Lethal Injection and the Lone Fatalist: A Short Story

>> Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Note: PG13 - This story may not be a suitable reading for children under 13 years of age. Parental discretion advised.

By Ajay Pradhan | April 8, 2009

It was his fateful day. His mind was filled with ambivalence, his heart with conflicting emotions. One thing he didn't want to admit was he was engulfed with some degree of fear and trepidation. In some way, he was ready, although reluctantly, for the justice he was going to get that day. It was Monday, April 6, 2009. It was 9:30 am. Whether it was going to be a salvation or a condemnation, he didn't know, nor did he want too much to care.

He had committed no crime. He had only made mistakes; plenty of them. Yet he was there, resigned to face verdict and justice at the same time. Only, to him it seemed like injustice. They were going to give him the dreaded intravenous injection.

The previous night, he had told a friend about what he was going to be put through in the morning. He had needed someone to lean on to, someone to reassure him of his innocence, no matter what the verdict was going to be and no matter the severity of punishment. When he told her, she hadn't believed it first. She simply said nonchalantly, "You need to de-stress yourself. This is supposed to be your break." He felt her response was impersonal and that she was preoccupied with something in her mind. To him, she seemed too busy to pay him the attention that he so desired.

A break from perpetual penance is what he thought she had told him to strive for. By nature, the self-deprecating man that he was, he had lived many years of his life in a shell full of penance, pensive moments and a sense of resignation. "You think I'm joking?" he had persisted. He had merely wished she'd show some concern, if nothing much else. He didn't seem to realize but she did care about him a lot more than he thought she did. He had merely focused on the surface and sought some words of comfort, rather than making an effort to appreciate the deep concern she had for him. If he had known about it, he didn't want to admit.

He often wondered if the reason why he often felt a void deep inside him is that he often dwelt on instant gratification than on substance. Instant gratification, after all, doesn't last. Substance does. He hadn't always been like that. He had grown up in a nurturing home full of love. It wasn't a life of opulence, but it was a comfortable middle class home. When he was an infant, an astrologer had told his parents he was destined to hold a royal scepter some day. That to his parents meant he was going to reach uncommon pinnacle of achievements in his life.

"Life! What life?" He thought to himself. He never took astrology seriously and had no special regard for astrologers. He had always thought astrology and palm-reading was for people who believed in fatalism and karma. "What your fate has in store for you, you'll only get that," say all astrologers to the gullibles and the ones who cared to pay attention. He couldn't care any less for such pessimism in life. He believed in making strides with one's own actions based on one's own choices enhanced or constrained by a set of conditions. Political scientists probably summarized that into rational choice theory.

He shook himself out of deep thoughts and reflections as he walked. His whole life had flashed by within a matter of minutes. That fateful morning, as he was led into a room with a narrow bed little larger than a gurney, he was forced to rethink his take on fatalism. If the dreaded injection was the punishment that was in his fate, it was surely not because of a crime he had committed for he had done no such thing in his life. "It must have been in my fate all along," he thought to himself, a little surprised at his conversion. Otherwise, why was he going to be get it?

He looked around. The room had medical equipment and instruments that looked cold and menacing. A burly man and a diminutive woman came towards him. They seemed such an odd pair. The man was huge and looked as though he was determined to carry out his task briskly. The woman was petit and seemed harmless, even caring. The man spoke with an air of authority. The woman was cordial and polite in her manners.

The woman asked him to undress waist up and lie down in bed. He paused for an awkward moment as she looked at him. The burly man had disappeared somewhere. "Go ahead, undress," she repeated. Once the shirt came off, the woman asked if he was comfortable that way or wanted her to bring him a robe. As he wasn't comfortable, she brought him a robe.

As he lay in bed, the woman cleaned at least a dozen or so spots all over his chest; shaved off what scant chest hair he had on those spots and put a sticky electrode patch on each spot. When she hooked a wire to each electrode, for a fleeting moment he felt as though he was being prepared for electrocution. Her warm hands and a reassuring smile on her face calmed him down. "No, she's not electrocuting me," he convinced himself.

The burly man came back and grabbed his arm with his cold hands. The man ordered him to clench his fist as the man tied a rubber band around his arm. The man looked at him with his cold eyes. The man's expressionless face showed not a hint of sympathy or emotion. The man found his vein on the arm, looked him in the eyes as if to tell him, "Here you go, you deserved it."

He lay in bed, his heart beginning to thump against his chest. He looked up at the woman, as if to plead with her to save him from the burly man who seemed anxious to finish him off. She whispered, "It's going to be alright. You'll feel the pain and discomfort, but we'll do it as painlessly and quickly as possible." Even when the burly man was poking intravenous needle into his vein, the woman seemed to understand the fear that consumed his otherwise calm face.

Once the burly man secured the needle in his vein with two layers of plastic bandage, he declared with an authoritative voice, "I'm going to start the injection." It was an automatic syringe attached to the intravenous needle by a clear plastic tubing. The burly man turned on the switch and the syringe began to pump in, injecting into his body the chemical that would do the trick.

At first, he felt no pain, no discomfort. But quickly, he felt sharp tingles all over his body as if somebody poked a thousand needles into his body. He labored to turn his head to the side where the automatic syringe setup was kept. The syringe had injected half the chemical already. His head began to throb with pain, his breathing became labored, his body began to sweat, he was soon gasping for air. His heart now started pounding against his chest. He thought, that was it, the end was near, just a few moments away.

His whole life flashed before his eyes. He began to moan in pain. His fate was sealed, he thought as fear began to engulf him. As always in times of distress, without consciously realizing he began to call out his mother, "Ma, Maaaa..." His body began to writhe, his muscles began to twitch, he threw his head back as he sensed the end just moments away. "It'll soon be over. And you won't feel the pain," the woman standing over him said calmly. "Of course, it was soon going to be over; I'll be dead, I'll be gone," he wanted to scream. He panicked as the chemical being injected into his vein was making its final impact. His whole body was in fire, his heart was racing as if he had been running on a steeply inclined treadmill with increasing speed. He thought only a few final gasps of breathing remained in his body, but he still mumbled for mercy. Mercy from the punishment for a crime he had not committed. Only, his fate had been sealed from the time he was born.

At that moment, his began to think of all the astrologers who insisted on fatalism. No matter what you do, if it is not in your fate, you won't be able to achieve anything, he heard himself mumbling. He hadn't done anything to deserve the ultimate punishment he was getting, yet he was getting it nevertheless. In what appeared to him to be his final moments, he became a believer in fatalism, determinism, predestination. He became a fatalist who subjugated all events or actions to fate or inevitable predetermination. In his mind, free human will had no role anymore. He had become a defeatist.

Then came the final moment. His twitching body became still, his moans stopped. Lights went dark in his world. The injection had taken its effect. They had finally made him make a penance for a crme he hadn't committed. He had met his fate. There was no need for logic or for justification. He was gone.

After about 15 minutes, the woman standing by his bed placed her warm hand on his cold arm. "Hello," she whispered. Magically his eyes opened. "Where am I? In heaven or hell?" he awoke to the reality.

"You're in hospital bed. We just gave you persantine intravenous injection. You have just completed the first half of the cardiolite/persantine myoview test," the woman, who was a nurse, said to him.

"A what test? You mean, I'm alive?" he wanted reassurance.

"Of course, you're alive and well. It's also called a stress test."

"Then what was that all about... the death sentence by lethal injection?"

"It was no lethal injection. It was just a chemical with radioactive isotope injected into your body. It increases heart rate as if you were under physical stress and the radioactive chemical infuses through tiny arteries of your heart so that when your heart is scanned with a camera we could tell if there is any blockage in your arteries during times of stress," the nurse described to him, handing him a face towel to wipe off his perspiration.

"I thought I had died, I thought that burly man put me to death for a crime I hadn't committed."

"Oh, that burly man is cardiac diagnostic specialist," the nurse clarified, giggling.

"I'm sorry, I thought he was my hangman."

"Haha, don't worry. The next part of the test is going to be easier on you. You're free to go and eat and drink anything. Come back in an hour at 11:30 am and go to the nuclear imaging room. Somebody will take pictures of your heart and send the report to your doctor."

"Nurse, am I sick?"

"No, you're not. It is a diagnostic procedure just to see if you are at risk. Your doctor ordered this stress test."

"Thank you, nurse," he smiled at her and walked towards the door. He paused and turned toward the nurse, "Nurse, are you a fatalist?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you believe in fate?"

"Gosh I don't know how to answer that."

"Do you treat someone believing that the treatment won't work because revovery is not in the fate of the patient?"

"Oh, gosh, of course, not. There is no such thing as fate. All consequences are the result of our actions."

His face brightened, "Thank you, nurse."

"You're very welcome. But, why did you ask me that question?"

"Because for a moment of distress while I was in bed I had turned into a fatalist. I have never believed in fatalism, but for a brief time today I was compelled to give in, surrender, you know."

"Surrender to what, to who?"

"To all the astrologers. To the fatalists. To predestination. I thought I was a lone fighter trying hard not to believe in fate and karma."

"Well, I can assure you, you're not alone. I'm with you. I don't believe in fatalism."

"It's funny... when the injection had its effect on me, I thought I was being given capital punishment for a crime I didn't commit. I thought even when the distress forced me to become a fatalist, I thought I was a lone fatalist," he said to the nurse.

"I hope you're not a fatalist now," the nurse looked into his eyes.

"No, nurse, I'm not. I didn't receive the lethal injection, but surely the fatalism did," he smiled, thanked the nurse again and departed from the room.

He was hungry. He hadn't eaten breakfast. As he walked towards the small cafeteria in the hospital, he was still a little wobbly in his knees due to the fatigue the chemical had caused.

"Are you okay?" A young woman in the hallway who spotted his unsteady steps asked him.

He looked at her. She reminded him of his friend who he had talked with about his stress test the previous night.

"I'll be fine, thank you," he said, his eyes moist all of a sudden. He thought, at least a stranger cared enough to stop and ask if he was ok. The world was still a beautiful place.

"You sure I can't do anything to help you?" the attractive young woman said.

"I'm sure I'm going to be alright, but thank you."

"You're welcome... and have a great day," the young woman smiled at him and walked away.

He turned around, looked at her walking away until she vanished around a corner... and then he whispered, "God bless you. You're kind ... you're considerate."

He stood there for a long moment, dabbed his moist eyes with his shirt sleeve and walked toward the cafeteria.


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