Monday, August 17, 2009

The Hardest Part, by Jude Hardin

Dr. Charles Love hesitates at the door to the family waiting room. He has performed this task many times, but it never gets any easier.

Through a narrow window he sees a dozen or so people standing in a circle, holding hands, praying. Several of them are weeping. Dr. Love wishes he had good news for them, but he does not.

He opens the door and enters.

“Hello. I’m Dr. Love. Could I speak with the mother and father in private, please?”

The mother and father follow him to one corner. The mother is clutching a tissue, and the father has his hands in his pockets. They look at him with hopeful eyes.

“I’m afraid the injury was more extensive than we thought.”

“More extensive?” says the mother. “What does that mean? He’s going to be all right, isn’t he?”

“He’s going to make it, but—”

But he’ll never be the same. He’ll never drive a car, or flip a burger, or stroll hand-in-hand with his sweetheart on a moonlit winter night. He’ll never mow the lawn, or play the guitar, or finally catch that trophy bass. He won’t be able to father a child. He won’t be able to feed himself, or bathe himself. He’ll require constant care, twenty-four seven ...

“But what?” says the father.

“A sharp sliver of bone severed the spinal cord. We repaired the vertebrae, but the cord itself, there’s nothing we can do about that. Unfortunately, your son is going to spend the rest of his life with severe neurological deficits.”

“You mean he’s paralyzed?”

“From the neck down. I’m so sorry.”

The mother buries her head in the father’s chest. They embrace. They cry. Loud, mournful sobs of irretrievable loss.

Dr. Love excuses himself. He exits the waiting room, his heart flooded with empathy.

In the physicians’ lounge he sits alone and stares at his hands.

He wishes there was something more he could do, but there is not.

He wishes backyard trampolines were against the law, but they are not.

His pager trills, informing him of another trauma case en route.

Dr. Love hesitates, then gets up and trots toward the emergency room.


Erica Orloff said...

I thought this was another great/interesting choice of subject matter, and a clever twist on the prompt (your sense of humor always pops up in your writing).

I think, for a short-short, a lot could have been cut, and then the word "count," so to speak, used elsewhere to paint the scene with more detail or what have you. Like the opening sentence is awesome. But the second sentence we can assume. And the last sentence of paragraph two is unnecessary--you're telegraphing what we see a few sentences later (you're about to show us). There's a lot you could possibly yank and then get us into the sounds and the smells and the visuals of this family.

That said, I think the short-short is such an art form. I have loved being part of this and can't wait until next month. And again . . . such a fascinating choice, Jude!!!! I thought this was an interesting scene and went in this other direction from some of the others. Enjoyed it . . .


Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Erica. Excellent suggestions, and ones that I can apply not only to this piece but to my writing in general.

LurkerMonkey said...


Nice use of the prompt! I admit, of all the ways to use that phrase, I never thought of using someone's name and writing in present tense. And I think I considered a dozen ways to use it.

I like some of the images ... the mom with her tissue and the dad with his hands in his pockets in particular. It was expressive, powerful stuff.

I agree with Erica that you might have passed up a few opportunities to tell more and show less. The emotional content of the story is delivered in Dr. Love's somewhat dispassionate observations about his own emotional state. Even after he reflects on all the things his young patient can't do, his next utterance is medical, dry.

The most we get from him is his staring at his hands. Which is good. These are the hands that tried to save that boy's mobility. But I think what I wanted was to see where Dr. Love's essential humanity intersected with the family's at their moment of great loss. This is a routine trauma, but is there such a thing as a routine trauma? Why did you choose to tell the story of this routine trauma, as opposed to the next one, or the one that came before it? What, in particular, elevates this case to the level of deserving a story? Give me that, and you've got me.

Erica Orloff said...

You know . . . Lurker . . . I re-read this and something like "his heart flooded with empathy"--same thing . . . how can the writer SHOW it.

It's one of the most exciting challenges in fiction, I think. Like spotting a poker plater's tell. How can you SHOW us emotion without resorting to either cliche (lump in throat or whatever cliche of choice) or just telling us the emotion.

Tricky challenge--and one of my favorite to try to get around.

Melanie Avila said...

I agree with Erica -- I love your sense of humor. As soon as I saw his name I knew he'd be hesitating at some point.

I enjoyed this little snapshot of the doctor's life.

Jude Hardin said...

Great points, Jon and Erica, and again ones pertinent to the larger writing picture. That's one of the things I love about these exercises--that they generate discussion about principles useful in our longer works.

Thanks, Melanie. After I finished this I realized there's a bit of a theme here, a myth of Sisyphus sort of thing. If I were to expand the story, I would try to exploit that more.

Natasha Fondren said...

Hah, Jude! I really loved the way you used the prompt! That's great!

I don't have anything new to add. :-)

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Natasha.

Anonymous said...

I loved the contrast between his thoughts and his words. His thoughts were emotional, but his words were cool and detached.

Jude Hardin said...

Why can't I ever get a comment from the real frenchie?


Thanks for the kind words, ff.

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