A Painful Decision

“It won’t be much longer,” I said, trying to comfort Johnny, though my heart beat rapidly. We were both waiting for the doctor to return and tell us the results of the latest round of tests. Johnny had taken a pretty bad fall off the roof of our house.

Because my wife was on a business trip, I was alone with Johnny as we awaited the doctor’s return. I didn’t need to see the tests to know that he was hurt pretty bad. I must have told him a thousand times to get off of that roof. But, I was doing some work on the roof toward the front of the house and he always wanted to be near me. He had been able to get on the roof by walking up a long plank that I had set up at the back of the house where the roof was not far from the ground.

I kept replaying the painful memory of seeing Johnny slip and fall off the roof. I shook my head trying to rid myself of the memory, but that was impossible as I looked at him lying on his stomach on top of the examining table. I think that was the only position he could be in where the pain was bearable. The doctor had given Johnny pain medication as soon as he arrived, but I could tell that he was still hurting.

Sitting on the edge of the table, I gently massaged the back of his neck in an attempt to help him relax. It really hurt to see him like this. Johnny, with his cute face and short black hair, was 11 years old. He was always full of energy and was constantly begging to play a game, especially if it involved running.

Johnny certainly has had a tumultuous 11 years. He was taken from his biological parents shortly after his birth and given to an adoptive family. But that family abandoned him when he was five and I became the second person to adopt him, just 2 months after his abandonment. For the last eight years, I’ve basically been his dad, even though I think of him more as a best friend. I helped him through some pretty bad times and I have always cared for him as if he were my own flesh and blood.

But this situation was driving me crazy. I couldn’t do anything to help him now. It was up to the doctors. Johnny glanced back at me as his trusting black eyes blinked slowly.

“It’ll be okay,” I said in as reassuring a tone as I could muster. Johnny then turned back and rested his head on the table, apparently in too much pain to utter anything. I flashed back to some of the great times we had together, like when I would throw the ball with him in the park.

I quickly jerked my head around as I heard the door creak open. Dr. Roberts entered, holding a small stack of files. I had known Dr. Roberts, who was in his mid forties, for many years. As always, he appeared businesslike and professional. I jumped up and met him at the door. Johnny remained on the table.

“Will he be okay?” I whispered to Dr. Roberts.

“I think so,” he said, adjusting his eyeglasses. I put my right index finger up to my lips as an indication that I wanted him to lower his voice. Dr. Roberts sighed and then rolled his eyes before whispering, “He has a few broken bones and a collapsed lung, but I think that he can make a full recovery with surgery.”

“Surgery?” I repeated, hoping it wouldn’t come to that. I grabbed Dr. Roberts by the arm and pulled him out of the room. “Surgery? Does this have anything to do with his heart?” I asked, referring to the fact that Johnny had been diagnosed with a degenerative heart condition a year ago.

“His heart wasn’t damaged in the fall. His heart condition is the same as before the fall. We can deal with that down the road. Right now, he needs the surgery to release the pressure from his lungs.”

I folded my arms in front of my chest. “What kind of surgery are we talking about?”

“Look, I can’t sugar-coat this, especially to you. It’s a major surgery and he’s going to be in some pain for awhile. But…”

“How long is awhile?”

He paused to scratch his head. “That’s hard to say until we see how the surgery goes. But we may be talking just a few months if we’re lucky.”

Deep in thought, I simply stared at him. Finally, I spoke, “No, I don’t want you to do the surgery. I don’t want to put him through that kind of pain. He’s had enough pain in his life.”

“Hold on a minute. I don’t think you understand. His lung has been damaged by the fall. It is causing him a great deal of pain right now. The pressure has to be released or he’ll continue to be in great pain until he dies within a few days. He must get this surgery.”

“I understand,” I said. “I understand that surgery and a long, painful recovery are the only ways he can make it through this, right?” He answered with a solemn nod. I took a deep breath and knew the painful decision that I had to make. “Then, forget it. No surgery.”

“What? Let me show you the x-rays.”

“I don’t want to see them,” I said, holding my right hand up. “Look, I need a few moments alone with Johnny.”

Dr. Roberts paused for a moment before saying, “Of course.” I went back into the room, closing the door behind me.

As I sat back down next to Johnny, a tear rolled down my face. He was still lying on his stomach, remaining silent. For Johnny to be this still, I knew he had to be in a lot of pain. I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness. Abandoned earlier in life and diagnosed with a degenerative heart condition, which restricted some of his beloved activities, Johnny has had his share of suffering in his 11 years. I didn’t want to see him suffer any more, through a painful surgery and a difficult recovery only to face a degenerative heart condition. I knew it was up to me to do something. I was his guardian. Now, I had to be his guardian angel.

I slowly pulled out a syringe of cyanide solution from my jacket pocket. After witnessing Johnny’s fall, I knew it might come to this. I hoped it wouldn’t, but it had. I believe that everyone who is good goes to heaven. And believe me, Johnny was good. I was going to send Johnny to a better place, a place where he wouldn’t have to suffer. I knew I was right. Still, my hands shook as I injected the cyanide into Johnny. He barely moved, figuring this was just another pain-killing shot. He didn’t know that this shot would actually work.

I put the syringe on the counter and then wrapped my arms around him in a final embrace. I held onto him for at least five minutes before the door creaked open. It was Dr. Roberts.

“So, let’s see how the patient is feeling,” he said, approaching Johnny.

I walked to the other side of the room, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to keep this from him. Tears flowed down my face as I watched him examine Johnny. He seemed momentarily stunned as he repeatedly checked for Johnny’s pulse. He then looked at the syringe on the counter and finally back to me.

“You did this?”

“It was for the best,” I said, wiping away a stream of tears.

“No, it wasn’t,” he said, walking over to the syringe. He picked it up and shook his head. “You shouldn’t have done this.”

“I had to,” I said. My mouth quivered as I spoke. “I just couldn’t continue to watch him suffer.”

Dr. Roberts slumped back, resting his back on the counter with his arms folded at his chest. “You worked with me for three years. You trust me enough to take over your practice when you retired. Now, all of a sudden, you don’t trust my medical judgment.”

“This isn’t about you.” I walked back over to Johnny. With fresh new tears rolling down my face, I wrapped his body in the blankets in which I brought him. I did not turn around to look at Dr. Roberts as I said, “This is about what is best for Johnny. I did the right thing. He was getting very old.”

“He was only 11 years old.”

I turned around to look at Dr. Roberts. “You mean 77 years old,” I said with raised eyebrows. There was an uncomfortable pause as he appeared speechless. “Come on doc, you know that a dog year is equivalent to seven human years.” I picked up Johnny, who was like a son to me, and walked out of the veterinarian’s office.