Four o’clock in the morning when I wake after 6½ hours of sound sleep. My new roommate, recovering from back surgery, apparently has slept soundly, too. It is silent here on wherever I am in Crouse Hospital. The nurses’ station is right outside the door but they seem to have mastered the art of keeping quiet.
I lay here in the silent darkness and feel death in me. Is it waiting just around the corner? Today? Tonight? It’s all over. Not now, not yet. One more day; I just want one more day. I am so wise and wonderful, so prepared. We talk about Hospice and palliative care and nursing homes. I wonder if it’s time to shut down my Time Warner account at my apartment. I pleasantly explain to the psychologist and palliative care guy and people who doubt my wisdom in seeking a nursing home.
I explain that I have been estranged from my family for ten years; that I haven’t seen my two oldest friends in nearly a year; that I am living in federally segregated housing and only see old, sick people day after day, year after year; that my mind is no longer clear enough to do my advocacy work; that I have multiple illnesses that cannot be treated; that I am virtually bed ridden; that there’s nothing left for me but death, and that God loves me and will welcome me.
But right here, right now, at four o’clock in the dark night, I only want to beg, “One more day; not now; not yet.”
“I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid. ”
I sit up and blow my nose, call the nurse to empty the catheter bag, go to the bathroom. Back in bed, I turn on the computer, listen to the rhythmic whatever of my roommate’s some-machine, hear the tick-tock of the wall clock—honestly, there is a clock ticking in my hospital room. Who has ticking clocks anymore? I wonder if they put it there for comfort.
The sky lightens, roomie wakes and asks for pain meds. A 12-year-old has pled innocent to killing his 8-year-old sister; a 20-year-old has “accidentally” killed a 15-year-old with whom he wanted to have sex, and the President is explaining—so his wife won’t get mad at him—how he came to have lipstick on his collar. I wrap consciousness tightly around me like a favored robe, and go on.
Two nights ago, I had terrible pain in my left chest and wondered “Is it now? Is this it?” I lived with that pain for a few minutes, then turned on my right side and it went away. Cardiac arrest or a bit of gas? You never know. My glucose is astronomically high and my kidneys are failing. I could live like this for years—or I could have a fatal stroke or heart attack right now. What is God’s plan, and don’t I wish I knew?
Yesterday I had three naps. In the evening, I got in my electric wheelchair and left my room for the first time in a week. I wheeled slowly around the sixth floor, which I am told has 82 beds. Wow, humdinger. That’s a heck of a lot of sick people. What strikes me most is the absence of “don’ts.” At St. Joseph’s, the walls seemed to be covered with notices telling you what not to do; “no” and “do not” were their favorite words. Here at Crouse, the closest they come to telling you what not to do are three-inch red STOP signs, warning you not to enter a certain room without mask, gown and gloves. Other than that, the signs and notices are benign. A plaque advises that the floor was donated by Carrier employees. I wonder who donated the walls and ceiling.
At St. Joe’s the first thing you saw every day—and all day—was a sign across from the foot of the bed telling you that you had to check out by 11:00 a.m. How incredibly inhospitable. Here at Crouse, the only notice—and it’s a small one—tells you your room and telephone numbers.
So I wheeled around for a while, then got on the elevator and went downstairs to the gift shop, where I saw many amazing things (an origami pig?), and then wheeled outside for five minutes. The air was sweet and warm, and I gave a few seconds thought to going home—I only live three blocks away and have traveled many miles in my wheelchair—but I was tired and came back to my room and bed.
Huh. An hour sitting upright in an electric wheelchair and I’m tired. Huh, huh, huh.
On my journey around the floor, I passed the nurses’ station and my doctor. If you are in the hospital then you are deemed to be so sick that some doctor must see you every day. Dr. Eric hasn’t officially seen me yet so he comes out into the hall and applies his stethoscope to various parts of my body. We say a few brief things about the discharge plan, which is not his business. He says I don’t need him; I say I need him to sign papers; he says, “Eh,” and walks away.
Dr. Eric was born and trained in Moscow. You are unlikely to ever hear an American-born doctor say that he is unnecessary. Foreign-born physicians are about 60% more humble than their American colleagues. I need the aides and nurses who bathe me, turn me, comfort me but, in the end, doctors are useless. I ask a nurse where the lounge is. Dr. Eric stands up and says, “I will show you.” He walks slowly to keep pace with my wheelchair. We travel together to the end of the hallway.
Now sunrise is opening a new day. “What will this day be like, I wonder? The captain has seven children—what’s so fearful about that . . .”