Dispatches from the ICU
My dad is in the cardiac intensive care unit following two heart attacks and a triple bypass. The first heart attack was mild and, they say, with time and healing the effects of the second heart attack can be reversed. This is what they say, and yet there he lies – unconscious since he got out of surgery Friday afternoon. I arrived during surgery, so have not seen him awake, and that is the most difficult part: balancing what they say with what I see – listening to them explain that his heart needs to rest, that because he struggles so violently when they try to lift the sedation and because he needs to stay perfectly still as long as they keep a balloon in his heart to assist with the pumping and to take some of the strain off the new grafts, they want to keep him under for now. There is a definite logic to this that is – for those of us sitting next to him watching, staring, hoping, waiting – difficult to accept when what we want is to see him open his eyes, smile, and crack a joke. Before he was taken to surgery a nurse was accidentally pricked by a needle that had just been used on Dad. Codes were called, more blood was drawn, tests were run, and eventually everything was all clear. Dad told her later that he didn’t have anything she needed to worry about catching. “Except there is one thing,” he said, and she turned to look at him. “It’s highly likely that, in November, you’re going to experience an incredible urge to go to deer camp.”
One morning when I lived in France, on a chilly Tuesday in October, I went out into the hall to the lift and there was an old man sitting on the stairs. Somewhat shamefully, at first I thought he was a vagrant and wondered how he had gotten into the courtyard – never stopping to consider how odd it would have been for him to have gotten inside and then climbed to the seventh floor to sit on my stoop. He looked disheveled and out of place, and I imagined (stupidly) that he might ask me for something. But he didn’t move. He just sat there while I waited for the elevator to arrive. Finally, I asked him in my broken French if he needed any help. He inclined his head slowly toward me and said something I did not understand. When I asked him to repeat it, he didn’t. Instead he shook his head back and forth and said, j’attends patiemment.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the old man on the stairs. Later I realized that what he told me at first was that he had locked himself out of his apartment and he was waiting for his wife to come home to let him back inside. He had tried to explain that to me, but when I couldn’t understand what he was saying, he made things simpler. J’attends patiemment, he abbreviated. I am waiting patiently.