In the thirty long years I have been a nurse I’ve met the best and the worst of people, but never have I met two people that seem so different and yet have one identical problem. They need a heart. A moment ago the doctor had come in with some good news for Ethan and Joseph.
“We have found a suitable heart donor” he had said. The two of them and Joseph’s little daughter who was visiting him had all brightened up and smiled for the first time I’d seen all day. That was before they realized what he had truly said. We have found a suitable donor. The room was not so cheery anymore.
“You both have top priority for a new heart, so unless one of you is willing to let the other have it I’m afraid you may both die” he said robotically. After that he left the room. Just like a doctor I thought, never caring what so ever about their patients. He left quickly after that and then I turned my head to see how the two men would react.
Ethan sat quietly staring out the window obviously thinking. He was not an unattractive man but he was the type you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alleyway. He was young probably mid twenties and had long jet-black hair, he was in need of a shave. His eyes were always… angry… menacing or something like that anyway and he had tattoos covering his body. Joseph was constantly flipping a coin for his daughter who kept on whispering:
“again daddy, pleeeeaaaaase?” and sure enough each time he would flip the coin into the air and catch it.Small things always did amuse children.
He looked older then Ethan, possibly in his early forties and he was the man every woman dreamed she would marry someday. He had short brown hair, bright blue eyes that looked cheery despite the situation and a smile to match. The two of them continued in this manner for some time; Ethan looking out the window at the last rays of sunlight and Joseph entertaining his little daughter until finally Joseph spoke.
“The nannies waiting just down the hall for you sweetie and it’s time to go”.
She walked to the door slowly and hovered there a second before a reassuring nod from her father sent her on her way. I sat ever silent and watched her leave, I was only here if one of them needed me, it was a nice way to end my final day as a nurse, doing what I did on my first day; waiting just in case I was needed by a patient
“I think it’s clear who should get to live here…” it was Joseph who spoke, I could tell by the deep timbre of his voice “I have a daughter to look after and people will miss me while you’re obviously just some bum from off the street that was lucky enough to stagger in here half drunk”.He leaned back on his bed and pulled out a lighter and cigarette.
“Sir you really shouldn’t be smo…”
“shut it! nobody asked you!” he snarled cutting me off. I sat down shocked by his sudden change of temperament now that his daughter had left. Ethan’s face for once did not look menacing, he looked just as shocked as me but that only lasted a moment because after a few seconds he looked twice as angry as usual.
“How dare you!!!!” he seethed “if you knew… I’ll make you regret saying that!!!!” He began trying to rise from his bed although he was extremely shaky and his heart rate was starting to elevate quickly on the monitor.
“Sir please, the entire reason your in this situation is because of your damaged heart so you wouldn’t be doing anyone a favor putting any more of a strain on it” I pleaded with him. It seemed to calm him down
“I’m sorry nurse… I never did catch your name”
“it’s not important right now, what is important is you two”.
Joseph spoke again “I am sorry… it’s just that… that… I don’t deserve this… we don’t deserve this, no one does… we all know why I think I should get to live but i don’t know much about you so. Tell me… why should I die for you”
Ethan was quiet for a long time before he finally pulled out his wallet and retrieved a photo. “This is my wife” he said “and those are my two big strong boys and that’s my beautiful little girl”.
He handed the photo over to Joseph whose expression softened when he saw the picture. “When I was young… and stupid I might add, I was thrown out of home alongside my now wife who I had gotten pregnant… I had to work all day just to get enough money for food… it was just too much… sometimes I would walk to the bridge at the edge of town and consider leaving it all behind and starting afresh somewhere else, but I could never leave her… or my unborn child I just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them alone. Even though work was hard and my hands would be bleeding by the end of the day i would keep going, do you know why?”
Now it was Joseph’s turn to be quiet “…why?” he asked after an extended period of silence.
His voice sounded croaky, I could feel my heart in my throat to. “Because I knew at the end of the day when I came home I would see her smile and all my problems would just melt away… and for those few seconds I would know that I have everything I could possibly want or need”.
Ethan shed a tear, Joseph didn’t see it but I’m sure he didn’t need to. I regretted my first thoughts about Ethan after hearing his story. It just made me seem so shallow after what he had said and I’m sure that Joseph felt the same way.
“We both want to live, we both have reasons to live and we both deserve to live, so there’s only one way we can settle this, we toss a coin. Only luck can make this decision”. Joseph pulled the coin he had been amusing his daughter with before from his pocket, “and to make it fair she can flip it”.
He offered the coin to me and I reluctantly took it from him, I didn’t spare one glance at it I did not want to know which side was already facing up and I did not want to know which side would be facing up after I flipped it. I was shaking and dropped the coin and it clicked as it hit the floor, a reassuring smile and a nod from both men helped me to regain my composure as I picked up the coin still careful not to look.
“I’ll be tails and you be heads” Joseph faced away from both of us as he spoke and I couldn’t see his face properly but I swore that for a brief moment I saw him smile.
They both then turned and nodded to me, I flicked my thumb and the coin rocketed into the air spinning uncontrollably. Time seemed to slow almost to a stop, the coin gained altitude ever so slowly until it reached the peak of it’s arcing motion. There it seemed to hang for even longer then it had taken to climb up, it was as if the toss of the coin was taking longer then my entire day, my entire week or even longer then my thirty years of nursing. I didn’t want either man to die and I did not want the coin to come back down to my hand but I knew that for one of these men to live the coin would have to come back down I would have to catch it and one of them would have to die. Finally it fell and I caught it closing my hand around it and balling it into a fist. I raised my arm until it was horizontal and in the front of the two men. My hand was trembling and it took all of my will power not to throw the coin away and burst out crying.
“C’mon lass we need to see it” my hand was clenched so tight my knuckles were going white. My hand seemed locked in place, like it was being crushed or a great weight was sitting on it. I bit down on my lip hard making it bleed, doing so seemed to return to me control of my hand. I opened my hand and we all saw the coin simultaneously, it was ‘heads’ up.
Sure Ethan was happy that he got to live and so was I but now we all knew Joseph was going to die. We were all quiet afterwards until the doctor returned followed by a surgeon in scrubs.
“Which one is it then?” he sounded annoyed that he had to come back to these two who were just ‘a waste of his time’ which was plain for everyone to see. Ethan raised his hand for still none of us could speak, they started to wheel him out the door and away. Joseph turned his head to speak to Ethan
“will you promise me something?”
“ANYTHING just name it”. “Promise me you’ll tell your wife you love her… everyday and that you’ll be faithful to her and look after your kids properly”. He just nodded incapable of any more words.
After they had left I offered Joseph his coin but he dismissed it and said “I don’t need it anymore keep it and go home, you deserve a rest”.
I walked outside and pulled the coin from my pocket and looked at it, still heads side up. I flipped it to look at the other side only to find it identical to the first. Joseph had given the heart to Ethan and he hadn’t even known his name. It took me a while to figure out why. Joseph didn’t need a heart. He already had one.
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