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Adriel’s phone was set to ring one minute, or the equivalent of ten times, before kicking over to voice mail. He’d increased the setting over a year ago while still ambulatory in order to give him extra time to respond to incoming calls. The frustration he’d felt after struggling to make his body answer the phone only to have taken too long and for the device to have gone to the answering machine function was overcome with the extra “rings.” Of course with the progression of his ALS his phone could now ring like Anne Frank’s and he’d still never be able to answer it from his bed.

Having passed out from emotional exhaustion caused by his wife’s confession of an adulterous affair he wasn’t sure how long his phone had been ringing. The preference was for Gabrielle to answer all calls because his voder produced voice was disconcerting to all but close friends and his need to type all responses before activating the device created a time lag that was cumbersome. When the reality of the phone ringing hit him he subconsciously ignored it, secure in the knowledge that his wife would answer the call.

After a quarter minute the ringing stopped. It took the final three rings for the fact that it was Gabrielle’s ring tone that he had heard to enter his brain. ‘What the hell is going on?’ he thought. ‘How can she be calling me if she’s home? What does that even mean? Did she leave me a message that says, ‘I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!’?’

At this stage of physical deterioration all movement required monumental effort on his part. Getting out of bed unassisted was something he hadn’t been able to do in far too long and since even the simple task of breathing had become a chore all other effort was pipe dream.

He formed his wife’s name in his mouth, manipulating lips and tongue around the three syllables of Gabrielle. After performing this exercise twice he inhaled as deeply as he could and uttered, “Gahreehelle?” as forcefully as possible. There was no answering reply.

Wide awake now but still as perplexed as before he slowly inched his arm over to his wife’s side of the bed. Discovering nothing but empty bed beside him he longed to sit up, turn on a light, rise from his bed, search the house or even simply return her call but instead lay in impotent frustration. ‘No reason to panic. Maybe she went for a walk and butt-dialed me.’ The words rang hollow in his own head and brought him little relief and no satisfaction. ‘Come on, honey. Walk in here and tell me that you accidentally called.’

It is common for people to flop from one side of their body facing down to the other a dozen times during sleep. To keep him comfortable and prevent bed sores Gabrielle would physically turn her husband over in bed whenever she awoke enough to find that she had gone from sleeping on one side of her body to the other. This turning meant that at any given moment a clock may or may not be in Adriel’s line of sight. Tonight the law of averages was on his side. The clock was in his line of sight and he clearly read 1:21.