Don't let them do it," my Uncle Eddie begged, clutching my arm. "I'd rather die than be trapped in a wheelchair!"
"You'll get an artificial leg, and with some therapy you'll be able to walk again, maybe even dance a jig or two," I told him gently, covering his hand with mine. "There's no other choice."
"I'm too old to adjust," he insisted. "Please, Jacquelyn." He pinned me with those deep-blue Irish eyes that had watched over me through my turbulent teenage years. My dad, his brother, died when I was 11, and Uncle Eddie had given up his easygoing bachelor life to be a father figure to me. Could I deny him now?
Just an hour later I sat in a conference room opposite his doctor. A consent form lay between us.
"You're his only blood relative and we need your signature. He'll die if we don't take the leg."
I can't do this, I thought. I was only 21; married and expecting my first child. It should have been a joyous time, but my uncle developed gangrene in both legs, a complication from diabetes. The doctor said one leg had to be amputated from the knee down. To make matters worse, Uncle Eddie had suffered a stroke, leaving him too disoriented to make the decision himself.
Yet in a moment of coherence, he had made his wishes clear. Now I had to decide what was best for him as he had always done for me. I couldn't imagine life without him, but if I. truly loved him, how could I sentence him to a life he insisted he could not bear?
"Help me, God. I don't know what to do," I whispered as the door shut. "You must sign the form," said a voice from behind me. "It's the right thing to do." I turned to find a young nurse standing there. I hadn't heard her come in. "Your uncle will survive the surgery. He'll adjust."
"You don't know Uncle Eddie...." I shook my head, sighing.
"I do know him," she said, "and his stubbornness will be his greatest asset during recovery." I found myself staring intently into her eyes. Her absolute certainty silenced my doubts. I signed the form.
When I looked up, the nurse had left. I gave the form to the receptionist and asked which way the nurse had gone.
"No one left or entered the room besides the doctor and you," she said.
"You must have seen her," I insisted. "A young Asian woman?"
"No, I'm sure there's no one by that description working here."
I knew what I had seen. And I also knew I had made the right choice; my uncle came to realize that too. He lived three more happy years, taking walks daily and playing with his new grandniece. I smile when I think of him decorating heaven with shamrocks for Saint Patrick's Day and dancing a lively Irish jig with a certain young nurse who helped me make the hardest decision of my life.