The screech of tyres. The rending of metal and the shattering of glass. The taste of copper. That’s all I remember. And pain. Oh, the pain. And then, nothing.
When I opened my eyes, it took a few seconds for my vision to focus. Oddly, the first thing I registered was my mouth. It was so dry that my lips had fused together and it took a significant effort to part them. Then came the realisation that I was in agony. There was an excruciating throb in my forehead, over my right eye. I wanted to massage the pain away with my hand but my right arm burned white-hot when I tried to move it. I looked down and saw that it was set in a cast. My left calf was fixed in a cylindrical frame mounted with large rods that bore into my skin. But the worst sensation was in my chest. It felt like it had been caved in with a sledgehammer.
Panic bloomed as I became aware of the oxygen mask over my mouth and nose; saw the tangle of wires and tubes that trailed up to the assembly of apparatus surrounding the bed. I heard myself whimper. It was a weak sound, like that a child might make upon waking from a nightmare. With great exertion I turned my head. My wife Marie was sleeping upright in a chair a few feet away. Her thick auburn hair, which she normally wore in pristine ringlets, was scraped back into a tight bun, and she was dressed in an old college hoodie that was usually reserved for when she was ill.
“Marie,” I croaked in a voice I barely recognised as mine. She sniffed, and stretched without rousing. I called for her again, louder this time, and she woke with a start. She blinked at me. Then her face split into a gape.
“Oh my god.” She sprang out of the chair and leaned over me, her eyes searching my face as though she couldn’t believe I was real. “Don’t move. I’m going to get someone, okay? I’ll be right back.” She pelted from the room, her cries for help echoing back up the corridor. When she returned she had a nurse in tow; a tall, bald-headed man that looked to be in his forties.
Marie paced in silence at the foot of the bed as he examined the monitors with calm urgency. When he was satisfied, he took out a torch and shone it into my eyes, left first and then right.
“Do you remember your name?” he said softly, clicking the torch off and pocketing it.
“Jack.” I slurred.
“Do you remember what happened?”
I shook my head.
“You were in a car accident, Mr. Fisher,” he said. “You’ve been in a coma for six days.”
“Don’t let me die,” was all I could manage in return.
He smiled. “You’re not going to die. But you’re lucky, that’s for sure.” He picked up a jug of water from the bedside cabinet, and filled the clear plastic cup that sat next to it. “You must be thirsty,” he said as he brought the cup to my lips.
The water was tepid and stale, but as it spilled over my parched tongue and trickled down my throat, I suddenly understood why they call it the stuff of life. I gulped it down, but after four small mouthfuls he pulled the cup away.
“Not too much, you’ll be sick,” he said, placing it back down on the cabinet. “Now, try to relax. The doctor will be here any minute.”
“Are you sure he’s okay?” said Marie, wiping away tears. “He’s not going to go into shock or anything?”
The nurse gestured at the monitors. “Vitals are all great. He’s responding well to stimulus. He’s going to be fine.” He looked down at me and flashed a grin. “Welcome back to the land of the living. Tin man.” And then he was gone.
Marie came to the side of my bed. She took my good hand in hers and caressed my fingers. It took her at least twenty seconds to find her voice. “Did you dream?”
I shook my head.
“Gotta be honest. Didn’t think you were coming back,” she said.
“What about the other driver?”
The look on her face broke the news for her. She choked on a sob.
“Who was it?” I said.
“A young family. Two parents. Two… children.”
My eyes pricked with tears and despite my best efforts they began to leak. “Who’s fault?”
“It was no one’s fault, Jack. It was just…”
The revelation brought me no relief. “What did he mean?” I said.
“The nurse. Why tin man?”
Marie chewed her lip and her eyes dropped to the floor. “We should wait for the doctor.”
“For what? Why did he say that?”
“Jack,” she said, still refusing to meet my gaze. “You were hurt. Really bad. You were going to die if I didn’t…” she trailed off.
“Your heart was damaged. And… and they said they could save you if…”
“Jesus christ, Marie. Spit it out.”
A sudden knock at the door deflated the tension. Marie breathed a visible sigh of relief as a short black woman padded in without waiting for an invitation. She wore a long white coat over a crisp black pantsuit and despite her small stature her presence seemed to fill the room.
“Hello, Mr. Fisher,” she said, picking up the chart that hung at the foot of my bed and glancing at it casually. “I’m Dr. Sani.” She replaced the chart and made eye contact with me for the first time. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I just woke up from a coma,” I said humourlessly.
Dr. Sani laughed politely anyway. “Quite so,” she said. “Now, I’m sure you’re wondering about the extent of your injuries.”
“I just want to know when I can go home,” I said.
“That could be some time, Mr. Fisher. The collision caused significant trauma to multiple parts of your body. Your right arm was fractured in several places and your left tibia was broken almost completely in half. Your skull was fractured over your right eye and several of your ribs were broken upon impact with the steering wheel.”
“Is that all?” I said sardonically.
“No. In fact it isn’t,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “In comparison to your worst injury, the others are superficial.” She took a deep breath and continued. “One of your ribs pierced your heart. Frankly, it’s a miracle that you survived made it here.”
My attention wandered instinctively to my chest. Despite the searing pain across my ribcage, I could feel my heart beating, its rhythm sure and steady. “But… my heart is fine. I can feel it.”
“I can assure you, Mr. Fisher. Your heart is not fine. Actually, it was incinerated three days ago. What you can feel beating in your chest is in fact a state-of-the-art fully automated myocardium. In layman’s terms, a robotic heart.”
The information didn’t quite sink in. “I don’t understand,” I said. “How is that possible?”
“We weren’t sure it was,” said Dr. Sani. “You are extremely fortunate. This hospital happens to be the industry leader in bleeding edge biomedical engineering. You had a zero percent chance of survival, and our prototype tech represented your only real hope. Your wife signed the waiver.”
I looked over at Marie, who nodded resolutely.
“She saved your life, Mr. Fisher,” Dr. Sani went on. “And countless others too, now that we know the procedure is viable.”
I swallowed hard and my breath came rapid. It was a strange sensation; my mind and body were trying to panic, but my heart rate didn’t follow suit. It just continued to beat with a steady thrum as though nothing were amiss.
“What does this mean?” I said, my voice quavering.
“Well, it means very little in real terms. If anything, you’ll be even stronger than before, provided your body doesn’t reject the heart.”
Marie cleared her throat. “I did the right thing, didn’t I Jack?”
I searched my feelings. “Of course. I just… this is going to take a little processing.”
“Naturally,” said Dr. Sani. “I’ll leave you to digest this information. I’ll be back later to check on you.” She made her way to the door, but before she left she turned back. “There’s one more thing, Mr. Fisher. The heart runs on a high capacity lithium-ion battery; same as the one in your phone. It requires charging about once a week.”
“What happens if it dies?”
“Then so do you. But don’t worry. At ten percent capacity it emits a high-pitched tone and a pulsing vibration that will remind you to recharge. We call it ‘the pips’. Good day, Mr. Fisher.”