Sunday, May 06, 2007

So Cold

My father’s condition is stable. Not good, just stable. All we can do now is wait for a change, whether it’s for better or worse. The doctor has told us it will more likely be for the worse. Either way, I’m keeping a bag packed, ready to leave for Dallas again at a moment’s notice.

During this time of waiting, I'm trying to live my life. I was able to do a little reading yesterday, for instance. But my mind kept wandering. Physically, I'm here in Austin, but mentally there's a part of me that's still in my father's hospital room. I keep seeing his face behind the oxygen mask, crying and telling us he was thirsty. We went in search of the nurse. She was nowhere to be found. Finally, after a couple of hours, she materialized at the nurses station. She was doing some paper work. When we told her my father was thirsty, she gave a lazy shrug and said there was nothing she could do. We persisted. Finally, she rolled her eyes and said maybe she could swab his mouth. Which she did, grudgingly, then promptly disappeared again.

That was the daytime nurse. When the nighttime nurse came on duty, I saw a marked contrast in how my father was treated. This nurse regularly swabbed his mouth, without being told to do so, and she moved him periodically to prevent bed sores. The other nurse never moved him once. All this the nighttime nurse did pleasantly, not with the sullen, soul-sister attitude of her daytime counterpart. We talked to her about that creature. She said there had been a lot of complaints about her, and she gave us the card of the person to complain to--the assistant chief nursing officer. So far, he has not returned my calls.

Since then, another negligent daytime nurse has come on the scene. This one failed to give my father his morphine. When my stepmother reminded her it was time, the nurse snapped at her and told her she didn't know what she was talking about. "He don't need his medication fo' five mo' hours." Shortly afterward, my sister and brother-in-law arrived and were able to track down someone in charge who confirmed that he was indeed due for his medication immediately.

So now I have another nurse to discuss with the assistant chief nursing officer--if he ever returns my calls. He should know that, the longer I have to wait to talk to him, the more unpleasant our conversation is likely to be. Also, he should be concerned, not relieved, when I stop leaving him voice mail messages, because that will mean I have gone over his head and am on a take-no-prisoners vendetta, with him on the top of the list.

But, perhaps I am not being fair. The majority of the nursing staff have been quite competent, and perhaps the assistant chief nursing officer has simply not had time to return my calls. Perhaps he has been on a four-day weekend, the same one the doctors have apparently been on. We have been waiting for days for a doctor to tell us something--anything, we're grownups, we can take it--but they seem to have gone missing. Maybe we should send a search party to the nearest golf course to try to find them.

I have a lot of anger these days. I try to keep it in check, but am not always successful. My sister called the night before last and I spewed a lot of venom. I was very bitter towards the nurses and doctors. A certain amount of displeasure and concern is appropriate, but I was over the top. I was seething with anger. Later I felt bad about making my sister listen to this rant and apologized to her. She said she understood. She said she's been channeling a lot of her grief through anger as well.

The anger is easy, you see. The grief hurts too much. With the anger, you've got a target, a punching bag. With the grief, it's just you by yourself. So you use anger to keep the grief at bay. Or you try other tactics--a book, a movie, work, whatever. But, still, somehow grief manages to find you and do its work. It hits you like a tidal wave. No, it's more like a wave of nausea. At first you try to ignore it, then you realize you can't. Then it builds and builds until finally it convulses you, wrenches you, rips you apart. You never knew you had so many tears. You think it will kill you, the grief. But it doesn't kill you, it just leaves you exhausted, spent, and numb. It leaves you, but you know it will be back.

I was lucky the other night, because I got to talk to my father while he was coherent. A few days before, I had prayed that I would at least be able to do that, and my prayer was answered, and it hurt, but not as much as it would have hurt if the prayer had not been answered.

It was difficult for my father to speak due to the oxygen mask, but he was able to convey that he understood what I was saying. Then I told him I loved him, and he said he loved me, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask, and he gripped my hand tighter. His hand was so cold …