Both paramedics passed the sitting room with an empty stretcher, walking it out to the ambulance. The siblings saw this and looked to one another uncomprehendingly. Rachel smiled nervously.
“Look at that, mama didn’t even need to go to the hospital. They must have gotten her stabilized. I guess it was just a false alarm.”
Joshua and Richard brightened. That made sense. Why else would the paramedics leave without their mother? The charge nurse would come out and explain that their mother just had a panic attack or an allergic reaction to something. They lapsed into silence, looking forward to embracing her and thinking of the many ways in which they would be better sons and daughters in the future.
Twenty minutes later, the charge nurse came out. They all jumped to their feet and started moving towards the door, ready to go back and check on their mother. One look at the nurse’s face and Rachel started backing away with her hands over her mouth. The nurse spoke quickly and softly, eyes averted.
“I’m so very sorry to have to tell you that your mother has passed away. As you saw, she was experiencing difficulty breathing. We administered supplemental oxygen, but she quickly went into respiratory arrest. We administered CPR and called for an ambulance right away. When the paramedics arrived, they took over. Her condition rapidly declined and she went into cardiac arrest. They applied a defibrillator, but it did not restore any heart activity and they could not revive her.”
Shock struck Joshua dumb. He stood rooted in place, shaking his head from side-to-side in silent denial. Richard dropped into the nearest seat, weak with sudden blinding migraine pain. Harriet stood in the middle of the room weeping inconsolably. Rachel suddenly shoved past her and the others.
Recognizing hysteria, the charge nurse put an arm out in an attempt to rein Rachel back into the sitting room. She shoved the woman away and ran full tilt back to the locked unit, banging on the doors until a startled young aide on the unit approached the locked glass doors. The charge nurse was at her heels, frantically gesturing to the aide not to open the door. Rachel turned on the nurse, unleashing the brunt of her rage. In an attempt to de-escalate the situation, the nurse took a step back with her hands up to show she meant no harm.
“Open this damn door, so I can go see my mother,” Rachel demanded.
“Ms. Blackshear, I realize that you’re very upset right now…”
“Very upset? Very upset? I’m fucking furious! You all let my mother die! She couldn’t breathe and you sent the paramedics away!”
“Ssh, Ms. Blackshear please lower your voice. You’re disturbing the other…”
“You’d like that wouldn’t you? Stop trying to shut me up, so the residents won’t find out how incompetent you people are. Open this damn door! I want to see my mother!”
“I’m not going to do that, until you calm down. Please, let’s return to the sitting area for a few minutes. Once you’ve calmed down, we can come back and you can see your mother.”
“Get your hands off me,” exclaimed Rachel shoving the nurse away.
“Ms. Blackshear, if you don’t calm down and lower your voice, then I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere. Open this door, before I knock you out!”
“Are you threatening me? That’s it, I’m going to have to call the police if you don’t leave quietly.”
“Go ahead and call the cops. I want them to come, so I can tell them how you killed my mother!”
Joshua came rushing up to them with Richard several paces behind, walking unsteadily and supported by Harriet. Their attempts to intervene agitated Rachel even more. Richard was in no condition to fend off her adrenaline-fueled aggression and Joshua couldn’t handle her. The charge nurse pulled out her cell phone and called the police. A patrol car happened to be in the area. Fifteen minutes later, an officer responded to the scene.