She burst out crying when she saw Luke for the first time. Unable to stay more than a few minutes, she returned to the waiting room, still crying. Bo and Jesse both tried to comfort her. Between sobs, she told them that she couldn’t go back in that room, not as long as Luke was hooked to all those machines like that. Bo and Jesse both understood, once they had seen Luke they both knew why Daisy couldn’t handle seeing him that way. Luke had always been the strong one, their protector and their big brother, all wrapped up into one.

The minutes seemed like hours and the hours seemed like days as the Dukes continued their vigil at the hospital. Finally, Jesse told Bo that he was taking Daisy home so she could get some rest. Bo said that he was staying at the hospital to be close to Luke in case something happened. And later that night something did happen. Luke’s heart stopped.


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