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The Line Between Life and Death Isn’t a Line at All


Tears hold onto the ledges of her eyes. As the physician and I approach, a quivering begins. It emerges at the jaw, a flutter running across her lips, only to drop onto her shoulders and envelop her hands. She cries out anew, her voice an oscillating wail.

She is in her second trimester, her taut belly holding what would be her first child. An ultrasound weeks prior revealed that the developing child has a neurological abnormality that would likely be incompatible with life. The expectant mother is here to have the fetus’ heart stopped via an injection so that she can subsequently be induced.

The woman lies in a halo of light, the muted glow barely reaching the walls. It feels sacred, reverberations of mass on Good Friday.

A nurse drapes a damp towel over the woman’s eyes, shrouding her in a cool darkness. The husband sits at the bedside wringing one hand with the other. His cheeks cycle through shades of crimson as the pendulum of memory swings toward him, bringing the inevitable with it.

We are able to calm the mother enough to begin the preparation for the procedure. She lets out a smoldering whimper.

Her husband drags his chair to her feet and lies over them, tears splattering on the sheets. Every time the OB/GYN has the ultrasound probe positioned over her womb, the woman slips the corner of her eye out from under the dark.

She sees the syringe and shakes her head violently with each no. After a steady exhale, the physician concedes that he needs her consent to move forward.

How can I say yes? she cries.

She doesn’t understand how she could have walked into the clinic full of life and how she would be devoid of it so soon after. It’s not that this child would have been her first — it was her first.

She tries to defer the consent to her husband, who is now grasping at her ankles begging her to please, please do it and not delay it anymore.

I watch the needle glide into the heart, a straight shot. Its rhythm slows until it stops.

The physician wipes the gel off her abdomen and pauses with his hand over the body — a final blessing. She knows it is done.

The husband stands up, dumbfounded with fistfuls of tissues. She reaches her arms out and asks, “Where is he?” Her husband strides toward her and buries his face in her neck, shielding her from the rest of the room.

We leave the parents behind, the clinic brightness pouring into the exam room.

You alright? The nurses check in on me and each other. I shrug my shoulders.

I trail the physician as he glances over the next patient’s chart. The couple emerges and shuffles past, the body a fleshy hearse in a funeral procession of two. I sidestep them and bow slightly, my thin fingers steepled against one another.

At home, I stand in the doorway to my room, the navy curtains eyelids that filter the unrelenting sun. Clutching my duvet, I slip under it. The darkness obscures; using only my eyes, I would be unable to tell if someone were next to me, or if the amorphous obsidian I am encased in stretches to infinity.

I pull my knees up to my chest and wrap my limbs into a comfortable tangle. Heat emanates from my core, languidly cradling my head in its arms. I bury my face into the softness of my love’s scent, faint but present on the pillow next to mine.

My heart has never beat so loudly.

Aleksandra Bacewicz Aleksandra Bacewicz (5 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine


I am currently a fourth year medical student in the SELECT Program at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. With a background in Spanish Literature and Public Health, I am interested in the intersection of medicine and the humanities. I have a particular interest in the understanding of disease through the lens of psychosocial issues, the correctional healthcare system, and underserved populations. I am passionate about observing and writing about medical culture, and how we, as patients and providers, experience it.