Blog Post, via my notebook 4 days ago:
I'm writing this on a flight to Salt Lake City. I left Seattle a week ago and now I'm coming back. When I left, I wasn't sure if I was going to end up going to my dad's funeral. I also wasn't sure of the weather in Ohio in October. I packed a light, black sweater just in case.
Here are some things they don't tell about going to see your dad in the hospital:
-The ICU is really nice.There's free coffee from an instant machine. You can choose regular, decaff, espresso or hot chocolate. More than anything, you just appreciate the presence of this machine. It seems a very thoughtful gesture.
- The people who've been waiting on loved ones in the ICU know the score.In your head, you call them The Professionals. The first Professional you meet is a calm and pleasant 11 year old girl who quietly and cheerfully occupies herself all day long in the adjacent waiting room. Why isn't she in school? It must be a pretty bad situation that she's here all day, out of school for...how long? But her behavior never betrays concern. She is a Professional. The first time she helps you is when you're just trying to get through the damn door into the ICU from the waiting room."Just push it," she says. You try again and fail. "No, don't turn the handle. You just push it, " she says helpfully. Somehow this simple act has you confounded. You have not flown across country for this; you have not come here to be outsmarted by a door. "I'll help you!," she says in a way that somehow doesn't make you feel entirely functionally retarded. With the measured patience and professional smile of a stewardess, she puts down her copy of Breaking Dawn and with one efficient heave of her pre-pubescent hip accomplished what you cannot. "There ya go!," says the tiny boatman as she helps you wade into to the beeping, pinging, metallic Styx of the ICU.
-You may develop a crush on your dad's doctor.He is only about five years older than you and not your type at all. Not in the real world, at least. In this weird, adult alternate reality, there is something comely about his Dockers and stories of playing football at Ohio State. There are two main reasons you like him. One is that he will not laugh at your father's jokes, which secretly pleases you a great deal. You are tired of these jokes and hearing them retold for each new day's RN or Respiratory Tech, whose names become an endless blur erased and rewritten each shift change on the white board.* You wish instead of telling jokes, your dad would say "I'm scared." That would certainly cut to the chase.
-But the other reason you have a crush on him is the fact that he oozes competence. In this surreal cluster fuck of a situation, competence is rare. All day long at your job you have to be competent. You have to be competent when you are filling out your mom's Medicaid paperwork or when you are talking to the hospital's discharge counselor who met your dad last week when they had to bring your mom here. What a colossal fucking mess. You want someone else to be competent for awhile and to make decisions and to be authoritative. You want the doctor to notice you and appreciate you. This situation may be fucked up, but you are not a fuck up you would like him to please note. To wit, you do not ask stupid questions. You maintain eye contact when he says things that are difficult for daughters to hear. You let your mind wander and imagine maybe your competence is a siren song to him; so much easier to deal with than the other family who have been crying over the tiny form in the bed in the room next door for three days.He is discussing your dad's new "manual soft" diet plan to prevent choking. You imagine your even gaze tells him everything he needs to know. He catches your eye. He is tired of acting competent all the time, too. There is a weird, primal part of you that wants to cope with all this death and near-death by doing it with this doctor. But it's not even about him. You just desire an infusion of competence.
*Also written on a corner of the white board and never erased during your time there is a tiny cross with three simulated beams of light drawn from it at 45 degree angles. You wonder why it's never erased. You start to harbor fears it is Secret Code for the RN's and that the numbers of Jesus rays emanating from it somehow denote the difficulty level of the patient. If five Jesus rays represented the most intense patients (assessed using a numerical system not unlike the Thai restaurant 5 star spiciness system), you feel like three Jesus rays seems just about right for your dad, who is never rude but certainly far from easy to work with.