“Penelope, open up!”
Penelope glanced her head towards the door. Her sister had been banging for at least two minutes now, so she stood and walked a few paces to the huge oak door.
After she had the door pulled open, Pene’s sister Maia stood in the doorway.
“Pene, are you okay?” Maia asked.
Pene did her best to stand tall. She had been feeling under the weather recently, but she wasn’t going to tell her over worrying sister about that. “Yes, Mai, I’m alright.” Pene tried for an eye roll, but she was too fatigued.
Maia glanced over Pene’s shoulder. She spotted the peppermint schnapps bottles that littered the floor.
“C’mon. Pene.” Maia sighed. “You were never a good liar.”
“At least let me take your pulse ox.” Maia insisted.
“Fine.” Pene said. Whatever could get Maia out of her house quicker.
Pulse ox stands for pulse oxygen, or the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. It showed how well you happened to breathing at the time. The average person had about 98%, and smokers averaged 95%.
Maia slipped the little clamp around Pene’s middle finger, and they waited in silence as the machine gauged her pulse ox.
Finally, the machine was done.
It read 60%.
Maia stood bolt upright. “Pene! With that percentage…” She didn’t need to finish. Pene knew what she was going to say.
You should be dead.
Pene didn’t want to go to the hospital, so Maia took her to the Urgent Care. Pene’s daughter Felicity met them there.
“I left Scout at home.” Felicity said to Maia. “She doesn’t quite understand what's happening, but I left Colin with her.”
Scout was Felicity’s daughter (Pene’s granddaughter), and Colin was Felicity’s husband.
Together, the three of them entered.
Not long after Pene had entered the office, the doctor sent her back out, saying she needed to go to the hospital, stat.
Pene protested, but in the end, she went.
After Pene was checked in at the hospital, the doctors spoke to Felicity quietly.
“I don’t know how you want to tell her,” They said, “But her kidneys are failing. She’ll need to start kidney dialysis.”
Felicity was mortified, but she knew it was possible. Her mother drank like a fish, and had since Felicity was very small.
She nodded. “Is there any other solution? Mom won’t want to do that.”
“Well…” One of the doctors glanced at another, who shook his head. “We’ll explore those options if the dialysis doesn’t work.”
Felicity straightened and went in.
“Mom,” She said, and Pene looked up at her. “Your kidneys are failing.”
Pene didn’t look shocked. “I know.”
“I know. Dr. Gregor and I have been talking about it for years.” Pene waved her hand dismissively.
“Mom.” Felicity stared at her. “How could you say that? Like it's no big deal?”
“Because it isn't. I’ve known for years.”
“Then why didn’t you tell us? Me and Aunt Maia both! Why did you keep drinking if it destroyed your kidneys?”
Pene shifted in her hospital bed and put her head back against the pillow. If Felicity knew her mom, that meant the conversation was over. Felicity walked outside the room.
She walked outside and called Colin.
“She’s stable and settled. You and Scout can come now.”
Scout was twelve years old and knew about hospitals and death. Felicity worked in an old folk’s home, where Scout often came and spent her days in the summer.
And so death was normal to Scout. She knew it happened to everyone, and she knew lots of people died in hospitals.
But she was worried about her grandmother. She had put two and two together and Grandma = sick + Grandma = in hospital made her worried.
Colin had his hand on her shoulder as she made her way inside. The sliding doors whirred open and the receptionist gave them the room number for Pene.
Scout ran into the room. “Grandma!”
Pene smiled, her eyes etched with guilt. This little girl really cared for her, why did she keep drinking?
Because it was a constant. It was something to lose yourself in. It made you feel better.
Pene had learned that.
Scout flattened against her grandma, hugging her tight.
“Woah, there, Scout. Don’t disconnect my machines.”
“Do you need the machines to live? Are they keeping you alive?” Scout asked, her eyes big.
Pene looked over at Felicity, who was leaning against the doorframe, staring daggers at Pene.
Do you see what you’re doing?
A few days later Pene was moved into the Intensive Care Unit. The ICU was cold and sad and generally not a fun place to be.
Pene got worse. She was always sleeping and was often delirious. One day, Pene was thirsty and wanted something to drink.
She looked at her daughter, who had gone out of work on FMLA. “Can I have some coffee? I know not the regular stuff, since you guys probably won’t let me have it, but…” Pene paused, searching for the word. “Diet coffee?” She said, scrunching up her nose.
Felicity tried not to guffaw. Diet coffee?
“Do you mean decaf, Mom?”
“Yes, that's the word.”
A few days later, Pene tried dialysis for the first time.
It did not go well.
The dialysis nurse was very kind. He had already ignored a racial slur from Pene, telling her he was from Puerto Rico and he was not “one of those Mexicans”.
Machines started to whir and beep. He mumbled curses in Spanish and Felicity asked, “Is everything okay?”
“She’s going into afib.”
Felicity ushered Scout out of the room in case it went really wrong. Then she returned, and the nurse was unplugging Pene.
“You’re not done already?” Felicity asked.
“I have to stop.” He said. “Her afib was getting so bad, I legally could not continue.”
“But without dialysis, she can’t live!”
“Doctor Marino will talk to you about that.” He said before leaving the room.
Soon enough, Doctor Marino came through the door. “Felicity.”
She stood. “Yes?”
He beckoned. “Come with me.”
They walked into Doctor Marino’s office. “Sit.” He said, pointing to a plush chair.
“So, it has come to my attention that the dialysis isn’t working for Ms. Pene.”
“Yes. Is there anything we can do?”
“They’re testing a product right now. A metal kidney. That can work in place of her failing one. They’ve told us to offer it to anyone in dire need here in this hospital. I’d say your mom fits those guidelines.”
“Really? Are you joking right now?” Felicity looked around the office, then leaned close to the doctor and whispered, “Where are the hidden cameras?”
“There are none, I assure you. If she says yes, we can operate on her as soon as the day after tomorrow.”
“So, Mom, I have good news.”
“Yes?” Pene opened her eyes and lifted her head off the pillow before finding her head too heavy and flopping back onto the pillow.
“They can give you a new kidney. Just for you.”
“The catch?” Pene asked skeptically and narrowed her eyes.
“They’ll be putting a computer inside of my body?”
“Yes. But it will save your life. Mom, your body is rejecting dialysis.”
“Maybe I don’t want to live that badly!”
“Mom! You really don’t mean that! Think about Scout! Think about Maia! Think about me!”
“You don’t think I have? I don’t want a computer inside me! What if it controls my brain?”
“WHAT IF IT SAVES YOUR LIFE?” Felicity roared.
Colin grabbed Felicity’s arm and dragged her out of the hospital room.
“Babe, you can’t scream in the ICU.”
“I know that, but it’s just like...like she doesn’t care at all!”
“Yeah, but thats on her. Maybe if it was you in her position, you’d do it without a second thought. But her generation never had the technology ours had. So you’ve gotta give that to her.”
“Yeah,” Felicity sniffed. “I suppose so.”
Three Months Later
A stroll through the park.
A sunny day.
These are the kind Felicity wished her mother had seen.
After that day in the ICU, Pene adamantly refused the metal kidney. They had tried dialysis trice more, all ending the same.
And so Pene passed on a quiet afternoon, surrounded by her family.
Is the bane