What do you think of this scene? Is it something you can relate to? What would you have done if you were in Ganmér's position?
Share your thoughts in the comments!
Brown pus oozed from his scalp and clotted in his thick, curly white hair. Dark yellow patches covered his face and exposed skin. Gasping for air, his emaciated body shuddered from the exertion. He didn’t have much longer to live.
“I’m sorry, she whispered. “I can’t.” Even if she didn’t have to conserve her energy for her impending altercation with Kint, this man would die before she could cure him. “The stage of your disease is too advanced,” she explained; the anguish in his dull, brown eyes tore at her heart. “I won’t be able to help you in time.”
Stepping forward, Ganmér knelt beside the dying man. Taking the stranger’s hand in his, Ganmér tenderly stroked the patient’s bony fingers. “What is your name, my friend?”
“Dale.” The word came out in a hoarse grunt and took more energy than the man had to expend. Deep, guttural coughs ravaged his body.
Ganmér cupped Dale’s cheek with his free hand. “I have failed you, Dale. I have failed everyone here. No one deserves this, and no apology I can give will ever be appropriate. But although I can’t heal you, there is one thing I can give you.” For what was probably the first time in weeks, the old man’s eyes sparkled with hope. “Would you like me to ease your passing? Would you like me to end your pain?”
The intense pleading in that single word was unbearable. Juriel’s eyes watered, and she wiped them with the back of her hand.
Ganmér slowly reached for Dale’s forehead and placed his fingertips just below the old man’s hairline. A faint warmth filled the winter air when Ganmér released his magic.
Dale’s lips spread into a blissful smile. He closed his eyes and was gone.
“Be at peace, my friend,” Ganmér murmured. He folded Dale’s hands across his chest before standing.
“Jae once told me about the time the two of you freed the slaves.” Juriel’s voice sounded almost pitiful among the howls and groans of the dying. “He tried to explain that when saving a life isn’t possible, it’s better to end it—to end a person’s suffering. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t see how taking someone’s life would be better than letting them live it to their fullest, whatever that might be.”
She looked up at Ganmér with newfound admiration. “But now I understand. Now I see. Dale was ready to die. Perhaps if I could have tended him a few days earlier, it would have been different. But as it stood, I couldn’t have helped him. Trying would have only given him false hope. It wouldn’t have eased his pain. Like so many others I’ve stubbornly tried to cure, he would have died long before I healed him.
“If you had done nothing, he probably would have continued to suffer for almost another hour before finally taking his last breath. No one could save him. Yet, in a strange and twisted way, you did. That takes great courage, Master. And a great amount of compassion. More than I think I’ll ever have.”
“Nonsense, Juriel. You have more compassion and courage than you know. Look at all you’ve accomplished. No one faint of heart would have been able to carry out even a fraction of your achievements. Knowing when to take a life in a situation like this is by no means easy, I’ll admit. Our nature is to cling onto the feeble hope that a miracle will happen. That someone on their death bed with no chance of recovery will somehow wake up and be cured.
“But unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. There sometimes comes a point when we have to acknowledge that we’re being more cruel doing everything we can to keep someone alive than we would be if we just let them go. Dale was a perfect example of such an instance. There was no way he would have been cured. Why make him suffer for another hour? Leaving him to waste away in such unbearable agony just to satisfy our falsely noble hopes is frankly atrocious. People like Dale deserve to be free from their pain. They deserve our honesty, not our hopeful lies.”
“I didn’t want to tell him there was nothing I could do,” Juriel replied. “I didn’t want to take away whatever faith he might have had left. Honestly, I don’t know why I admitted I couldn’t help him.”
“Because you couldn’t walk away from him. You couldn’t turn aside and have him think you either didn’t want to help him or that you would return and heal him when you could. If you did, he’d have been dead. He needed to know the truth. And once he did, he was at peace with himself. Did you notice that?”
She nodded. “Aye. He seemed to relax. It was as if his inner battle had been resolved. He knew not to torment himself any longer with the bogus prospect of a cure. When you told him you could help, his eyes filled with hope. I didn’t understand at the time. I thought it was hope of being cured even though we’d admitted that wasn’t possible. Now, I realize it was hope that you’d offer exactly what you did. He wanted to be released.”
Ganmér put his arm around her shoulders. “Aye. I’m not saying to stop healing as many of the infirm as you can, but keep Dale’s case in mind when you tend to further patients. You have become extremely intimate with this epidemic. You can easily identify the stage of the disease in a patient. You know if it’s progressed too far to cure them. Remember the peace that overcame Dale when you come across the next person in such a position. Think of giving them that same serenity and reconciliation.”
“Why did you ask him before you acted?”
“Because even though it’s what I would want for myself doesn’t mean it’s what he would want. I needed to make sure the choice of ending his life was his, not mine. If he had said no, I would have left him to die naturally.”
“Ah,” she murmured, staring at Dale’s body; the slight smile still clung to the dead man’s lips. “There really isn’t a right or wrong way, is there?”
“No, there isn’t. It’s different for everyone. It all comes down to beliefs. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. Because I feel one way, doesn’t mean I should force that on someone else. Dale had a right to his own convictions. All of your patients do. If they refuse your offer, you must accept their decision and move on, however much it pains you to leave them in agony.”
Copyright © 2016 by Andi O'Connor