After eight long days in the ICU, days that included an excruciating extraction of his oxygen tube from his throat, grasping to remember his name, the president’s name and mine, the doctors agreed to transfer him to a regular room. However, when the medical staff says move, they don’t actually mean it. “Move” is code for “prepare for an unfulfilled expectation.”
Teams of orderlies had to be placed on reserve, much like medication, liquid food, or a lab procedure. As a part of hospital protocol, a regular room also had to be requested on the floor where cancer patients were treated. So, again, we waited. Chad, severely weakened, barely with the strength to move his head, drifted into and out of sleep.
To pass my time, and with some effort, I tried to read the new “Time” magazine. It was a special issue commemorating American history, featuring Benjamin Franklin on the cover, (a step in the right direction from the crap I usually consumed). My comprehension skills limited, I looked at the pictures, and read the captions.
After an anxious five or six hours, my husband finally moved into his new room. Promptly a nurse’s aide came in with a bottle of something brown in her gloved hands. Heavy set, tattooed, and very young, she cheerfully announced Chad’s bath time. Now I wasn’t sure what I expected, but in one casual, shocking motion she unsnapped his gown and there he lay, naked, emaciated, emasculated and thankfully unaware of his condition. Jesus taken from the cross. Horror, shock, embarrassment, pick a word, froze me in place. Callously robbing him of his modesty felt too much. My poor Chad was too weakened for the embarrassment I felt for us both.
A regular in the hospital now, my face became familiar to the nurse’s station and cafeteria. The halls antiseptically bare did feature artwork from former cancer patients. I noticed underneath the framed pieces were the names of the artists, and their death dates. I shuttered each time I walked by. Another source of anguish came from watching other patients creeping along the halls, getting out of their rooms, ambulatory. Chad’s door had caution signs saying wash your hands, wear gloves and a mask. Another notice stated “Fall Risk.”
Daily, the medical staff quizzed him with questions such as, “do you know where you are?” He often answered, “Miami.” He warmly told his oncologist that he could come along fishing on Biscayne Bay with him and his son. Studying the nightmare from my front row seat I repeatedly despaired, “we’re never getting out of here.” When the room finally emptied, I would try to explain to him that he lay in a hospital bed in Boise, to which he’d yell “knock that off Gail! My son will be here soon.”