The Sweet Hereafter
written by Atom Egoyan, from a novel by Russell Banks
Mitchell: I woke to the sound of Zoe's breathing. It was laboured. I looked over and noticed she was sweating and all swollen. I grabbed her, rushed to the kitchen, and splashed water on her face.
Alison: What happened?
Mitchell: I didn't know. I was in a panic. I guessed she'd been bitten by an insect, but there was no doctor. The nearest hospital was forty miles away, and Zoe was continuing to swell. Klara took her in her arms and tried to breast-feed her, while I dialed the hospital. I finally got a doctor on the line. He sounded young, but cool. He was confident, but there was a nervousness. He had been an intern. This was the first time he ever had to deal with anything like this. He wanted to seem like he knew what he was doing, but he was just as scared as I was.He surmised that there was a nest of baby black widow spiders in the mattress. He told me they had to be babies, or else with Zoe's weight she'd be dead. He told me I had to rush her to the hospital. He was alone. There was no ambulance available. 'Now you listen', he said, 'There's a good chance you can get her to me before her throat closes, but the important thing is to keep her calm.' He asked if there was one of us she was more relaxed with than the other. I said, 'Yes, with me.' Which was true enough, especially at that moment. Klara was wild-eyed with fear, and her fear was contagious. I was a better actor than she was, that's all. Zoe loved us equally then. Just like she hates us both equally now.
The doctor told me that I should hold her in my lap, and let Klara drive to the hospital. He asked me to bring a small, sharp knife. It had to be clean. There was no time to sterilize properly. He explained how to perform an emergency tracheotomy. How to cut into my daughter's throat and windpipe without causing her to bleed to death. He told me there'd be a lot of blood. I said I didn't think I could do it. 'If her throat closes up and stops her breathing, you'll have to, Mr. Stephens. You'll have a minute and a half, two minutes maybe, and she'll probably be you can keep her calm and relaxed, if you don't let her little heart beat too fast and spread the poison around, then you might just make it over here first. You get going now', and he hung up.
It was an unforgettable drive. I was divided into two people. One part of me was Daddy, singing a lullaby to his little girl. The other part was a surgeon, ready to cut into her throat. I waited for the second that Zoe's breath stopped to make that incision.
Alison: What happened?
Mitchell: Nothing. We made it to the hospital. I didn't have to go as far as I was prepared to. But I was prepared to go all the way.
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