Ghost in the Halls
I roam hospital halls at night. The hectic energy of the day replaced by a void of quietude. I haunt the halls and play Chicken with the oncoming langoliers.
Even the ICU is calm and sedate. The moaners and the fearful attempting to find enough comfort to sleep between the prodding, poking, sticking and ceaseless ministrations of night nurses and doctors.
In the dilated emptiness of hospital halls after hours the rare nurse or doctor doesn’t see me. They avoid the space I occupy as if it were an uncomfortable cold spot. They look through me.
They know that anyone in the halls at that time of night is there to see someone so ill that the patient is allowed visits around the clock. So they don’t speak. They don’t make eye contact. They don’t acknowledge at all.
I’m sure that the expression on my face must be one of stern distraction and concentration, more so on the way out of the hospital than on the way in.
My father stared at me the other night. It was disconcerting. But he focused on me for a long time. That’s a good thing.
When I was researching ARDS and hypoxemia I read that people with brain injuries tend to become restless, agitated and sometimes even aggressive in the evening hours. No one knows why. (Or does someone? If you do, let me know.)
About two weeks ago I realized that after two weeks of visiting my father in ICU I hadn’t told him that I loved him. I realized it when I was driving back home to Virginia. It hit me viscerally. In all honesty I was afraid that my dad would die before I had a chance to tell him. He would tell me all the time. Every time he saw me. How could I forget something like that?
It’s uncomfortable talking to him. Full disclosure, I’ve been finding it more difficult to visit. It doesn’t get easier. And the guilt of not going as often as I had been — well, it’s like when you’re very late for a meeting and you think that it would be easier to just not go than to go and face the awkwardness and glares. But there are times when you can’t just do what you feel like doing. You have to do what you know is the right thing. For you and others.
It’s duty. And I want to spark neurons. To be a part of the puzzle of memory that brings together the gestalt.
When Leika was having trouble with arthritis and possible brain or spine tumors, a relative told me, “Just leave her alone.”
Meaning, let her go. Don’t put her through the discomfort and pain of procedures and operations. I heard a holistic radio show host say that it’s okay to be old. And that means — in my mind — that you accept all of the ailments that come with aging and the consequences of how you’ve lived your life. I figured that as long as Leika was looking for food, enjoyed going for walks even if that meant struggling to get up and down stairs, and enjoyed the company of others I would pull for her. Basically, as long as she kept trying and wasn’t in constant agony I’d do what I could to keep her going. Discomfort and pain are a part of life. They’re not bigger than life. Until they are.
Looking at my dad in the hospital, I’m sure he’s been going through a personal hell. I have no way of grasping the amount of pain, hallucinatory piecemeal consciousness and struggle he’s going through. Sometimes I worried that he’d give up. Or that he’d fight to yank the ventilator tube out of his throat.
Sometimes I worry that my visiting at night may seem like a dream to my father. It may not seem real when he wakes up in the morning, putting the pieces of consciousness together bit by bit. Byte by byte? Oddly enough, I feel like I don’t want to bother him. I mean, I want him to be able to rest. One more exhausting, trying vision.
When I went to the ER a few years ago I was in the hospital over night and the interruptions were constant. Tests, shots, blood drawing, nurses checking in, turning on those harsh fluorescent lights. By the time I left I had a severe headache, was dehydrated and exhausted. I drove home, popped a few aspirin and slept for twelve hours. Imagine being in a hospital for a month. A month of constant (life saving and life serving) interruptions, procedures and pain. I see why people give up.
Still, he’s much more comfortable now, I think. Having a tube down your throat breathing for you is uncomfortable at best. One of the nurses told me (that another nurse told her) that having your lungs suctioned through the ventilator tube feels like a knife being thrust down your throat. Multiple times, multiple times a day. Thankfully, the respirator tube goes directly into the larynx as opposed to through the mouth.
What a stubborn, resilient man. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the recovery, but he’s made it this far. I’m impressed.
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers and well-wishes.
Take care of yourselves, America. Everything you put into your body is a check you’re writing that will be cashed down the road.