Man on a Wire

A 5-year-old girl rolls into the pediatric intensive care unit with a subarachnoid hemorrhage. She was playing with her brothers on the swings outside this afternoon, developed a severe headache, and collapsed on her front lawn. Before today, she was the picture of life: vibrant, healthy, young. Now her eyelids, fingers, and toes are painfully swollen from the fluid accumulating in her body. She breathes on a ventilator. She does not awaken. Deep in a coma, she waits for us to bring her back. Standing at the side of her bed, we rack our brains and wonder if it is possible.

Illness does not discriminate. Instead, it strikes as lightning does – a random, focused beam of electrons that swoops down into this world to take those it will. It does not avoid or target anyone in particular – and yet, the casualties abound. A 25-year-old with a heart attack. A 28-year-old with a carotid dissection. A 21-year-old hit by a bus. And then there is a juxtaposition to these casualties – Mr. Philippe Petit, man on a wire, who walked – danced, really – on a wire between the twin towers in 1974 for all to see.

Our lives are not unlike Philippe Petit’s walk. The only difference is that, if that wire is life, then we walk it until we fall – and, inevitably, each one of us will fall. Philippe Petit did not. I often wonder what it would feel like to wake up one morning and be on that wire, balancing in the wind on a thread thinner than a finger’s breadth. The intensive care unit is another kind of wire – a live wire, strung from one room to the next, from one beating heart to another, until the moment when one decides to stop…

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