With Your Last Heartbeat
What was going to be a quiet morning, full of changes and the beginning of a new stage in my life… was actually absolutely fatal.
The quiet morning of a sunny Monday, ideal for enjoying the silence or sleeping, was suddenly interrupted by the overwhelming siren of the ambulance, whose sound could be heard several blocks away. The vehicle was moving quickly through the streets of the neighborhood, and there, a few meters behind… I was.
"Hey! Wait! Wait!" I shouted in vain at the ambulance, more precisely at her.
Making a superhuman effort, I was going faster than I had ever gone before. I was racing a few meters behind the ambulance, without taking my eyes off it for a second, and with my head permanently tilted forward in concentration. And then was when I wondered… how had it all ended up like this?
The paramedics came very quickly, thank God. Being just a few blocks from a hospital certainly helped in the rapid intervention of professionals. I couldn't see neither when they got out of the ambulance nor when they arrived, only when they tapped me on the shoulder asking me to move away from her. I couldn't think of anything else. I just thought about that girl, so radiant and energetic, who was now lying with her eyes almost closed and being unable to breathe.
"Please hold on..."
We didn't have to travel many blocks before arriving at the general hospital, the huge medical center that acted as a receiver for many medical emergencies, especially from the south of the city. It was a huge white building, about seven stories high, taking up the entire block. It was a good hospital, so I knew she would be in good hands. If she was able to get there, I thought, because in nervous situations I wasn't always the most optimistic person.
"Please hold on..."
The ambulance turned the corner and rushed into the hospital, past the security checkpoint. I saw the barrier begin to lower, but I didn't care and entered the ambulance corridor just behind it.
"Wow… Hey! You can't get in here!" I heard a guard yell at me behind my back.
"Please hold on..."
The medical vehicle stopped a few meters ahead, next to the emergency entrance reserved for mobile transfers. I quickly braked the bike and got off. Several doctors came out to open the back of the ambulance, while the paramedic who was assisting her spoke to the rest of the doctors.
"Heart attack. Get her inside, quick"
The medical crew began to push the stretcher in.
"Hey!" I yelled to draw their attention.
I quickly felt my shoulder being grabbed. One of the guards had followed me.
"Hey you! This area is for authorized personnel only!"
"I need to go with her! " I said while trying to to free myself.
"You can't go there!" He tightened his grip, without letting me move an inch.
"Hey! Hey!" I tried to shout at the doctors who were transferring her. I still don't remember for what purpose, simply out of desperation.
I kept trying to reach for the stretcher where the girl was being transported, but it was useless. While the guard was holding me back, another person appeared in front of me. It was one of the doctors who had come out to assist the girl.
"Sorry, but you can't come in here. This part is the entrance to the emergency room of the ambulances" he explained to me in a calm voice.
"But, I must see her!"
"Calm down. You will be able to see her, but you have to enter through the visitors' entrance. Here we have to work to help her. Please"
I understood perfectly what they wanted to tell me. Actually, I had always understood that, but something compelled me to pursue her no matter what. I calmed down and, although I was still worried as I watched her disappear through the emergency door, I stopped resisting. I just had to hope that everything went well.
Time really didn't seem to go by in the waiting room of the inpatient ward. Every now and then I checked my cell phone, either to check the time or as a simple symptom of my anxiety, heightened by the situation. Every time I checked, four, six, five, three, and once, a whopping nine minutes had passed. Each time, I kept my serious, concerned face and stared at the floor, hunched forward.
The long corridor was almost empty, making it impossible for any noise to break the overwhelming silence. It had no windows, no doors opened and, despite being fully lit, I felt in the middle of the dark, like in those horror movies when the power company causes a blackout.
The door in front of me, where the girl had entered, had never been opened since I got there. I didn't know exactly what time she went inside, as I wasn't very aware in that situation, so I had no idea what was going on. I couldn't hear anything from inside either.
"Hahahahahaha, what do you mean you are in college? You look really young to be in college."
I stared at the floor.
"I'm sorry... if I would had been more careful when riding my bike... you would..."
I stared at the floor.
"That's a nice way of thinking about it, I think…"
As I remembered my encounter with the girl, I just stared at the floor.
"God…" that was the only thing I managed to say.
Suddenly, I heard a noise. With the speed of lightning, I raised my head to the front. The door had opened, and two doctors came out. Without saying anything to me, they walked to my left down the hall. Meanwhile, I followed them with my eyes, surprised.
"You were the one with her, right?"
In front of me, unnoticed, appeared a third doctor, in his forties, with straight brown hair and round glasses.
"Yes," I agreed without further ado.
The doctor paused. My heart raced so much faster than when I was riding my bike really fast this morning, even faster than when I narrowly missed the incoming bus. My nerves were on edge.
… she is fine"
My eyes glew up and I breathed a sigh of relief. I didn't react too much on the outside, but it felt like my soul had returned to my body.
"She is going to have to stay under observation at least for today. Although she does not have any fractures or serious injuries, it was a strong hit. You bumped into her, right?"
I nodded again, without making a sound.
"You should be more careful, you know? It doesn't matter if it was your fault or not," he told me calmly, with no visible anger or irritation.
"Yes, I'm sorry" I accepted the fatherly advice he gave me.
"They already checked you, right? Does something else hurt?"
"Oh yeah. I'm fine, don't worry about me"
Upon entering the hospital and telling what happened, the nurses on duty checked me in case I was seriously injured. It was not the case, and luckily they only had to bandage me on some scrapes and bruises.
"Well… do you want to talk to her?"
I was surprised at the proposal. After everything that had happened, I couldn't imagine that they wanted me to be with her.
"Well, she's already conscious and lucid. We've already told her parents to come, but it wouldn't hurt her to be accompanied in the meantime"
"Sure, but are you sure it's okay?"
"Yes, I have no doubts. I know her pretty well, and I know she'd perk up if you were with her for at least a little while"
"… Huh? What did you just say?"
I was probably still in shock and a little confused, but I thought I heard him say he knew her pretty well.
"I think it's better that you ask her about that. But first, cheer her up a bit, okay?"
I still didn't understand, but I had no choice but to nod.
"Yes, I will do it"
"Good. I'll be here at the end of the ward if you need anything” he said before starting to move to my left.
After a few seconds thinking, I stood up and went to the door, when I heard his voice again.
"Oh, I almost forgot. You performed CPR on her until the paramedics arrived, right?
I looked at his figure, standing in the middle of the hallway, wearing his white coat that fitted perfectly on the well-lighted room.
"In these cases, it is very important to act quickly. A few minutes can mean the difference between life and death, and I think this case was no exception. What I mean is that you may very well have saved her life. Thank you very much for that"
I opened my eyes, surprised. I thought I was just hurting her since I rammed her with my bike.
"You're welcome" I replied to my astonishment.
"Believe me, you did more things right than wrong in total. And if everyone learned to do CPR correctly, many more lives would be saved. Either way, go with her. I'll take care of the rest"
"Yes. Thank you for your words," I thanked him.
The doctor continued on his way, and I looked back at the door. I took the knob, hesitated a second and finally pushed in.
"Excuse me," I said.
What I saw was a corridor the width of the door that reached the middle of the room, with the window in the background. I walked it slowly and when I got to the bottom, I looked around the rest of the room and finally saw her. Against the right wall, a few meters from where I was, was her bed.
"So you followed me"
She was lying on the bed, with a small sheet that covered her up to her chest. She was wearing a white hospital gown with little blue dots on it, and her hair was very messy from all the moving around, but she still looked very beautiful. Even more so when she smiled at me like she did at that moment, sweetly and calmly.
"Yes. I didn't want you to be alone after all this" I replied with a smile of my own.
I started to get closer to her and every time, I saw more details. She was connected to a heart rate sensor, which could be seen on the screen. Luckily, it seemed normal.
"How are you?" I asked as I knelt beside her, leaving her face just a little higher than mine.
"Bad, because you came here"
"Come on, seriously," I asked her while she giggled at her own joke.
"I'm fine, don't worry. Everyone here knew how to treat me very well. What happened to your bike?"
"It's at the hospital entrance, they told me to leave it there. Same with yours, they put it in the back of the ambulance all the way here"
"I see, that's good"
A few seconds passed in silence before I spoke again.
"Oh, by the way, the doctor told me that your parents were coming here. So don't worry about it"
"I know, he just told me about it. Damn, they're going to scold me a lot when they get here. They always tell me to be more careful"
"I see, but..."
It was my fault she was in that situation. I couldn't help but feel bad. I didn't know what to say, and several seconds passed in silence before she spoke to me.
"Hey, thanks for everything you did for me today"
I looked at her surprised that, like the doctor, she thanked me. She was staring at me, still smiling. I didn't understand what was she thanking me for.
"No, no, no, it's the least I could do. Rather, I'm really sorry I put you through all this"
"It's okay, you just have to go with a little more care-"
"It's not okay!"
I looked at her very intently, with my dark brown eyes, with a serious but soft face. Inside I felt a tremendous anguish, which had developed in the last hour and was now exploding in my face. She could only look surprised, showing her blue eyes wide open.
"This is all my fault! I'm sorry I hit you!"
"Hey? No, no, it's serious. It was not you"
"It does not matter. I should have gone slower. Look where you ended up because it was going so fast. I-I…"
I was thinking of the worst that could have happened. I could never have lived with the guilt of having killed someone in an accident. I couldn't imagine ending the life of another innocent person. Just thinking about how close I was made me even more anxious. I looked down at the edge of the bed where I was kneeling and clutched the mattress angrily. I wasn't crying, but I felt so angry and helpless that it wouldn't have been strange.
I was surprised when I felt something touch my right cheek. I felt it push my face up, and I accompanied the movement. When I looked up, I noticed how her left hand caressed me with her little thumb. She was completely calm, and she was smiling sheepishly.
"Calm down, seriously. If I say that it was not your fault, it is true"
She added a bigger smile to that sentence, said with more spirit than before, almost with joy.
"But…" I said without understanding.
"The maneuvers you did to give me CPR were what saved my life. And you didn't cause any trouble. I'm serious. So all you did was helping me. Thank you," she said still looking at me sweetly, like an older sister who took care of me.
"You're welcome" I replied out of politeness, still not knowing why.
"Actually, it's not the first time I'm here, you know?"
As she said that, her eyes seemed to dim again. She looked out the window, on the opposite side of the bed from where I was.
"I… my heart is very, very weak"
I was not expecting that statement at all. I looked at her in surprise.
"It seems that it is something genetic that happened before I was born. A genetic malformation that affects my heart's ability to respond to high pulses. In fact…"
She looked at me again, with the same maternal eyes as before, but at the same time different from them. As if despite wanting to be calm, she wasn't.
"It's not the first time I've had an episode like this"
I froze. I didn't know what to tell her. I wasn't prepared to encounter something so raw.
"For as long as I can remember, I have been under the care of many different doctors. I have routine check-ups almost every day, and I get a lot of tests done on me, too. It seems to be a rare condition, very little is known about it and there is no cure for it yet"
"Huh? But that means..."
I felt a void forming around me. It seemed like black matter closing in on me overwhelmingly, with a pressure I couldn't sustain.
"My life expectancy is very low by now"
That comment destroyed me. I saw her eyes, beautiful and radiant, now glassy and fearful. I didn't even know her, but I wanted to hug her tightly for a long time.
"It can't be"
"Sorry, I don't want you to worry about that. Thank you for listening to me," she tried to apologize showing me the palms of her hands.
"You shouldn't apologize. I'm so sorry. So that's why the accident happened?"
"It's something logical that was going to happen," she said as she nodded.
"But why were you riding a bike then?" I asked.
"Ah… I just wanted to have a day that I could enjoy, that's all. They always tell me that I should be calm, without frights. That I should try to live everything more slowly. And, I just wanted..."
Finally, going even further than before, I felt her eyes grow more and more misty. They reflected fear, anger, enormous pity. That's when I felt something deep inside of me. An incomparable desire to want to do something for her. I hadn't even known her for a day, but as illogical it could sound, I couldn't bear to see her like this.
The girl was surprised and slowly turned her head towards me. I was looking at her with a big smile, warm and understanding. She continued with her blue eyes, bright because of her emotions, which were still beautiful.
"Clara Preciado. That's your name, right? It says so at the foot of your bed. It's a really nice name"
Her bed, indeed, had a space for patient information, where all her data was. I had caught a glimpse of it as I approached her earlier. For her part, she seemed to understand, but she did not stop paying attention to me. I looked down as I tried to come up with words to explain what I felt.
"I'm so sorry about what's happening to you. I had no idea it was like that. I can't imagine what you must be feeling. But…"
I still don't know why, or how I managed to overcome my innate shyness, but I remember that, in a quick sweep, I took her right hand in mine and stared at her. She was even more surprised.
"You don't deserve this. I saw your face when we were talking earlier today, and I think you really enjoyed being there, right?"
She widened her eyes and remembered what she had told me.
"That's a nice way of thinking about it, I think..."
I felt that some of that feeling was building inside her now. I decided to continue.
"To be honest, I did too. I really enjoyed talking to someone as sincere as you. And despite everything that happened, I couldn't stop smiling inside of me then"
And all that was true, although I didn't know how to explain it.
"I know you don't know me. I know that possibly all this does not matter to you, and if so, I apologize. And I know that with your condition it can be difficult, but… if I can do something to make you feel that way again, I really, really want to do it"
Again, she reacted in surprise. She seemed flushed and her eyes widened even more. I felt her hand move between mine. And I'm not sure at all, but in a little movement of the eyes it seemed to me that the data on the cardiac sensor changed.
Suddenly I felt like I came back to myself. At first, I thought on how I could have been intimidating or annoying her. I didn't quite understand the situation, or how I had talked so much, but I continued. I couldn't back down.
"Are you sure? I mean… I don't… think… you have to. I told you it's okay," she spoke to me in the same tone with which she had thanked me in the park, soft and shy.
"I already know that. But I want to do it. Really," I reassured her.
She hesitated a few seconds looking at the floor and continued.
"Alright. But how are we going to see each other?"
"Don't worry. Do you have a phone?" asked.
"Well, then we just have to write to each other and I'll come see you, no matter where you are" I replied, relieved by her positive answer.
"You make it sound very easy, but it's okay," Clara smiled.
We brought our devices closer and the infrared captured the data of our contacts. It looked like I finally wouldn't lose her forever. However, she seemed even happier than I. She looked at the screen of her cell phone with a radiant smile.
At that moment, I felt the door behind me open. From behind, the doctor who had spoken to me before appeared.
"Clara, your parents have arrived. They're coming up" he warned.
"It's okay. Thank you, doctor" she said before he left again.
"Well, if everything is okay, I should get out of here. Maybe I can arrive for the second half of my class"
"Huh? Oh, it's fine"
As I stood up and grabbed my things, the girl looked at her phone strangely.
"Er… your name doesn't appear here"
It was true. Instead of my name, the name field on the contact was just a meaningless combination of dots and letters.
"Oh, hell. Looks like something didn't go right. Seriously, these guys don't know how to program at all. But from what I see, everything else is fine"
"I see" she smiled at me.
Quickly after that, she recovered a little of her shyness.
I looked at her again, and now she had a much shyer expression again. All of her reactions were really cute.
"So… what's your name?"
Not knowing my name because of that error, it was something logical to ask.
"Oh, right. I'm Leonardo. But you can call me Leo"
She took a pause, in which she smiled again, and looked at me again.
"Okay, Leo" she smiled at me again.
I kept thinking about that smile as I left her room. I closed the door carefully and began to walk towards the exit with a smile on my face. As soon as I was leaving, two people were walking towards where I was, and we crossed paths. A tall, short black haired man wearing a sweater, accompanied by a short brown haired woman wearing earrings, pendants and a jacket. They both looked to be in their 40s or 50s. Finally, while waiting for the elevator that would transport me to the ground floor, I saw that they entered the same room from which I left. I can swear that, at that moment, they shot me a withering look, which sent chills down my spine.
I finally got on my bike and left the hospital. I apologized to the security guard about what happened earlier, thanked those who guided me, and left. Looking at the clock on my cell phone, it was already 11 in the morning.
I looked at the sky, which was beautifully clear, and smiled.
"I won't be arriving on time today"