Sometimes when the phone rings late at night, the thought flashes through the mind of Beryl Poore that her son, Jim, is calling. Just as quickly she realizes it couldn't be he.
But after hundreds, perhaps thousands of such calls, the reflex remains. Even after 14 months."Jim, wake up! There's a friend here to see you."
Mrs. Poore, 75, lifts and pats her son's listless arm. She doesn't know if he can hear her, but with more arm movement and gentle cajolery Jim opens his eyes.
"Some days he looks like he's going to start talking. Other days he's just a blank," says Merrill Poore, Jim's 77-year-old father, a retired Greyhound driver.
Today is one of those "other" days, and Jim's eyes soon flutter shut.
Although he technically is comatose and hasn't spoken since emergency surgery following a brain hemorrhage on Christmas Eve, 1987, his watchers know Jim has been having more blank days of late.
A few weeks ago, a case of the flu became pneumonia and Jim was returned in critical condition to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. That's where the popular sports columnist for The Idaho Statesman had spent nearly three months of postoperative convalescence, attracting more well-wishers than hospital officials have ever seen for one patient.
"I had hopes when they were giving him physical therapy, but it seems this last sickness has taken a toll on him. Even the nurses feel there's been a change in him," his mother says.
Merrill and Beryl Poore aren't the sort to complain. They are, as she puts it, "taking one day at a time." The couple has not exhausted all hope their son eventually will regain consciousness but have been told by Jim's doctors that if he did, he probably would not be the same man as before.
"When you don't see any response - if he would squeeze your hand or show some recognition, then we would have some hope," Mrs. Poore says.
The bout with pneumonia, Jim's second, forced his parents to confront a question they speak about only reluctantly, concerned they will be misunderstood:
What measures should be taken to keep alive a man who, active for 42 of his 43 years, never would have tolerated living as he does now?
"He swelled up terribly and almost died," Mrs. Poore said of her son's allergic reaction to pneumonia-fighting antibiotics. "They had a respirator ready to go in case he stopped breathing, but we said no way. No way."
Their answer is partly shaped by the rock-ribbed religious faith that brought the couple together a decade after they attended the same high school in Grand Island, Neb.
"I think it's in the Lord's hands and we're going to let nature take its course," says Mrs. Poore, a Methodist who believes that after death she will again see the bright, fun-loving son she raised.
On July 22 the Poores will celebrate their golden wedding anniversary. If Jim's condition is unchanged, the day will pass like most others - activities with other seniors and friends before a mid-afternoon visit to the Grand Oaks nursing home.
They usually stay 2 1/2 hours, believing Jim needs them more now than before. Besides, he is their son, they love him and there is duty there.
"Are you going to sleep all day? There's someone here to see you, Jim."
Mrs. Poore's tone is as sunny as the three-bed room where Jim is the sole occupant. Familiar objects are scattered about, including a pair of Dallas Cowboys posters, the patient's favorite NFL team.
If Boise State is playing a football game on the radio, they'll tune it in for Jim, who covered Idaho athletic contests for 20 years at the Statesman and bought his parents season tickets.
"It's been a real strain on them," says Richard Poore, Jim's younger brother. "Nothing of Jim lying here in bed reminds us of Jim as he was."
A bachelor married to his work, Jim Poore was a 6-foot-3, 315-pound dynamo with no time for doctors or worries about high blood pressure. He could hit a golf ball or softball out of sight and seemed to have impressed everyone he ever met, given the widespread outpouring of sympathy. True, he was well-known, but his parents have learned it went deeper than that.
Friends from his Boise youth are frequent visitors and have, through countless stories, given Merrill and Beryl a much fuller portrait of their son.
"I guess that's what kept us going - seeing friends of Jim's we'd never met before," says Mrs. Poore.
She was moved, too, by the newspaper staff's compilation in book form of the best of Jim's more than 2,000 sports columns, all the proceeds to go toward his care. The Poores have turned down other fund-raising suggestions, saying that with insurance and disability Jim is "able to take care of himself."
If Jim survives his parents, his brother and older sister, Roberta Semerta, are prepared to assume responsibility. But added to the uncertainty of his condition is the possibility - common to comatose patients - that pneumonia or a kidney infection could take him at any time.
So for now, Merrill and Beryl make no plans that might disturb their tenuous link to their son.
"I feel that everything works for the good of Jim. This was just meant to be," she says. "I try not to let this get me down. It's awfully hard."