But there seemed to be no choice: His 32-year-old wife, beautiful, spirited and smart, would lie there among people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, all incapacitated in various ways, some unaware of where they were, or who.
"The organics," one doctor said.
Julia Tavalaro was admitted to Goldwater Hospital on Valentine's Day of 1967 or 1968. Records show both dates.
No one knows how long she was comatose. It might have been a year. Slowly, silently, she became aware of light. It was misty and blue-gray. She could see hills in the middle distance. They were tan, outlined in black and covered with zigzag lines. The lines were black and slippery.
She walked up the zigzag lines and slipped down. She climbed back up, then slipped farther down. She was awake but not awake. Everything was still. She could not taste or smell or hear anything, but she could feel herself walking up and sliding down, struggling back up and slipping farther down, until she was so far down that she could not climb back up again.
She grew frightened.
She felt movement. Someone was raising her head and her shoulders. Then she heard something.
"F---! Goddamnit." It was a woman. She was swearing like a sailor's parrot. The words sounded brutal against the silence. Julia was shocked.
Dread rose in her throat.
She started to cry. Then she summoned a scream. She could feel the scream inside her chest. It was loud and piercing.
But she could not hear it.
A thought crossed her mind. Maybe she was dead, and maybe she had gone to hell. Maybe the cursing was part of hell. She could hear other women and a man, but she could not understand anything that they were saying. This, too, she thought, must be what it is like in hell.
What would happen to her?
She had always imagined that hell was a dark place where people were tortured. What she feared most was the pain.
Her own screams fed her fear, especially the stubborn fact that she could not hear them. Her fear grew into hysteria, then anger. She did not pray. She was not, after all, in the habit of praying, but the cause was larger than that. God had abandoned her, and it made her furious.
If there was a God, she thought bitterly.
In her mind, she saw Judy. She could still hear her crying. She remembered her own headache. She recalled climbing the stairs, collapsing on the carpet. Why had Judy been crying? Did anyone help her? What was happening to her now? Julia's worries mounted. She could feel her own sobs, but she could not hear them. She could not feel any tears. She tried again to scream, but there was no sound. She thought she must be deaf. She tried to shout. Still there was no sound.
She heard a commotion, a clatter. She was afraid that the cursing might start again.
All at once, her vision returned; Julia could see. At the posterior portion of her pons, crucial to regaining consciousness, function was returning. Julia saw a woman. She was noticeably stout. She wore a white uniform and a white cap, and she looked like a nurse. She was pouring a gray liquid from a can into a container on a metal pole. The pouring was not going well, and she was irritated. She probably was the one who had been cursing.
From the container, the liquid went to a pump, which pushed it through a tube that looped down next to her bed. The tube went back up and across her sheets and into her nose.
Food, Julia thought.
She could feel something in her throat. Probably another tube, she thought. She could feel herself breathing through it.
Maybe she was not dead.
Maybe this was a hospital. She still thought that she might be in hell, but now she was not sure. If this was a hospital, why was she here?
She remembered deciding to get three aspirins, but she knew she had not done it. She had collapsed instead. Nonetheless, now her headache was gone.
She recalled feeling fur and the dog's cold, wet nose, but nothing afterward. No matter what had happened or where she was now, Julia wanted to go home. She called for her parents. Nothing.
Then, "George! Judy!"
Then she screamed their names.
Now, for the first time, she could hear her own sound. But it was not like anything she had ever heard before. She tried again. She formed each name perfectly in her mind. Then, one at a time, she screamed each name as loudly as she could. What came out was a whine, and the whine turned into a howl.
This terrified her most of all.
She was not deaf. She was not dead. But something was horribly wrong.
Her first instinct was to fight.
As a start, she wanted to kill the nurse. Part of it was frustration: Julia needed help, and the nurse was ignoring her. Another part of it was envy: If the only thing the nurse ever did was curse, at least she could talk. All Julia could do was whine and howl and move her eyes.