The Second Suitcase

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Write about someone whose luck is running out.... view prompt


Fiction Sad

“I dont feel great Dave” Helen said, shaking her husband fully awake.

Dave groggily rolled over. The night hadnt been great. His wife had tossed and turned and Dave had been lying on the edge of the mattress so as not to disturb her.

“I really dont feel well”

Helen turned the bedside lamp on, and attempted to sit up, the soft glow of a circle of light next to her.

Dave could see her thinning brown hair was even limper than normal, slicked to her head with sweat. His own was standing to attention at every angle.

He sat up, turning his light on as well. Streetlights slightly broke through the curtains. It was four am.

“I cant breath Dave”

His wife was gasping for air, every breath a struggle. 

“I cant breathe” she croaked, starting to shake with panic.

He sat and looked at her, trying to figure it out.

“Sit up, babe” he said, helping arrange the pillows. Dave looked round for the card by the bed, the emergency helpdesk number in large red writing.

“I’m phoning now” he said, dialling the number and at this time of night being quickly put through to the night nurse.

“She started last night. Yes, back pain and kidneys, and now really short of breath. Yes, she just finished last week. Her doctor said to call if there were any side effects”

Helen grabbed as Daves hand, the worry etched on her face.

“I’m bringing her in” he said decisively “Half an hour”

Helen tried to swing her legs from the bed, but collapsed back on the pillows like a rag doll.

“Here, sit against these” Dave plumped the pillows some more, before pulling out clothes and a charger.

Two overnight bags sat under the stairs, one well used, and both were quickly put into the car. Dave helped Helen into the passenger seat. Shivering, she sat there unable to put on the belt, her fingers curled into claws. Teeth chattered, chest barely rising with each intake of precious oxygen.

With the heater warming them, and a darting fox the only other movement, they left the close. Dave looked back, checking the house and hoping to be back soon.

The emergency reception was deserted, leaving Dave to frantically ring the bell, and shout down corridors for help. The car, hazards flashing, was in an ambulance bay, a slightly warmer, but no less shivering Helen sat staring still in her seat. She was now fighting to breath.

Eventually the night nurse appeared, and immediately rushed a wheel chair to help Helen. There was no A&E in the specialist hospital, and they passed dark and empty rooms, the only sound the squeak of the wheels and the wheezing coming from Helen.

The room they were moved to was bare. A sink in the corner, and a large metal framed bed on wheels in the centre. A single solitary plastic chair was brought in for Dave, and he quickly put the suitcases next to it.

By now there was another nurse, and together they could lift Helen into the bed, the mechanism bringing the back up to allow some comfort. 

Despite having been inn these rooms many times before, the two of them still looked around in shock. Nothing quite prepares you for the reality of a cold hospital room in the middle of the night, with an unsure future not knowing what was going to happen next.

What did happen next was the equipment arrived. A cart was wheeled in, with pumps and tanks.

A mask on her face connected Helen to the precious oxygen. It fogged up on the out breathe, letting Dave know she was still alive, as there was no other movement now from his wife. Her hands sat in her lap, crossed over, as she had her eyes shut, concentrating on living.

To his touch, her hands were cold, paper thin skin over the muscles, and Dave could feel every sinew. Helens fingers intertwined with his, the strength flooding in to grip tightly, and her eyes opened. 

Watery blue pupils gazed lovingly out, an undercurrent of fear deep within. She shook her head, and gripped some more as the nurse came across.

Helen had been in and out of hospital for some years. A serious cancer diagnosis had left her with a life of chemotherapy interspersed with recovery. The last few months she had been undergoing a round of trials, and Dave realised she had been sat in this very room for a few hours every other day, a drip fed into her arm, beeping machinery watching her every move.

The nurse squatted in front of Helen, side on to Dave. In her hand was a pad, illegible scrawl detailing Helens prognosis tonight.

“We need to move you, I’m afraid” she opened with. “We dont have the equipment to deal with your possible pneumonia”.

Helens fingers gripped Dave tighter, her nails digging into his palm.

“The main emergency hospital specialises in this, and can monitor you much better than we can. It is 15 minutes away, and we will blue light you across”

Helen shook her head, her frailness becoming more apparent.

“No” she mumbled through the mask.

Dave could only hold her hand and try to reassure his wife.

“Its fine babe, they want to help”

“No, I cant. I dont want to, I cant” Helen kept repeating.

“To move you though, we need to make sure your breathing is stable” the nurse carried on. “Right now you are not getting in enough oxygen to safely move”

Helen looked at Dave with a question in her eyes.

“What does that mean” asked her husband

“It means we wait for a few minutes and see if the injection has changed anything. Otherwise we may need to induce a coma”

It was a blur of silent activity in the coming minutes, rotating around the couple.

Dave pulled the first suitcase across, and handed Helen her hospital clothes. A pair of faded baggy pajame bottoms and a loose top. Reluctantly Helen changed, struggling to sit up without the oxygen mask. Dave could see her wasted body, ribs showing under her skin, bruises covering arms and leg. The woman his wife had been was still there, but rapped inside the body he now watched unable to put trousers on without assistance.

Time was up.

The guage on the tank showed 20%, nothing like enough to be able to breathe without help. 

“I’m sorry, even with the portable tank, we dont think you will make the trip” the nurse explained, her voice low and soft.

Dave had no words, but held his wifes hand a little harder. Backed into a corner by the effects of the disease, he knew there was now no way out.

Helens eyes told everything. They were wide and panicked, flitting quickly between the nurse and Dave and the door, anxiously looking for a different answer. Her body however was failing to respond.

Reluctantly Helen pulled her rings from her fingers to hand to Dave. The wedding band and engagement diamond. Her grandmother's ring. Next her watch and earrings were placed in Dave's wallet, safely zipped away.

He stood, unable to do any more. The worry caused his wife to breathe faster, using the oxygen up faster, small shallow breaths that were not sufficient for life.

“I love you” he said, bending down and hugging his wife gently, his face to her side so as to hide the tears forming. “Just keep breathing OK, don't you dare stop”

He sniffed, giving away his true emotions.

Helen nodded, a frail thumbs up in response.

At that the nurse showed a porter into the room, who pushed Helen in her bed to the door. He put the suitcase of clothes on the foot of the bed, reaching down for the second one.

“No, I’ll bring that” said Dave, picking up the unopened suitcase.

He held it tight as Helen was wheeled away to be sedated, not quite sure what to do.

The room they had spent the last few hours in was back to being cold and empty, just echoes of the pain of his wife in the grey and drab walls.

He looked around, then slowly headed towards the car, hoping there wasn't a ticket. A sat nav destination was now the only connection with Helen.

Pulling onto the main road, rain formed, and quickly it was hard to tell if the water obscuring his eyes was outside or his tears. Dave fought back great choking, blubbing coughs, his shirt sleeve becoming wet as he wiped his face. The pressure of the day was starting to toll, throbbing behind the right temple. 

At this rate he would be in the hospital as well, so he slowed down, concentrating on the directions, eventually pulling up to a brightly illuminated entrance.

The room Helen had been moved to was down a long high ceilinged corridor. The only light came from the high windows, murky with years of accumulated dirt. Every footstep echoed, interspersed by the squeak of the suitcase wheels.

Dave pushed the door to be greeted by two nurses sitting at a desk. Through a large window he could see Helen in bed, tubes and monitors attached to her, lights flashing and audible beeps going. He checked himself a little, then introduced himself to the occupants of the room.

Helen lay there silently, the machine making her chest move, small ripples fluttering on her eyelids. Something was still there beyond the drugs and Dave hoped she would wake soon.

The doctor who came in said that she was responding well to the treatment, and he was keen to see whether they could start to lessen the dose, bringing her round.

Steadily the levels were reduced, the drip allowed to empty, and the ripples across her eyelids grew more rapidly. A crease appeared on Helens forehead, as though she were concentrating hard, her head gently moving back and forth.

Back and forth, rocking harder and harder, teeth grinding, and her skinny fingers clenching and opening. Back and forth, rocking violently, tensing and straining against the tight blankets, as around her now nurses moved in unison, practised skills working the equipment. 

Suddenly she fell still, the violence of the stroke gone. A lone beep in the room matched the line on a monitor, and through the glass Dave watched as it rose, then fell, rose then fell, rose, then fell. It didnt rise again.

He collapsed back into the plastic chair, his mind unsure what to do. The nurses were still attending to Helen, though nothing they could do would change the situation now. Dave rubbed his head.

Finally the doctor came to see him, and knelt next to Daves chair.

For a beat he didnt say anything.

“I’m so sorry. We tried all we could, but the stroke on her brain, and pneumonia in her lungs meant her body was just too weak to cope. She was sedated though, and wont have felt a thing”

“Well, thats good” Dave replied, not quite sure he was believing everything that was going on. He half felt Helen would walk through the door any second. But he could still see her lying on the bed, so knew that wouldnt be.

“We will take her down soon. You can say goodbye here, or we can take you to her. Is there anything you would prefer her to be dressed in?”

Dave looked up, unsure how to answer. Then he remembered the case by his feet. 

“She had planned it, she knew what, she…” he stammered, and pushed the suitcase to the doctor.

“Her last outfit is here”

January 13, 2023 23:10

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Wendy Kaminski
22:36 Jan 19, 2023

What a great ending to such a sad story, Duncan! The action in this was well-conveyed, Helen's panic and Dave's desperation to help her, even though he knew the end was nigh. These two lines in particular really tugged at me: - Dave had no words, but held his wifes hand a little harder. Backed into a corner by the effects of the disease, he knew there was now no way out. - Dave watched as it rose, then fell, rose then fell, rose, then fell. It didnt rise again. This seems like it would be a difficult story to write, as some personal exper...


Duncan Fletcher
17:32 Jan 20, 2023

Thankyou, unfortunately yes some personal experience of elements of the story, but thankfully a happier ending in real life


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