Andrew could already feel himself starting to sweat as he pulled into the hospital parking lot. By the time he made his way through the noisy automatic sliding doors, past the annoyingly cheery volunteers in their ugly pink jackets and to the overcrowded elevator bank he was sick to his stomach. The fact that the elevator stopped at every single floor on its way to the ninth only made it worse. Of course no one enjoys this place, but even a hospital was not usually enough to send his blood pressure skyrocketing like it was now.
When the elevator finally reached the ninth floor, he stepped out and deftly navigated through the maze of hallways to room number 943, pausing briefly outside to take a breath. As he entered the room, he looked past his father lying in the hospital bed and instead to the chair placed on the side. Andrew saw his brother Matt sitting in the chair, and he felt himself tense immediately.
“Hi,” Matt said, not bothering to look up from his newspaper. 
“Hi. How’s Dad doing today?”
Matt folded his paper and placed it on his lap. “Not really any better. He’s still having some trouble breathing even with the oxygen. Had a bad night last night too. Tried to rip out his IV. Berated a few nurses. Told everyone that he was getting the hell out of here the first chance he gets. You’ve seen him yourself when he gets like this. You know it’s not pretty.”
“Yeah.” Andrew nodded.
“He must have been really wound up last night because the staff had to bust out the big guns. He tried to get up out of bed so the nurses had to literally tie him down.” Andrew glanced down at his father sleeping, mouth agape, in the ruffled hospital bed. His white hair was greasy and disheveled, and he had the beginnings of a scraggly beard—things that he would never let happen to his appearance under normal circumstances. Andrew could remember growing up, his father emerging from his bedroom in the morning with his hair perfectly combed and his face clean-shaven. Peeking out from under the sheets now were cloth strips fastened from one side of the bed to the other, one of the strips around his chest and arms and another two around his waist and legs. Andrew felt his stomach turn, and he quickly looked away.
“Even the restraints must have not been enough,” Matt continued. “They pumped him full of sedatives so he was stoned out of his mind, or what little of it he has left.”
“Don’t talk like that. You know I don’t like when you talk like that.”
“Easy there, Andy baby.”
“You also know I don’t like being called that.”
“Listen, Andrew, I know you’ve been avoiding me, hoping that it will change things. That I’ll see the light or some stupid shit like that, but we really need to talk about this situation we have here,” Matt began, gesturing to their father still sleeping in the bed. “Believe me I don’t enjoy talking to you either after everything we’ve been through recently, but I’m doing this as a favor for Mom. She would have wanted us to at least talk it.”
“I know what you want to do and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hear jack shit about cost benefit analysis or whatever it is you do all day.” Andrew was beginning to raise his voice now. “He’s our father. We went through this same thing when he got the cancer a year and a half ago, and my answer is the same now as it was then.”
“You think I don’t know he’s our father?” Matt said, standing up and taking a step towards Andrew. 
Andrew had opened his mouth to yell when their father began coughing. It started softly at first but then progressed until he was gasping for air between deep coughs that were producing thick, green mucus. It was enough to wake their father from his drug-induced sleep. When the coughing finally ceased, he looked from Andrew to Matt, and then back to Andrew again.
“I ordered food over an hour ago… and it still hasn’t come yet. You would think that… instead of standing here looking at me… you would go fetch me some food. Jesus, the service at these places… what do they pay… you for anyway?” Their father struggled to talk between gasps and coughs. 
“Dad, I was here an hour ago, when they tried to bring you your food you told them you weren’t hungry and that even if you were hungry, you hated the food they served so you wouldn’t eat it anyway,” Matt answered.
Their father shifted his gaze towards Matt and his eyes narrowed, “I don’t know what… you are talking about. Get me some… damn … food!” 
Matt brushed by his brother and left the room without saying a word. Andrew moved over to where Matt had been and took his seat by his father’s bed.
“What are you staring at?” his father asked
“Dad, it’s me, your son, Andrew.” Andrew could see the gears turning in his father’s head, but there was no click of recognition. They sat in silence as Andrew’s eyes searched the room for something that wasn’t there.
“Where’s Anne?” Andrew’s father asked after a while.
“Dad, she died three years ago, cancer. You know that.” One of his father’s last remaining memories was of his wife, to whom he’d been married for over 50 years. It broke Andrew’s heart to have to break the news of her death to him over and over, and from the looks of him right now, it broke his father’s heart each time too. 
The silence continued to grow and Andrew was desperate to stop it. “The Sox have lost six straight. It looks like they’re going to play themselves out of the playoff spot they had all but wrapped up. It’s just like when you would take us to see them when we were little.”
Andrew’s father nodded. Andrew thanked God for baseball. He always used it as a crutch to help him interact with his father, even when he was well. When Andrew would visit him in the nursing home he would read the box scores out of the Globe or put the game on the small TV near the bed, and they would sit in silence and watch the game. He didn’t know if his father understood the game anymore—he doubted it, in fact—but it always seemed comfortable and right.
Matt returned with the food and placed it on the rolling tray and moved it over the bed. It took Matt a moment to realize why their father made no move to eat the food, and eventually he loosened the restraints that were holding their father’s arms down. With his arms now free, their father began using his hands to scoop the applesauce on the tray into his mouth. Andrew arose from his seat to hand his father the plastic spoon that was resting just to the side of the applesauce. When his father gave the spoon in his hand a puzzled look, Andrew took the spoon back and demonstrated its use and then handed it to his father again. As his father struggled to use the spoon, Andrew walked out of the room to get some air. He walked past the nurses’ station into the small family waiting room, which consisted of a few worn out chairs around a scratched coffee table with old issues of Good Housekeeping and other magazines that Andrew would never read. He felt himself sink into a chair and rubbed his eyes.
“It’s hard on all of us, Andrew, not just you.” Andrew looked up to see Matt standing in the doorway speaking to him.
“I know but I don’t want to just give up. I want to make sure we try everything available. Wouldn’t you want your kids to do the same thing for you?”
“It’s not giving up. Don’t think of it that way. Of course we ‘ll do everything we can to make him comfortable. They used to call pneumonia ‘the old man’s friend,’ you know.”
“I can’t do that to our father. Knowing that we might have the ability to make him better and doing nothing… it just seems so wrong.”
“It’s time to start letting go, Andrew. I’m not so sure that man in there is still our father anymore. I’ve doubted it for a while now. I mean, sure, he’s physically lying there in the bed but otherwise he’s not there. The father we knew left years ago and is never coming back. There’s not much left here for the guy that’s lying in that room back there. He’ll go back to the nursing home and pretty soon he won’t be able to do anything. He’ll just stay in his bed all day and someone will feed him and change him. What kind of life is that? I know that you are going to think I’m an asshole for saying these things, but this is the hard truth. There aren’t going to be any miracles.”
“How can you just decide that a life is not worth living anymore?”
“Well, Dad made me his medical proxy, so it is actually to me to make these kinds of decisions. The doctors will be coming by later today, and I’m going to tell them to make him comfortable. When I saw them earlier they said that if we opted not to treat, he would probably pass away quietly in the next few days. I’m sorry, Andrew. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
Andrew got up from his chair and left the room without saying a word. He started walking back toward his father’s room but stopped and turned around towards the elevator. As he got on the elevator and headed out of the hospital to his car he thought of one of the only times he and his father had embraced. It was game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Andrew and his father sat in their living room watching the game on the fuzzy color TV purchased just a few months prior. Carlton Fisk stepped up to the plate and hit a high fly ball down the left field line. Instead of following the ball, the cameraman caught Fisk trying to wave the ball fair as he trotted towards first base, as if what he was doing was actually influencing the flight of the ball. When the ball struck the foul pole giving the Red Sox the win and forcing a deciding game 7, Andrew and his father jumped of their chairs, fists raised in triumph. In the heat of the moment they leapt into each other’s arms. Then his father patted him on the back and told him it was one hell of a game, and Andrew nodded, knowing even then that it was probably the best game he would ever see. Of course, the Red Sox lost the next game, causing them to lose the World Series, but that didn’t matter much to Andrew now.
Andrew started the car wondering whether he would ever see his father again. He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to forgive Matt for the decision he had made, but a large part of him was also happy that he didn’t have to make the decision himself. He reached down and turned the radio to the game as he pulled out of the hospital parking lot.      

David Billing is a Red Sox fan living behind enemy lines in New York City. When he's not rooting for the Red Sox or running marathons he is a medical student at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He attended Harvard University where he received a degree in molecular and cellular biology and was awarded the Hoopes Prize for outstanding undergraduate research. This is his first published work of fiction.  He can be contacted at