For about four hours today, I felt like I had my brain back again. I woke early – around 4:30 a.m. – and couldn’t get more than 45 minutes or an hour of sleep at a time after that, without waking up again for 15 minutes or half an hour. I gave up around 8, took the dogs for a walk and then headed to the hospital. All the time, I felt like I was functioning on some sort of auto-pilot that featured a 1970s-era feedback mechanism – my brain just felt like it was buzzing back into my eardrums, like Peter Frampton on his vo-coder.
Then I got to Dad’s room in the hospital, and the buzzing cleared. Dad was sitting up in his chair – sure, he was in a hospital gown with ties up the side, but he was sitting up straight, much more with it than he’d been at 3 p.m. the day before, and he was bitching about the coffee. This was Dad, again.
I pulled my laptop out of my backpack and plugged myself in. As Fox News aired its images of Haiti’s earthquake devastation in the background, I actually was able to get work done for the first time in four days. The hospital has great WiFi, and I didn’t feel like I needed to be watching Dad’s every cheek twitch. I could breathe again. In… Out… In… Out… In… Out… I told him a joke I had grazed off of Facebook (So, did you hear they picked up the Ever-ready Bunny? … They charged him with battery ). He absolutely roared.
But, still, he had a chronic nosebleed the entire time. The nurses were convinced it was the oxygen tubes, and they added a little humidifier cartridge to the oxygen output. He started nodding a bit during lunch – but, you know, they had woken him up at 3:45 a.m., and he said he really didn’t get much sleep after that, until he got up around 8 a.m. They wheeled him off for an E.E.G. around 2, to ensure that yesterday’s incident hadn’t been a seizure, and I headed home.
I found I actually was able to do work at home, at least for an hour, until my lack of sleep over the last few days forced me to close the laptop, close my eyes and just give up cares for awhile. “He’s going to rehab tomorrow,” I thought. “I know how this works – he’ll be home in a week or two, as big a pain in the ass as ever.” In the meantime, I could enjoy the house as though it were mine, alone, again, but knowing that he was in good hands.
I called the nursing station at 6 p.m., before the afternoon nurse clocked out, and she said all was fine. But when I called Dad’s room, I began to grow concerned. That slurry speech was back, along with a certain delay in response.
“How are you feeling?” I asked. “You’re sounding a little off.”
“Well, I guess I’m feeling a little confused.”
“Confused? What does that mean to you?”
“I guess I’m feeling depressed about Hait-eye.”
My father has not been depressed more than an hour and twenty-three minutes at a time in his entire life, even after three failed marriages, countless unpaid bills and the previous decade’s-worth of health problems.
I suggested he change the channel. After all, since he had control of the remote, why not indulge in an hour of Two and a Half Men – I always insisted on the news in that time slot. He chuckled – “yeah, that’s what I did last night.”
We signed off, and I sipped my gimlet with a certain echoing buzz at the back of my neck. “Deep breaths,” I said to myself. “Deep breaths.”
Two hours later the phone rings. It’s Dad. It seems like he doesn’t remember he’d only just talked to me at 6. After a minute or so, I told him I was calling the nurse. When I checked in with her – she’d just taken over from the afternoon on-duty and didn’t know Dad – she said she’d just been in and he’d been fine. He’d just said he was feeling a bit discouraged.
Outtake: Hospital personnel determine a patient’s cogency with the same four questions: What’s your name? Do you know where you are? Do you know what day it is? Can you tell me the year? If you nail those four questions, it’s like getting straight A’s. Those four questions, however, show no sensitivity to individual characteristics. My father sold custom manufacturing equipment for 40 years, through at least 3 recessions. At age 78 or so, he got a job selling suits at the local mall’s JC Penney. If all is right with the world, this inveterate flirt would never tell a woman he’s just met that he’s feeling discouraged. He could have his right foot caught in a lawn mower and his hair on fire, and he’d turn the question right around: “So how are you feeling, you pretty thing?” he’d say. If he’s telling a complete stranger – a female stranger, no less – that he was feeling discouraged, something had to be up. And I told the nurse so.
To her credit, the nurse responded. She promised to get the blood pressure and sugar checked, and to pass my concerns on to the nurse who’d be relieving her in the morning. And I’m sure he’ll be well cared-for in the hospital. My big fear relates to tomorrow: the plan is for him to be transported to a non-medical, physical-rehab facility. I just dread him getting there, and then have to be transported back to the hospital 5 hours later, because his blood pressure’s dropped without the aid of bolstering fluids.
All the sudden, the decent night’s sleep I’d been looking forward to this afternoon – after five or six night’s of restless, half-awake dozing – seemed to vanish in the mist. I’ve got a major assignment I’ll already have to work through the weekend to finish, even without trips to the hospital and/or rehab facility. To say I’m working on my last nerve is to over-state that final surviving synapsis’s resilience. It’s only been since Wednesday – two days ago – that he’s been in the hospital, but the downward spiral began almost two weeks ago, and the brain I’d just begun to feel comfortable with, again, is beginning to both shut down and send off fireworks, at the same time.
It ain’t over, ’til it’s over, a famous Yankees player once said. And, for better or worse, it ain’t over yet.