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A Final Gift by Linda


Brian sighed as he threw his bag on the sterile hospital bed. "Home, sweet home, at least for a while." He thought. His parents, Jackie and Harold entered the room behind him. "Brian, the nurse gave me this gown for you to put on." Jackie said as she crossed the room to where Brian was staring out the window. When Brian didn't respond, she just wrapped her arms around him and laid her chin on his shoulder. "It's going to be alright, you know that don't you? God has kept you safe so far, and I have a peace about this operation. This will repair the hole in your heart once and for all." "I know Mom," Brian replied, turning from the window. "I do too. It's just that.......what if I can't perform anymore? I love being a Backstreet Boy, and making all of the fans happy. What if that's all taken away from me? I don't think that I could handle that."

As Brian and his parents got him settled, they were overheard by the man in the room across the hall. George Neubauer laid motionless on the hospital bed, surrounded by machines and tubes. His heart attack had come first, then a stroke. Now, he was in a semi-catatonic state, unable to communicate other than blinking his eyes, or occasional squeezing a hand. He spent most of the day alone, as he had no family. All he had were his Luciano Pavarotti cds, which the nurses played for him throughout the day. Before his stroke, while he was recuperating from the heart attack, he had mentioned that Pavarotti was his favorite performer. After his stroke, the nurses thought that maybe the music would soothe his soul, and aid in his recovery. Although he could not speak, or move, he could hear and think. When he listened to him perform as Rodolfo in Puccini's "Boheme" his eyes would dance with excitement. It was a small gift, but one that brought joy in the old man's suffering.

George listened as Brian and his parents got him settled into his hospital room. He had heard many people come and go in the months since his heart attack and subsequent stroke. He was drawn to the young man across the hall though. Maybe it was because he reminded George of himself, growing up in Frankfurt, Germany. He had longed to be an opera singer, and he practiced and practiced. Then, his family was forced to move to the United States to escape Hitler's regime. George's dream was dashed as the 19 year old man was now required to work to help support his 8 younger brothers and sisters.

Visiting hours were over all too soon, and Brian's parents had to leave for the night. They would be back in the morning when Brian was scheduled for surgery. Soon, the ward was quiet, as the patients settled in for another night. George was awakened around midnight by the soft, tenor voice singing quietly across the hall. After a few hymns, the singer sang a few more modern numbers, and then fell silent. George found himself disappointed when the singing stopped, he had enjoyed the surprise performance. Then he saw a light brown head peek out from the doorway. It looked to the right, and then to the left. The young man started to sneak down the hall when he saw the older man watching him. "Hey there." Brian whispered. When the man didn't respond, Brian moved towards the doorway to his room. He saw all of the tubes and machines, and surmised that the man was unable to speak. "Don't tell anyone that I'm awake ok?" he said with a smile. The man blinked, and then the corners of his mouth turned slightly upwards. Brian sensed that the man was lonely, and sat down in the chair next to the bed. Unlike his room, there were no flowers or balloons, or even get-well cards. It seemed like the man had been there for a while, yet he seemed to be forgotten by the outside world. Brian's heart reached out to the old man, and he forgot about his plans to roam the halls. Instead, he made himself comfortable in the stiff chair. "Is it ok if I sit and talk to you for a while?" he asked. The man just looked back. "Ok, I'll take that as a yes. Oh, I see your cds, do you like music? Opera, huh? I don't know much about opera, but I like most other kinds of music. I'm a singer in a band, we're called the Backstreet Boys. I guess you probably haven't heard of us."

As Brian continued to talk to George, the nurses that passed by the room stopped and listened. George had been a special favorite in the ward, and they were a little protective of him. They soon saw that Brian meant no harm. George had a light shining in his eyes that had been absent for a long time, so they left him alone with the young man.

Brian soon grew tired of talking, and began to sing again, holding George's hand. As he began to sing, he was surprised by the flexing of the wrinkled hand in his own. The old man pressed as hard as he could, and Brian responded by singing every hymn he could think of. The man watched him intently, listening to every word. They spent a few hours like that, until the nurse on duty finally came to get Brian back to sleep. "Mr. Littrell, I'm sorry to interupt you, but it's getting late. You need to get some rest before your surgery tomorrow." "Ok, ok, I guess I have to go.....um......" "George" the nurse supplied, making a few marks on George's chart. "George. Thanks for listening. I love to sing, I haven't sung some of those songs for years. It brought back a lot of good memories." Brian squeezed the man's hand, and then laid it gently back on the bed. As he left the room, a solitary tear fell from the man's eye. It had been a long time since someone had held his hand, other than to check his pulse. It felt nice to have some human contact for even a short while.

A few minutes later, the familiar head slowly appeared from the doorway across the hall. When he saw the coast was clear, Brian tiptoed back over to George. "Hi again. I just can't sleep, there's no point in even trying. Can I just sit with you for a while?" Brian whispered. He sat back down in the chair, picking up George's hand in his own. He didn't say anything for the longest time, they just sat there not saying anything, with the beeping of machines the only noise. Then Brian turned to George, tears streaming down his cheeks. "I'm just scared, you know? This operation, I need it, but what if I don't wake up? I don't want to leave my family, they are everything to me. My fame is cool, but all I really want to do is just sing. And now I've got this whole career and stuff, and now it could all be over. I just don't think that I can handle this."

He bent his head over and laid his forehead on the edge of the bed. With a burst of strength, George lifted his other hand and shakily placed it on Brian's head. Brian could feel the warmth radiating from the older man and it was comforting. Both men eventually fell asleep, staying like that for the rest of the night.

When Brian awoke the next morning, he was a little unsure of where he was at. Then he remembered all of the feelings and emotion of the previous night. Sitting up, he noticed that George was still resting comfortably. He stood to leave the room, and then turned around. He bent down to give George a hug. "Thanks George, I needed a friend last night."

Brian made it back into his room without anyone seeing him, and he settled himself in the bed. He had just closed his eyes when he heard the nurse walk in briskly. "Mr. Littrell, time to get up. We need to take some preparatory tests, and then you will have a chance to visit with your parents a little bit before we take you upstairs to surgery." The next few minutes were hectic, as the nurse poked Brian several times to get the required amount of blood, took his blood pressure, and pulse. Then he was able to recline back on the bed as the nurse left to take the blood to be analyzed. Jackie, Harold and Harold Jr. came in shortly after the nurse left. There were some tears shed as none of them were sure of the outcome of the delicate heart operation. Then Brian was wheeled out of the room. The orderly paused for a moment to adjust the IV, and Brian's eyes locked with George's. The elderly man raised his hand slightly off the bed, in an attempt to wave. Brian waved back, and then they were off down the hall to the operating room.

Brian made it through the surgery, and stayed in the recovery room for a few hours before being moved back to his private room across from George. Brian had not regained consciousness, which was not abnormal. Brian's family left to grab a quick bite to eat, as they had not left Brian's side since he had come out of surgery. The hallway settled down once again, and for the most part things were quiet.

George had spent a lot of time thinking about the young man. How Brian had sung to him, and talked to him. It meant so much to George. Since he had no family, his only company was the stream of nurses coming in and out. But, they never stayed to talk to him, other than to ask him how he was feeling. Brian made him feel alive again, like he was more than just a human shell on the bed. As George laid there, he was startled by the loud emergency bell sounding. Brian's heart monitor was registering a flat line; his heart had stopped. As the nurses and doctors raced to Brian's room, George's heart cried out. "Please Lord, don't let him die! He is so young, and has so much to give. I'm old, and I've lived a good life. I'm no good to anyone in this bed, but he can still make a difference in this world. Let me die, but please let him live!"

After those thoughts, George heard Brian's monitor start once again, without assistance from the staff assembled. He relaxed against the pillow, closed his eyes, and passed from this world, knowing that he had been able to help the young man who had shown him so much kindness.



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