(You can read part IV here)
Featured photo: author’s incision as of this writing.
Dedication for this essay goes to SOFREP sister Ms. Rita Malone Paul.
I surmised, with not too much effort, that the number of times I attempted to unhook from my life support systems to venture off on a more meaningful existence led to the following: a pair of technicians came in one day wheeling a tripod with a six-foot pole in the center, on top of which was mounted an IP camera and speaker.
“Sir, if you don’t mind, we are testing out a new camera system and would like to use you as a subject. If you need anything just talk out loud and the camera will hear you. It is being monitored remotely from another room.”
“Sounds legit; test away,” I invited without much thought.
By and by the nose piece from which I inhaled oxygen became uncomfortable so I pulled it out to give my nose a rest. There promptly came a disembodied voice that beckoned:
“Sir, you need to replace your oxygen nose piece,” the voice came from the speaker mounted with the IP camera.
“Oh really … really I need to replace my nose piece? Well go phuq yourself; I didn’t mean to subscribe to some Big Brother bullshit,” and I offered the digital camera the digital epithet. In there stepped a stately nurse not long thereafter:
“Is there a problem?” he asked in earnest
“No, no … I have no problem at all, but you might want to check with Houston Control, they seem to have a problem with my nose.” The nurse glanced at the pole cam and left the room. He was replaced by the arrival of the husband and wife team of dumb and dumber, who introduced themselves as physical and occupational therapists.
In their fawning and obsequious manner, they directed me to sit up with my legs dangling from the side of my bed and lift my legs up ten times each. Then I was to raise my arms up one at a time and reach, reach, REACH for the sky! This too I did ten times with each arm.
“You should do this at least three times throughout the day,” came the recommendation.
“Okay, well … I’ll go as far up to the number ten as I can, until muscle failure at least,” I promised, and the couple bid me Adieu. “Gosh,” I thought, “I’ll just go ahead and feel the burn and do all three sets right now and get it over with!” I decided, marveling at my own economy of motion.
I lifted a leg and raised an arm at the same time to the count of ten, then began on the other side when I heard it:
“Sir, you need to sit back and calm down; stop moving around,” came the booming voice from the pole cam.
By God, that is the end of the IP camera on a pole. I did NOT subscribe to this bullshit! I worked my way to the foot of my bed, leaned out and reached for the tripod, shoving it hard to the side so that it tipped over and crashed to the floor.
In stepped the stately nurse and then another. “What is going on in here? What’s the problem?”
“Yeah, your peeping tom cam is unstable and tipped over. It’s just as well because I want it the hell out of my room right now.”
Judging by the nurse’s actions, which was to pick up the crash-cam and leave the room, I must have had my mean face on when I made that last declaration. I nodded to sleep and, thanks to the pole cam, I had a rash of troubling dreams about pole cams that were as vivacious as my other episodes while in a coma. The experience with the team of therapists also set off some reprehensible dreams that I cannot convey.
Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December when I awoke after a procedure for which I was restricted to no oral fluid intake for five full days. I was mad with thirst and had turned into a real terror for the crave of fluid. I was awakened by an orderly who bid me to sit up and have a meal, which was placed on a tray in front of me.
I looked at the trayed array before me … and immediately raked all foodstuff that was not liquid to the side. I had a popsicle which I unwrapped and dropped into my cup of ice water. There were tea and beef broth that I kept. Jello was good to go and there was juice as well. All non-liquids could go phuq themselves.
I treated all my meals this way for three entire days. At the end of the third day, I felt my distended belly, full of every measure of liquid. It hurt and I felt the slightest nausea … and I looked up and realized that I … was no longer … THIRSTY! And a grand epiphany ’twas. I began to show an interest in food, not for the sake of appetite, but for that of satisfying the staff that I was healthy enough to leave the hospital.
I was assigned to the hospice ward, as I was not expected to survive. “Oh ye of little faith,” is all I could respond to that. It was a blessing of sorts to be there. It was quiet enough, I mean everyone was about to die, so … “To be here and not dying has got to have its advantage … think man, think!”
Oh, and I didn’t have to lock up any valuables because nobody was wandering around trying to steal. I mean if they did steal something from me, what the hell would they do with it? Plus when they passed I could just go retrieve my possessions.
There were several cases of folks wandering in my room trying to chat me up, thinking I was someone else. I just made the best of it trying my damnedest to be that other person just to see how far I could get.
The First Daughter, in keeping with her extraordinary self, was once again my saving grace. She came to see me every day, sometimes twice a day, and always with a grandiose meal from in town. Yea, tho she tried her darndest to appeal to my appetite … I just had the worst one ever.
Residents from adjacent rooms could smell the Panda Express orange chicken emanating from my dwelling, and were so inclined as to poke their heads in my door:
“Hey, what the hell are you eating? Is that what they are serving in the cafeteria?!”
“Dream on, Porky Pig … you wanna eat like this you gotta have one of these,” gesturing to the immanent First Daughter.
“Awww … come on — how about just a bite, neighbor?”
“How about I Gerber slap you and you get the hell out of here?”
And so it went.
Beyond the usual health minutia, the hospital levied a (what I deem) ridiculous physical therapy goal expectation. I went to therapy every day, sometimes twice a day to do leg lifts and stretch rubber bands. I would dive through the therapy hoops if it meant getting out of the hospital. I could stretch rubber bands with the best of them.
The oddest block check was the shower block. I had to prove that I could take a shower by myself before I could leave. Hey, by this time nothing you could throw at me would stir me in the slightest.
So there we were, just the two of us, me and a female nurse alone in the bathroom as she watched me take a shower. I didn’t want to appear ingenuous … so I silently relented. Still, as I toweled off I posed the question:
“Pray tell, would that you could allow me to ask: if YOU were a patient here and I was a nurse, would I be watching you take a shower, or does the hospital draw the line at that Goddamned preposterous notion? I think the last time men were able to watch women take shower was Birkenau Poland in WWII.”
The nurse, who was not even a nurse, rather one of my physical therapists (I don’t know if that makes the scenario even more asinine or not), just looked at me flustered and finally responded:
“Just forget it, Lady … I have to go number two now. You’re welcome to come with …” And I left the shower room without drying off.
I’m put in mind of an exchange between George C. Scott and Faye Dunaway in the movie Oklahoma Crude:
Lena (Fay Dunaway): “Aren’t you going to dry off?”
Mase (George C. Scott): “I’m dry.”
Lena: “It ain’t that easy for a woman in this world.”
Mase: “It ain’t all that great for a man either, let me tell you.”
I just hope she secretly filmed the whole shower and is showing it at a bachelorette party somewhere.
Then came the day for my physical therapy “final exam”; to pass it meant I was okay to leave the hospital. That would be peachy from my perspective. I was ready and bit-chomping to get that exam over with if that was the only thing standing between me and my shower at home with no chick standing there watching me.
In the gym, I did my leg lifts and stretched the dog $hite out of those rubber bands. Yeah, I would make sure there was no question that I was physically a safe bet to depart the premises. Then came test that, as the therapist explained, required me to curl a ten-pound barbel:
“Lift it as many times as you can,” she said.
“Well okay, but I hope you packed a lunch,” I bragged.
I started to curl on her cue, taking my time to pace myself for a long haul. Rather suddenly and to my surprise, she told me to stop.
“You did 16 repetitions in 30 seconds. That is about average for your age group.”
“Oh wait now … you never said there was a time limit. That is a game changer, sis. Let’s do this again!” And I took the test again with both arms.
“My Lord,” she exclaimed, “you did 36 with the right arm and 35 with the left … that is completely off the grading scale!”
“But for my age group, right?” I added with a wink.
That done, First Daughter approached the senior social worker in charge of my case to set a date for departure. She came back in a bit of a rage, indicating that now the staff was concerned that my wound wouldn’t get the proper care and I would need to stay another week.
I don’t know who was more pissed off, Daughter or me. Well, yeah I do know; it was definitely me that was far more pissed off. But First Daughter had set a time for a meeting with the entire board involved with my case, and it would be at 4:30 that afternoon. The board convened with eight members, First Daughter and me. I leaned back in my chair, glaring at the board across the table and over the top of my hands clasped with interlaced fingers.
What a motley crew they were, the board. I could have gone to the line outside the city courthouse and picked a more conducive-looking group:
“What are you in line for, sir?”
“Court date: indecent exposure, lewd and lascivious acts in public with a mannequin …”
“Hey, come with me, sir; I got a position on a board you can fill!”
The board convened with the senior mouthpiece giving a depressingly long-winded version of why the board wanted to keep me in the hospice at least another week. When it came to our turn, First Daughter did all the talking and I did all the glaring, and a fine job I did I might add.
First Daughter was succinct. She called bull$hite on everything they said and told them why, then she told them point-blank that if I were not released the very next day, we would walk out of the hospice and default on our six-figure bill. I was at least horrified, but she looked at me and shrugged, so I shrugged back and resumed my glare operations.
It was at that moment that each member of the board passed their lungs through their noses, which flopped onto the table and gasped for air.
As First Daughter wheeled me back to my room, I asked her if she had been bluffing the board. She responded that no she had not actually been bluffing, but that she was confident that there was no way the board would stand up against a threat to default on a six-figure bill … and she was correct; I was scheduled to leave the next day.
The lesson we take away from that day is not: “never mess with a Delta man,” rather: “never mess with the First Daughter of a Delta man.”
Back Home Again
Back home a day from the hospital, I was beguiled that the First Daughter had taken to spruce my room with a pair of whisper-thin veils over my single window. Wraith and delicate they are, nearly invisible at that. The slightest breeze lifts them up and away from the pane. So light, those, that I imagine them never settling still other than in deep night.
The breeze continues; it never seems to stop despite the weather.
My single window; though I can see the trace of the veils still, I cannot see them at all in a photo.
The following days clued me that there was never any breeze, as my window remains shut from the elements. The veils continue to waft nonetheless. I reached to touch them one day but there was no touch between my fingers. I nodded smugly as a man “in the know” — that the curtains all this time are an illusion.
And they put me in mind of an Andrew Wyeth painting: Wind from the Sea.
Together with several others objects in the house that were vestige remnants of my coma-induced dreamscape, they were another thing in the house I intentionally ignored lest their “presence” agitate and disturb me. One by one they began to desist; the veils remain, though they have faded considerably.
I came to not mind them at all really, often pausing from toil at my desk to watch the wisp at the window, slowly breezing up and out in a slow-motion flutter. There is peace there in that motion. There is a calm they bring after a torrential tempest that threatened my sanity. “This too shall pass,” they murmur as they arc outward on the shoulder of amicable breeze.
They too will be gone completely in time, and maybe I’ll even miss them, those parting veils of dreamscape. They may be back again one day on the tail of a maelstrom, one that I loathe to experience again, though the creator directs it.
This too shall pass.
It is astonishing to me that after all these days, and upon very close inspection, there are the tiniest rows of white blossoms along the very bottom edge of each veil. How I never noticed them prior confounds me … likely it is due to the manner that I have turned my attention to them now rather than to shun them like other troublesome apparitions.
These whisper-thin veils with these tiny white flowers are no trouble, none at all. Any day the breeze will lift them high, higher still until they kiss the face of God, and all the tiny white blossoms will float back to Earth in these, the Winter months of my most immemorial year.
I do only suppose that this is how Baby’s Breath blooms…
By God and with honor,