Monday, June 10, 2013
I was in Temple Hospital for seven days with Don. The doctors thought he'd had a heart attack. I can't begin to tell you what this feels like. Don is a real trooper. We've been doing cardiac checks every six months for 30 years. There have been minor procedures and one open heart surgery. But this time, it was too close for comfort. In all those prior times, I was a partner, a cohort, a lover and wife. We made the decisions together. We reviewed stuff, talked it over and then carefully chose our path. This time was different. When the call came that he had to go the hospital NOW, I was frightened. I drove like an idiot to get him, and flew to the hospital, laws and lights be damned. And when we got there, Don was the star and I was directed to the cheap seats. I was in the room, I heard the doctors, I watched what they did. But I was invisible.Welcome to Dante's first level of hell, I thought.
Purgatory sounds like mechanical things. There's the soft beep of the monitors. The rattle of carts and gurneys. The squeak of wheels and the sound of beds rising and falling. This orchestral composition is enhanced by the smells. Alcohol dominates, with notes of copper and musk, linen and body effluvia. It's not pleasant. It's boring, monotonous and scary. People looked at me but didn't see me. They moved around me like I wasn't present. I was a ghost in the corner, painfully watching the man I love be poked, stabbed and prodded repeatedly. I was unable to aid or help or fix anything. I tucked in the sheet corners, re-arranged the food tray and straightened his slippers for the hundredth time. I felt worthless.
Then came the Greek chorus of "what can go wrong" - the dangers, the infections, the possibilities of everything bad in a hospital. Sign here to absolve us of any blame. See, we told you so. Like a drama played out on a personal scale, the imminent disasters feel much more real than the final solutions and the promise of health ever after. This must be the second level of Dante's Inferno.
And just when you think it can't get any worse, the doctors all decide to keep checking things. One more test. One more invasion of your body - for your own good. And I am in pain just watching this. The surgeon tells us unemotionally that Don needs a new heart valve. It's open heart surgery. But then this test says no, it's an Echocardiogram but first let's do a cardiac catheter. Nope, wrong, now it's an ICD inplant. I vomit quietly in the john, so as not to scare Don. Welcome to level three of the Inferno.
But then - there's this moment. A roommate is brought in to keep us company in our pain. A small brown man with a limp. Mr. Ray. A big smile with no teeth. And stories galore of a life lived to the fullest with drama and laughter - a cook from the south, who came north to raise a family and is now rich with children and grandchildren. A reminder that there is something worth reaching for. Mr. Ray natters on until dusk. I feel lighter. Or just light headed from no sleep or food.
Chelsea calls me to ask how I am doing. Connie checks on me and demands that I eat. I had forgotten until she said something. I descend to the cafe to get a coffee and salad. I even eat it. I am feeling more solid. Notes and flowers come for Don; phone calls to check on me. I am real again. Don smiles at me, the nurses acknowledge me. I am no longer invisible. I have returned from the Inferno intact.
The road back is long, but Mr. Ray keeps laughing from the other bed, reminding me that being happy is more important than being sad. I squeeze his toe when we leave. He laughs and says thank you. I hug Miss Emma, the nurse, who squeezes me back. Legba is standing outside, an old black man with a cane. He tips his hat at me and I smile in return. I get the car, collect my Beloved and head home up Broad Street. It's been a long trip, but we are going home together. That's all that matters now.
Legba, Legba, Legba. Mesi anpil Papa Legba for helping me find the road again. Ayibobo.