The Best of Intentions
By Tony Craidon, Army
Writing Type: Prose
By Tony Craidon
Janet Whitfield had spent the last decade looking after her husband, Roy, when she received the call that would change everything. A call that promised relief from Roy’s early onset Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“Mrs. Whitfield?” a gruff voice inquired.
“Yes? Who’s calling?” Janet asked.
“I have an opportunity for you. I think you’ll want to hear me out.”
That had been 27 hours ago. Now Janet and her husband were walking through a dimly lit, concrete-walled hall led by a petite Asian woman who only referred to herself as “Roy’s nurse.”
Janet was given just six hours to decide whether to take the mysterious man’s offer to fly them both to an “undisclosed location,” or the offer would be extended to another family fighting with the horrible brain-destroying diseases. She had decided in just one hour. It had been a hell of a decade, and the last five years were an absolute nightmare. She knew her two adult daughters would have helped if called upon, but they had their own families, and Janet had made the noble decision to care for Roy herself, through sickness and in health.
She had driven Roy to the nearest airfield, where they were met by a person identifying himself as Col. John Smith, though he wore no uniform or insignia. He attempted to usher them both into a Blackhawk helicopter, but Roy resisted as soon as he saw his transport.
“Mom, there’s an angry dragon ahead!” Roy exclaimed, struggling to turn back to the safety of the car. “It wants to hurt me! It wants to hurt me real bad, mom!”
But before Janet could respond, Colonel Smith brandished a small syringe and promptly stuck it in the back of Roy’s exposed neck. Roy almost immediately fell backwards into the colonel’s arms, and an airman seemed to appear out of the ether with a wheelchair. Janet had no idea what the airman’s rank or title were. Roy had been in the Marines, and she wasn’t familiar with the Air Force.
“Is that really necessary?!” Janet yelled over the Blackhawk powering up.
“Yes ma’am. It’s for the best. I’d hate to have our patient hurt himself on the way.”
There was a coldness about the colonel that Janet did not care for, a coldness she had seen in Roy many times as he slipped into memories of Vietnam. Janet knew that coldness and understood pushing back would only result in an even colder disposition. Janet said no more.
Several transfers to different aircraft had left Janet feeling simultaneously weary and stir-crazy. The colonel accompanied them the entire way, offering little kindness and even less conversation. Finally, they were driven several hours through unfamiliar mountains while the sun retreated to another part of the planet. Once twilight had made way for a moonless night, Janet rolled Roy in his wheelchair to a door that seemed made of the mountainside that framed it.
“I want ice cream.” Roy said quietly in his chair, the last dose of sedative having worn off within the hour.
“I know sweetie,” Janet said in a soothing, reassuring voice. She had become accustomed to Roy’s regression. The last time Roy had spoken her name was nearly five years ago. “I’ll get you some ice cream in just a little bit.” That satisfied Roy, who had been unusually compliant the last hour or so.
They were met at the door by Roy’s nurse and parted ways with Colonel Smith.
“This way please, Mrs. Whitfield.” The nurse motioned to an elevator. Inside the elevator was a series of unmarked buttons. The nurse punched a sequence, and they began a long descent. A chill ran down Janet’s spine. For the first time, she began to question her decision to bring Roy here. None of this seemed right. All of this seemed…dark.
“What can you tell me about the procedure?” Janet asked with some concern. She hadn’t really thought there was a chance they could be in danger when she accepted the offer. After all, the United States of America wouldn’t allow for unethical treatment of a patient, right?
The nurse just turned, said nothing, smiled a plastic smile, nodded a perfunctory nod and gave a mechanical wave of her arm signaling Janet should follow her. Janet was certain she spoke English because her introduction had sounded articulate, if not a little broken. But now she wasn’t so sure.
The drab hallway was dimly lit. In some parts, moisture had worked its way through the walls, and in those places, swaths of mold and a kind of fungus Janet couldn’t identify had grown. The floor was also concrete, or so it seemed. But several times Roy’s wheels bogged down as though they just ran over wet tar.
They passed many intersections, occasionally taking one confusing turn after another. They did not pass another person. After what felt like an hour but was really no more than 10 minutes, they came upon a dead end. Their path was blocked by a heavy steel door with a wheel lock like the kind you’d see on a submarine. Roy’s nurse led them both into a 10-foot by 10-foot room with a single, incredibly bright bulb hanging from the exact center of the ceiling. Against the far wall was a rolling table with several syringes and a mess of wires with electrodes dangling off the side. The walls were painted a calming sky blue. Several nylon hook-and-loop straps were bolted to the floor, set evenly apart. Roy’s smiling, nodding nurse motioned for Janet to move his wheelchair over those straps.
Once in position, the nurse bent to secure the wheelchair with the straps. Roy looked around curiously, like a child at a zoo. He seemed particularly interested in the wall he faced. Janet turned to see what had captured Roy’s attention and saw the wall opposite of them was floor-to-ceiling mirror. From the lower left corner appeared a door that Janet would have sworn hadn’t been there five seconds ago. The door opened to a brightly lit room, and a very tall, gaunt man bent his head through and silently motioned for Janet to come toward him.
When she reached the threshold, she had to squint. Her eyes had adapted to the dimly lit halls and even darker mystery room. After giving her eyes a few moments to adjust, she saw a cheerily painted room about the same size as the one with Roy, still looking on with childlike wonder. The walls were a light blue with cloud illustrations every few feet. Just inside the door stood the man who had beckoned her, and behind him, another petite woman who could have been the nurse’s twin. Maybe she was. She wore the same plastic smile and did not shy away from Janet’s gaze.
“Please, Mrs. Whitfield, come in and help yourself to a coffee or hot chocolate.” The tall man waved an open palm toward a small table in the back of the room that featured two hot liquid dispensers as well as an assortment of cookies, crackers and cheese.
“Umm, no thank you.” Janet replied warily, “May I ask who you are?”
“No need for such formalities Mrs. Whitfield.” The tall man spoke in a surprisingly calming voice. “You can just call me Doc. I’ll be overseeing your husband’s procedure.”
Just as Janet was going to ask what exactly the procedure was, Roy called out from behind her.
“Mom? Mom? I don’t like this! I want to leave!” Roy pleaded. Janet turned to see the nurse had strapped Roy into his chair by his wrists and ankles and was currently shaving the hair on the side of his head. The speed of the nurse’s actions was for Janet surprising, and eerie.
“Mrs. Whitfield?” The tall man called for her to return her attention to him. “If you’ll just step inside here, we can get started.”
Janet turned back again to look at her husband. He looked genuinely frightened. She started toward him, but the tall man reached out with alarming speed and grabbed her by the elbow. “Mrs. Whitfield,” he exclaimed in a gruff whisper, “the sooner we begin, the sooner you and your husband can enjoy the rest of your lives together.”
Janet was startled by the strength of the grip on her elbow. Never being a confrontational person, she had had Roy for that when needed. She nodded and turned back to Roy. “Roy, honey? You’ll be okay. These people are here to help you. Remember, if you do well, we can get ice cream.” It seemed to work. Roy calmed down. Through Roy’s wrinkled face, the heart-skipping smile Janet had fallen in love with bared itself. “With sprinkles?” he asked. “Of course, Roy. Of course.”
Janet stepped through the threshold into the room with the coffee and faux clouds. Doc let go of her elbow and closed the door behind her. Then Janet saw the viewing panels. One-way mirrors, she surmised. She watched in quiet fascination as the nurse deftly attached the electrodes to the sides of Roy’s head. Then, the nurse administered three injections in rapid succession. She was so quick Roy didn’t even seem to notice. The nurse turned toward the mirrored glass, smiled her plastic smile, nodded almost imperceptibly, and walked out the room the way they had come, the door slamming with a metallic finality.
“We’re ready to begin Mrs. Whitfield.” Doc said gently.
“Excuse me?” Doc asked.
“Please, call me Janet.” Janet said, feeling tense and wanting desperately to believe she’d made the right choice coming here.
“As you wish, Janet.” Doc said, wearing a sympathetic smile. “I must prepare you, Janet. What you will see in just a moment may be difficult. The procedure is relatively quick. However, it will cause Mr. Whitfield some discomfort. You don’t have to watch.”
Janet didn’t know how to respond. She thought to ask again for an explanation of the procedure but couldn’t get her mouth to cooperate. Instead, she just said, “Let’s get this over with. I owe him an ice cream date.”
She looked through the mirror and noticed a web of electrodes affixed to Roy’s head. “When did that happen?” she thought.
Doc’s assistant, still wearing her plastic smile, typed a few commands into her console keyboard and then nodded at Doc to begin. Janet sat in a plush chair facing the mirror, sick with anticipation. Will this work? Oh God, I hope this works!
Janet reflected on the last 10 years. Roy, once the rock and pillar of their expanding family, had degraded into a fussy child incapable of making any adult decision for himself. Janet, having once quietly worshipped this war hero, had taken on the responsibility of caring for her husband unto death. The days she wished she would wake to find him peacefully not breathing saddled her with an enduring guilty conscience.
Doc nodded once at his assistant, turned over his shoulder, nodded at Janet reassuringly and placed his hand on a control that looked much like an accelerator lever one would find in a passenger jet cockpit. All at once the lights dimmed. Janet looked through the mirror, and her heart lurched.
There, strapped helplessly in a wheelchair, Roy’s face contorted in a torrent of reactions. First, confusion. Then shock. Then came the pain. Roy’s face, once strong jawed and determined, always confident, twisted into agony.
“What’s happening?” Janet yelled as she sprang out of her chair.
Before she could protest, Doc’s assistant deftly swabbed Janet’s neck with an alcohol wipe and plunged a syringe into the exposed skin. Janet immediately felt woozy and strangely at peace. She sat back down.
“What was that?” she asked meekly. No one answered. Instead, all of Doc’s attention remained on Roy, who was straining with all his still considerable strength against his restraints. Terror flashed through his eyes, and a lifetime of painful episodes, from childhood to ‘Nam, flooded his corroded mind.
“You have to stop.” Janet murmured, feeling a galaxy away. “This isn’t right.”
“Hush now Mrs. Whitfield. It’s almost over,” the doctor’s assistant cooed in broken English. Janet wasn’t at all convinced, but she found she did not have the strength to argue.
Another 10 minutes passed. Roy periodically screaming in agony, twitching as far as his restraints would allow. His eyes remained squeezed shut most of the time, occasionally opening to stare or glare at nothing, bulging in agony before forcing them shut again. His heart rate spiked. Veins pulsed on his face, neck, and hands. His knuckles remained white, fists clenched so tight his poorly manicured fingers cut four half-inch gashes in his palms, blood dripping to the floor like a faucet not shut all the way off.
Janet began to feel her strength coming back to her. She lunged at the doctor. Engrossed in whatever readouts his monitors were telling him, he was a bit startled when he heard his assistant forcibly restrain Janet and shove her back into to her chair with unexpected strength from such a petite woman.
“Sit!” the assistant instructed with none of the previous softness in her voice. “It is almost over. Once started, it cannot be stopped unless you want your husband to be put through all this for nothing.”
Before Janet could protest, the dimmed lights turned brighter, and Roy’s screams subsided. The doctor turned and straightened his back, a wily smile fixated where moments earlier had been pressed lips locked in a concentrated straight line. Janet looked beyond the doctor into the room where Roy sat passively, his head down as though unconscious. Janet stole a look at his heart rate monitor and was relieved to see it hadn’t flatlined. The extreme rate of heartbeats was slowly subsiding, giving way to a more relaxed rhythm. The assistant let go of Janet, again smiling that plastic smile.
“Give him just a moment to recover,” the doctor told her, “and you can go into the room with Roy. It’s done, Mrs. Whitfield.”
After a few agonizing minutes of waiting, the doctor, assistant and Janet all walked into Roy’s “operating” room. The assistant began to undo the restraints while the doctor verified Roy’s vitals. Janet, feeling anxious and uncertain, called out to her husband of 51 years.
Roy didn’t respond, so Janet tried again, a little louder. The second time, Roy responded with a grunt, and slowly lifted his head, eyes open and unfocused.
“Ja-Janet…where am I?” Roy asked, his voice broken and raw from 20 minutes of periodic screaming.
Janet let out a combination half-laugh half-sob and threw both hands to her mouth as tears flowed. Janet experienced a moment of light-headedness while a blanket of relief wrapped her soul. She ran to him, taking one of his bloody hands in both of hers.
“Yes!” she sobbed, “Yes Roy, it’s Janet! How do you feel?”
Both doctor and assistant stepped aside and posted behind Janet, watching the exchange in silence, both taking notes. Janet paid them no mind. It would appear she had her Roy back.
“Like a peeled grape. Ate up like a soup sandwich.” Janet had heard that phrase from his days as a Marine all too often throughout their marriage but so rarely in the last 10 years.
Janet collapsed on Roy, sitting in his lap like a newlywed. She leaned her head against his neck, not minding the sweat and sharp bristles of his beard. She just sat there a few moments, occasionally laughing, occasionally sobbing tears of relief and joy. Her nightmare, as well as his, was over. Finally.
Janet felt Roy go slack. She lifted her head and watched as Roy’s eyes rolled back, showing only the bloodshot whites. The doctor and assistant rushed to them, the assistant once again taking control of Janet and forcing her away from Roy.
“What’s happening?” Janet screamed, not for the first time since this experiment started.
The doctor, after getting negative reads on Roy’s vitals, ran into the other room to investigate more readouts from the wire harness still affixed to Roy’s head. Janet waited for him to return, to begin life-saving techniques they always did in television shows. Instead, the doctor poked his head in from the lab, looked at his assistant, and shook his head.
Without a moment’s hesitation or any apparent sympathy, the assistant spoke to Janet in a rehearsed cadence.
“He is brain dead. There is nothing the doctor can do.” She let go of Janet, stepping into the lab to join the doctor.
Janet just stood there, looking at Roy’s limp body, his mouth hanging open while drool began to ooze. So many emotions ran through Janet all at once. Fear, surprise, anger, sorrow, but none as pervasive as the feeling of relief, and guilt for the relief. At least her nightmare was finally over. She was going to sue this organization back to the stone age, that was for certain. Leave a nice little going away present for her children when it was her time to go. But for now, it was the feeling of relief and guilt that dominated her thoughts.
After a while of just staring at Roy, she finally said quietly, “Wait for me. I’ll meet you at the clearing at the end of the path.”
Janet heard a click. A very distinct click. She’d heard that click often after Roy had cleaned his 1911 .45 service pistol he kept in pristine operating condition. She turned to see the plastic smile on the nurse who had reappeared sometime during Janet’s mourning. She was holding a cocked pistol pointed eye level at Janet’s head.
“Sooner than you think, Mrs. Whitfield,” the nurse said without an ounce of malice. She pulled the trigger. A dime-sized hole appeared on Janet’s forehead, while a much bigger hole was blown out the back of her head. Janet’s last thoughts painted Roy’s face and clothes, as well as the wall behind them.
The doctor and his assistant came back into the room. The doctor was shaking his head in frustration. “I really thought that one was going to take,” he said solemnly. “Oh well, we must carry on. Who’s next?”
The nurse, lowering her firearm to her side, casually looked at her clipboard. “Mr. and Mrs. Garapolis, Athens Greece.”
“Well,” the doctor sighed, running a hand over his face, “give them a call.” He then looked to his assistant. “And grab some more blue paint.”