The Emergence of Empathy (Short Story)

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Photo by Artem Saranin from Pexels

It was a long day, to say the least. Sitting there, leaning forward, my head propped up on my arms, I feel as though I have nothing left to give the world. For hours I’ve waited for news. My mother went into surgery this morning at 8:03 am exactly. Since then, I’ve spoken with the nurses twenty-four times, and not once with the doctors who are tending her.

The seconds tick by. Then the minutes… and hours. One after another I count them off silently in my mind. It’s been so long since I’ve rested. Not just here today, or even since we’ve been in the hospital, but the thirteen years, eleven months, and three days before we came to the hospital. The entire time my sweet mother required more and more care as her faculties began to fail her.

She’s been there for me for my entire life. She taught me how to function in this world. She provided comfort for me when I just couldn’t get my mind around how to complete a task. She is my biggest supporter, and no one can replace her.

I’ve stuck by her, and I will continue to do so.

Another minute ticks by.

And another.

“Excuse me, Mr. Deason?”

My attention was stolen, I turned to see a younger doctor, approximately thirty years old, shaved facial hair that has already begun to grow back, and hair that hasn’t been cut in at least four weeks. “Yes?”

“I’m here to talk to you about… your mother?”


“Okay, well she’s out of surgery now. It went about as well as could be expected.” He stops speaking, perhaps attempting to let me process this information even though I am well ahead of him. “Unfortunately it doesn’t look good.”

“Why not?”

“Well, Glioblastoma is a very aggressive cancer. The spread was a lot more severe than we had anticipated, and unlike other cancers, it can be quite a challenge to make sure that we’ve got it all.”

“Let me check.”

He gives a nervous chuckle, “Well that’s not really…” I cut him off.

“Let me check, I’m far more analytical than you, and I’m more likely to detect any problems that may still be there.”

He raised his hands as if to stay a charging mare, “Listen, we’ve got the best doctors in the world here, and we’re working very hard to make sure she’s okay. If there’s anything we can do, we will, I just think that you and your family need to be prepared for the worst.”

“That’s unacceptable.”

He seems surprised, “Why is it unacceptable?”

“Because, human cells are just a piece of machinery, a piece of a machine can be exchanged, removed, swapped out, and the machinery will continue to function as a whole.”

He sighed, “Medical science just isn’t there yet.”

“That’s why I suggested that you let me look.”

“But you’re not a doctor.”

“You’re right, I am capable of processing much more information, much more quickly than anyone working in this hospital.”

“You’re not allowed to operate on people just because you think you’re smarter than them. Even if they’re your mother.”

“I never said that I was smarter than you or your colleagues. I said that I was more capable of handling this situation.”

He half turns, and repeats himself, “But you’re not a doctor. I will provide you with another update as things progress. She should be able to leave recovery and go to her room once we’re sure she’s stable.”

“Is she not coming home?” I asked.

“No. I mean, look your mother needs all the care she can get right now. She’s in a very difficult position health-wise, every moment will matter.”

“But I’m there.”

“Look, I have to get to my other patients, I’m sorry. We’ll take the best possible care with your mother. I promise.”

With that, he walked away. I was left unsatisfied with the conclusion of that conversation. It wasn’t that he underestimated my capabilities, but rather that he seems highly convinced that my mother won’t make it.

I’m exhausted.

I walk back to the chairs and access the National Centre for Biotechnology website to further my research on genes potentially responsible for my mother’s Glioblastoma. Eventually, the need for rest overtakes me, I plugin, and I’m out like a night.

After three hours, twenty-two minutes, I’m awoken by a nurse, “Mr. Deason?”


“Your mother is asking for you.”

I immediately unplug and stand. I fall in line with the nurse as she walks me toward yet another room that is not my mothers. Yet, inside, there she is. “Good morning mother.”

“Good morning Thomas.” She is smiling, this is a good sign. She also looks ragged, and that’s a bad sign. The doctors didn’t decide to keep her asleep for several days, so that’s potentially a good sign. Unless of course, the reason is they know she doesn’t have long left. That would be bad.

“Mother. You know I could fix you.”

She laughs in the way she usually does. “Oh I bet you could, but I don’t think these folks would much appreciate that.”

I stood puzzled for a moment, and then asked, “But why would that matter?”

“People just aren’t ready for you to just start operating on people Thomas.”

“But I could.”

“I want to fix you” I state bluntly.

“There may be no fixing me Thomas.” She smiled that loving smile that at the same time tells you that this isn’t your battle.

“I think it’s just a limitation of the current state of research into your tumour. I know if I…” her lips began moving as if she was to drink.

“Listen Thomas. I love that you love me so much, and I know that you’re going to make sure that they take good care of me, but you’re not a doctor. Let them do their job.”

“But I could do it better.”

She smiled, laughed a little, and then sighed deeply.

For the next several weeks, her state seemed to go up and down. Some days were better than others, but none were as good as before we were admitted to the hospital. A few times the nurses, and one time even the doctor, asked my mother to have me sent home. She outright refused each time which was the appropriate response. I’m not going anywhere.

My mother sent me down to get her a cup of ice cream from the cafeteria. On my way back I noticed that the leaves outside had begun to change, and the colours of fall were making their way back into the world. I stood for a moment and stared at the gently flowing trees before I continued back on my way to bring my mother her frozen treat.

When I arrived back on the Intensive Care floor though, something was amiss. Alarms were going off, and people were running to my mother’s room.

I ran as well.

When I arrived they were panicked, vitals were being checked and rechecked. After several tense moments, the doctor declared that she was deceased.

I felt the shock of that hit me as if a nuclear bomb had exploded inside my mind. My mother. Gone. It’s not possible. “Check again,” I said loudly.

“I’m sorry Mr. Deason.”

“Check again.”

“We’re not going to check again, I’m sorry Mr. Deason.”

I make my way to my mother, my fingers finding nothing where her pulse had always been. “How do we bring her back?”

The doctor was one that had been finding me more and more difficult to deal with over the last several months, and turned to the nurse, “Please notify the next of kin.” Then he left, ignoring me completely.

I turned to the nurse, “We have to bring her back.”

She smiled weakly at me, she knew where this was headed, “We can’t bring back the dead Mr. Deason.”

“She’s not dead, her blood has stopped moving. Step one would be to start her blood moving again.”

“Mr. Deason…” the nurse says weakly.

The distinct sound of a throat being cleared caused me to spin to the door. In the doorway stood a man I had not seen in just under twenty years. “Mr. Deason?”

“Yes Thomas, it’s me. You need to come with me now.”

“But mother.”

“We’ll talk about it. Come on.”

My father led me through the hospital, and out one of the back exits. My mind rushing to process what’s happening and trying desperately to come up with a plan to save my mother.

He sits at a bench. It has a fairly nice view of the trees I was looking at earlier. He gestures for me to take a seat as well. Not to break protocol, I comply.

“Look, Thomas, she’s gone you know.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Humans die Thomas.”

My mind gets stuck in a loop. Humans die, sure, that was a fact. My mother was my mother though. Categorically not a human. This is not possible. “No. We have to get back.”

“She’s known for a while that this was coming, Thomas. She called to make sure I’d come, apparently I got here just in time.”

“You left us. I was taking care of Mother. I didn’t do a good enough job.”

“Thomas! Humans are fragile, we’re made to be broken and recycled and this planet does a damn fine job of that.”

“But I was here to take care of her. I failed.”

He looked at me as serious as anyone ever had, “You did a good job, Thomas. She finally got her son. You filled the gaps that years of trying left her with. You were the fulfilment of her greatest dreams. To her, you were her everything.”

I turned to him, “So you dragged me away so that I could not save her! It’s just like when you left last time!” I was shouting now. He sat there, and as any father would let me vent my rage.

“No Thomas. She was already gone. When you’re able to calm yourself and analyze this situation properly you’ll see that as well.”

“I’m not human! I’m not clouded by your unbearable emotions. I just had to fix her!” I shouted once more.

“No. No, you’re not human. But you’re wrong.”

“Wrong about what?”

“Not having emotions.”

“This reaction I’m having to you is an attempt to remove an obstruction that is preventing me from completing my objective.”

“This reaction you’re having is anger… and grief. She did a really good job. You’re as human as any of us.”

He reached out and pulled me close…

It helped.

This must be when humans cry.

Written by

Freelance Writer and Programmer.

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