This is another post from River of January, explaining the circumstances behind the work. For the next few weeks I plan on blogging portions from the manuscript that were edited out. The story behind the story simply made the book too long, but thoroughly describes the path to the book’s creation.
He had been unconscious for about seven hours when I returned to the hospital, in the early morning of a certain-to-be- hot day. By the time the elevator opened, emptied and refilled, I had time to note the nearest fire stairs. The ICU needed an express lift. Whispering footfalls down a sterile, light peach hall led to a set of double doors, electric, requiring all entrants to sanitize hands and don surgical masks. Just reaching his ward required countless consuming steps. At last, after a cursory discussion with the charge nurse, identifying myself, I was directed to a corner where my husband lay unconscious. Pulling aside turquoise drapery, there he lay, swollen and spent, punctured with countless tubes dropping from suspended clear bags, attached into numerous portals in his arms, abdomen, and chest. His delirium and thrashing in the night forced the graveyard shift to restrain his wrists in Velcro cuffs anchored to the bed railings. For the moment, his body lay motionless, comatose and unaware.
Attached to Chad’s lower torso, a catheter was inserted. And across his grossly distended lower abdomen a small red ring of turned out flesh with an opaque bag adhered around the opening, leading to a fatter tube fitted into a lunchbox-size canister positioned under the bed. That, I was told, collected feces from his large intestine.
His colon had ruptured the day before, and emergency surgery was crucial to save his life. Of course, the problems that brought us to this point had begun months before, on the other end of his body. Chad had been diagnosed with stage four Tonsil Cancer the previous April. Now an oxygen tube had been forced down that same raw throat, and something akin to a mini-power strip, called a ‘pick’ was inserted under his skin, between his heart and left collarbone. Another panel of ports was visible in his left inside elbow— I assumed to provide additional openings for more of the countless IV bags that crisscrossed his high narrow bed in a canopy of plastic. His arms, red and purple, gave evidence to the sub dermal pooling of blood from all the needle punctures through his paper thin skin. Red abrasions tracked down his bicep, the front of his forearm and onto his gauze covered left hand, trapped in Velcro; there were more tubes sprouting from an IV underneath the white dressing.
All of these lines connected to something, each anchored to a myriad of flashing, incessantly beeping monitors. His body seemed a human casino—one where no one wins. The multiple reading machines produced a frightening racket, betraying his dangerous condition. Loudly, the devices declared his pulse rate, heart beats, and the level of oxygen in his blood, with monotonous and relentless bursts. It didn’t help that the medical staff eyed those readings grimly as they routinely stopped and carefully charted the numbers.
Most vivid in my mind was the beading sweat dripping off of the harried ICU nurse, as he raced around the bed in tennis shoes, laboring to battle, and improve those noisy readings. Somehow I want to remember him wearing a sweat band around his head, like Andre Agassi wore, but that couldn’t have been the case. We were in a hospital. It also appeared that this nurse had no other patients that first morning, because apparently his only job was to try and keep my husband numbered among the living.
It was a disastrous ending to a horrible spring and summer. All I had left was grim resolve— there clearly would be no quick resolution to the calamity that had befallen us.