I got in the car and made the long drive north not sure what I’d see on the other end. It had been three days since they found my uncle unresponsive and in “code” which is medical jargon for in deep shit. I am the keeper of his medical papers, the one responsible for making sure his wishes are carried out. So I got in the car and drove. I arrived at the ICU and there he was with a machine breathing for him. He had one of those hospital sheets on and looked as comfortable as one can look with tubes in their nose and in their throat and in their arm. The beeps and buzzes and chimes all had a certain rhythm, a medical symphony of life saving stuff. This is where he ends up… a guy who worked for years as a medical professional… now putting his own hopes in medicine. I hung the kids’ get well cards in the room. I paced in circles a little looking at the flyers on the bulletin board. I’m not much for talking with people sedated in hospital beds. So I did the only thing I could think of. I pulled out my iPad and blasted some music for the guy. First the Police and then Neil Young and Chicago… the Classic 70’s Chicago not the sappy 80’s stuff. He seemed to tap his fingers along… or so I thought anyway.
One by one I met the medical team tasked with bringing my uncle back. Frank the respiratory therapist was perhaps most amazing. He told me how he too was on a ventilator once for three months and they didn’t think he’d make it but he did. Frank was in a motorcycle accident with his wife … run into a ditch in a road rage incident more than 20 years ago. His wife didn’t make it. But he did. And though the scars are still visible up and down his back and along his neck, he has gone on to heal so many others. Frank entered the medical profession because of that fateful day.
Frank explained everything from the anesthesia to the breathing problems. And he spoke from experience saying people really can hear you when they’re under sedation and in an altered state. And then he did something pretty amazing. He proceeded to get right in my uncle’s face -right up close- and yell “hey Reed, your nephew’s here… you have people that care about you here” and sure enough my uncle started to squirm in the bed and tried to give whatever glance he could. There was no question he was in there. Another nurse spoke with me at length. She had a very different opinion and said people don’t remember what happens under sedation. I like Frank’s answer better.
We went and looked at my uncle’s medical wishes. I brought the paperwork he entrusted me to hold and we looked at the hospital’s paperwork. You never want the paperwork but it’s there when you need it… A black and white reminder of what someone said they wanted at one time when they never knew they’d need it. But my uncle prepared some time ago just in case. Time will tell if we ever need them. I hope we don’t.
Tonight I’m crashing in a local motel to get some sleep and I’ll be happy to hit the road in the morning. 400 miles down today and another 400 to go on the return tomorrow. I miss my wife and my girls. There are still many unanswered questions about my uncle and what comes next but I know he is in good hands … and I think he knows people love him and are waiting for him when he wakes up.
Postscript: before returning to LA, I went to my uncle’s apartment and was let in by the apartment manager. I couldn’t find a list of phone numbers but we did the next best thing. We went through his phone and wrote down telephone numbers that he had called. I then cold called people and found some friends and was able to tell them about my uncle and where he is. They were grateful for the call and I was grateful too.