1:43AM. The hospital’s Administrator on Duty pages you to escort a man to the basement morgue to view his father’s body. You mutter to yourself, “Shit, shit, shit,” because bad things once happened to you in a basement.
You remind yourself, as you walk through a labyrinth of empty hallways, that you believe in God and God is with you (you hope).
You introduce yourself to the son and tell him the morgue isn’t like the ones on television. His father won’t be rolled out of a locker, in a drawer.
You lead the son down the stairs (and hope he doesn’t do bad things to women in a basement).
You ask him to wait outside the morgue door. You enter and check that the body is properly cocooned in a sheet, on a gurney, with no tubes or body fluids visible. You invite the son inside.
You remain calm as the son, stroking his father’s face, says, “He’s warm. He can’t be dead. He’s warm. He’s still alive! He’s still alive!”
You assure the son that his father was pronounced dead in the ICU before his body was brought to the morgue (even though you’re aware that anything can happen in a teaching hospital).
You touch the father’s hand. It’s warm. You silently weigh your options.
You accompany the son upstairs, offer your condolences, and make a beeline for the Administrator on Duty’s office.
You ask, “Is it possible the man downstairs could still be alive?” You feel less crazy when the administrator grabs the phone and dials the ICU. She says, placing the phone in its cradle, “Go up and talk with the nursing supervisor.”
You mutter “Shit, shit, shit,” to yourself in the elevator, because this makes you feel less alone.
You describe to the nursing supervisor what you witnessed in the morgue and ask whether it’s possible the man could still be alive.
You’re stunned when she says, “Wait, I’ll check,” and leaves the room. You consider how funny this would be if it weren’t really happening.
You listen to the supervisor explain that the man’s pacemaker was removed after he was pronounced and before his body was sent to the morgue.
You walk back to the on-call room wondering how long a person can live after a pacemaker’s been removed.
Marcia Bilyk is a writer, photographer, and pastor living in rural New Jersey with her husband and three dogs. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Drunk Monkeys, Gravel, and The Upper Room.