Dispatches from the ICU
It’s been a long, long, long week. Everyone’s exhausted. I am coping in the ways that I know how, by trying to find the humor and taking notes.
Dad has had a string of incoherent days and downright bad nights, struggling to breathe, battling demons (his words) as powerful drugs work their way into and out of his system and, in general, fuck with him. He has been confused, weaving between moments of lucidity and absurdity – ICU Head, they call it, and the nighttime diagnosis: Sundowners – which basically means all hell breaks loose when it gets dark. All bets are off. It’s evidently a common occurrence in the ICU, but it’s disturbing to witness nonetheless. Two nights ago I helped him breathe through a thirty minute panic attack and then rushed home to a bottle of Napa Pinot that I knew was waiting faithfully. That night he had six breathing treatments and ended up back on the respirator.
Two days ago he was totally out of his mind, ranting and rambling about strange shit. He thought my mom was his fraternity house mother. He also knew I’d been walking the halls and called me over to his bedside to let me know he knew there was cake out there somewhere and I should bring him some the next time I was out. Later we went on an hallucinogenic odyssey to find a fork.
He became more lucid throughout the day, and by yesterday he started looking more like himself. And sounding more like himself. He sat up in a chair most of the day yesterday, watching the golf channel through heavy eyes that whimsically opened and closed like a porcelain baby doll’s. When I was there in the late afternoon I tried to keep him engaged so he would be tired when bedtime came. I asked him lots of questions, firing them off at random, hoping the mental stimulation would be taxing: what time does the grocery store close; tell me about the giant spider that’s built a web on the back porch; how many players to a team during the Ryder Cup; what in the hell is the Ryder Cup? That sort of thing. At some point I ran out of questions to ask and started telling him about all the people who had either dropped by the hospital to see him or who had called or sent messages. I named names, to gauge his reaction. He seemed to know who they were, and then he said, with slurred speech but making sense, “There are some really nice people in this world.” “And we are fortunate to know a lot of them,” I replied. His feet were reclined and his hands, still trailing lines and tubes and stuck with IVs and a pulse-ox monitor, rested in his lap. He wore his glasses and his nasal oxygen, and he had his head laid back against a pillow with his eyes closed. I wondered if he had fallen asleep when he said, groggily, “We know a lot of dickheads, too.”
He had a good night last night. He’s getting better …