The following is dedicated to one tough cat. Florida Bobcat. He will track you.
THE CAVES OF THE MOON
Series of Shorts
The nurse called out a name. It wasn’t me or my wife, so I ignored her incessant name calling.
She went to the fellow wringing his hat between his chapped, hard working hands and she said, “Don’t look so worried! She’s awake, and she’s waiting for you in Recovery. Just follow me, sir.”
I looked at the huge widescreen going to waste up high on the wall. All black with white numbers like at the tracks, but in reverse.
Anonymous numbers with states of existence in terse descriptions after them.
“PT in Recovery.”
It was like that online tracker for delivery pizza.
“Gary is placing your order in the fires of Hell…”
“Chip is driving to your home with your order!”
“Don’t forget to tip Chip for doing his job and not crashing.”
The only number on that screen that mattered in the whole world was still labeled “Surgery Start.”
Numbers came and went, but her number had been there for 90 minutes now.
Maybe it was broken? Just my luck. My wife was all ready to go home, but the tracker was frozen for only her number.
Of course that was it.
Had to be.
Nothing to describe her state of being between start and recovery.
There was no “She’s doing quite well,” or “Surgeon fist bumps anesthesiologist,” or “Now he’s stitching her up with his gang tag.”
Another name was called, and then one of those tall Smurfs with blood speckled across his front walked over to a lady in a corner and he spoke to her in quiet tones and then she screamed out “No” over and over again as the rest of us felt our skin crawl and our wet eyes looked for a magazine or something to distract us.
Her number lost...
Inside, we felt guilty: Not mine.
It was like a lottery up on that board, but the worst one ever invented.
They had the numbers board down pat, but they had the payoff all messed up.
- - - - - - - -
“Yes, thank you for showing up with that! You are so kind and prompt, and it’s only been six hours since the last one and I appreciate that you took the time to connect me up. It feels much better, you can’t imagine how much better, so nice, like walking on a Sunday boardwalk with all the shiny smiling faces…”
CRazy SuE spoke like a newspaper reporter in one of those old black and white movies they showed on the television dangling off the arm that was bolted into the wall near each bed.
The arm holding the white cube with the tiny screen looked like a spindly penis with a large drop hanging off its tip that shimmered with old Hollywood images.
“Listen, you, I want this on the front page, see?”
My wife turned her head from looking over at the curtain hiding the babbling woman in our double room, and she smiled at me.
Two and a half hours under the knife, and then almost going home, and then finding out that two and a half hours meant staying the night because of her ensuing pain, which I would not be able to handle, and then her tears began to appear…
…I’d never seen that look in her eyes before, even in childbirth.
She had been looking for me to save her from that pain.
I’d been thinking, hoping, that “Out Patient” had meant something else.
That look in her eye…
They had that whole “Out Patient” thing all wrong.
This new look in her eye was much better.
= = = = = = =
We'd checked in at 5:30 am, and we waited for her number to be called.
While we watched the early morning news on a wide screen, her hand began to tighten in mine, and when I looked over at her, she was staring at the wall.
Her brow furrowed, and her breath became short and shallow.
I leaned over into her field of vision and said, “Hello.”
She looked from the wall into my eyes, and her breath and eyes did not ease up.
She was there, but she wasn’t here.
I told her, “Breathe. Take deep breaths.” Then I would breathe along with her, and she came back to me, to us, each time this happened.
“I’m so worried.” Her grip eased as she searched my eyes for answers.
“Baby, I ain’t going no where. I am not leaving this place without you.”
She said, “Where does my soul go when they put me under?”
I said, “Remember back when you had that carpal tunnel surgery?”
+ + + + + + +
We thought back to her lying on a gurney in a prep room, eight years ago. Surrounded by the team that would take her down, slice open her wrist, do their magic, and then bring her back up, they asked me to leave.
They were about to pump a shot of CuLater into her arm I.V.
I said, “Wait, I want to see this.”
I knew my wife.
They said ok, and then they told her to count back from ten.
She looked up into my eyes from beneath her furrowed brow and she whispered.
I smiled at her.
Her eyes looked deep into mine for answers.
Then she said, “Whoa.”
She smiled, and she closed her eyes.
+ + + + + + +
“So?” Her fingers laced through mine.
I shrugged. “You remembered the last thing before they gave you that shot. And then, the next thing you knew, you were waking up.”
She nodded. “Yeah, it was like only a moment had passed.”
I gripped her hand firm. “This will be the same way. I figure you just skip ahead. You will wake up, and I’ll be here again. Game over.”
She nodded. Her breath eased up.
And then her number was called.
- - - - - - -
My son touched my arm and I opened my eyes and pulled my headphones off with my right hand.
He said, “How she doing?”
I looked at her, and pulled my left hand out of hers. “They just gave her more I.V. meds. She’s better now. It was kinda rough for a while. Thanks for coming by, son.”
He lifted up a chair and quietly set that heavy thing down beside me. The TV dangling from its arm/penis silently flashed loud celebrity gossip “news”.
We spoke in quiet tones about things that are important to sons and fathers.
She awoke to the sound of her son’s voice and croaked, “I’m thirsty.”
Then I watched my boy tend to his mother.
After she was done sipping water through a bendy straw, and her forehead had a damp washcloth on it, he put his own headphones over her ears and played her some native tunes from his minuscule Ipod. Her head began to nod to the beat.
When she began to sing, he took out his phone and videoed her while we giggled, trying not to disturb her, or stop her from our enjoyment.
She looked over at us and frowned, and he whipped his phone down to his side, and we looked up at the ceiling: stolid, impassive Indians.
She was not fooled.
But her eyes closed, and she nodded her head again to the beat, and her brow relaxed, and she began to sing again.
That was when CRazy SuE began to moan. Her morphine must have stopped dripping.
She clicked and moaned into the bed phone, “Yes, hello, I would like to have some more please.”
A voice coming out of a soup can responded, “Ok, you are ready for a new bag. We will get the keys and someone will be there shortly.”
My boy looked at me with his eyebrows raised.
I shrugged. “I heard that she has pancreatitis.”
We both weren’t sure what exactly that meant, so he Googled it on his phone.
It didn’t look good for CRazy SuE.
She continued to moan, and after what seemed like five thousand and eighty six minutes but was more likely to have been twenty two, a male voice answered her pleas to Jeebus as he came through the door behind the curtain.
“Hi there, Sue. I have your meds.”
“Oh, thank you for showing up and helping me out with my pain. Gobless you.”
There were some clinking and clacking sounds and keys jangling, and then he said, “OK, I have you set on a slower drip. This will carry you through the night.”
“I thank you, young man. Is there something you can do for my headache?”
His response was, “Well, your med I.V. was dripping fast, so you might be a bit dehydrated. You need to drink more water. As far as a pill, your liver won’t process anything anymore, so the best we can do is offer you an analgesic suppository.”
She sighed as the meds entered her bloodstream. “Ok, I’ll take whatever I can get for it. You know, I've often thought fondly about you Kevin, and your dreams of operating your own candy store, why back in the day, I had visited many of them and I found that---”
He interrupted her. “I’ll have to check to see if you have a script for the analgesic. I’ll be right back.”
Now, before you think of that Seinfeld episode when George is watching a woman get a sponge bath via the shadow play on the curtain, it wasn’t anything like that.
Very old, ill woman getting a pill shoved up her arse isn’t all that shexy.
But when it happened, she muttered, “That’s nice.”
Thank goodness my son didn’t have his phone recording.
That would have been very bad.
We just stared quietly at each other, certain that we were going to hell.
After a while, my son pulled out a bit of sage and he lit it, and we smudged his mother, and ourselves, and offered a prayer to the lady with the drip and the pill up her butt.
We talked quietly some more, and that was when CRazy SuE began to cough.
She said, “Excuse me terribly, but do you young fellows smell something burning? Is there a fire? Is the Hostibal burning?”
I said, “No, we just did a smudging ceremony. No fire.”
“Oh, I understand. You folks are those native types. OK, I was certain that the whole place was going to burn down, that’s all. I meant no discouragement to your people for your religious beliefs.”
At that moment, a nurse came into the room and asked Sue if she was smoking a clove cigarette.
“No, my dear, I don’t want to risk that again. I think it was those fellows over there. You know, I've often thought about becoming an Indian. I have some crystals and a feather, if only I knew how to---”
The night nurse interrupted her. “Ok, Sue, sorry to intrude. Hello over there, can I come through?”
I said, “Sure come on in.”
She did and asked, “Are you guys burning something in here? We can smell it all through the nurses station out there.”
It was like the boss pit.
I said, “We burned a little bit of sage. Nothing more.”
She fake smiled and said, “I love the smell of sage! Ok, but next time, could you tell us first please? Give us a heads up? There’s oxygen on this floor…”
Of course. While oxygen was hopefully available on every floor, as well as anywhere else someone might enjoy breathing, she meant that it was concentrated here, and it could be end up becoming quite an explosive situation.
“No worries. We done with that.” No one was using pure oxygen in this room.
She smiled and nodded, “Ok, good. Thank you.”
She disappeared, and then so did Sue.
We could hear her out there. “I need a nebyoulizer. I’m all caught up in my lungs from that stuff…”
Sue said, “I’m going to catch my breath in the solarium.” She was talking about the waiting area. It was a room with tables and chairs and its own wide screen on the wall.
There was some more chatter out there, and the nurse came back in. “Excuse me sirs, but how much longer are you going to be in here? Visiting hours ended at eight o’clock.”
I said, “The day nurse assured me that I could spend the night here beside my wife, because you folks encourage that sort of thing.”
She frowned. “Someone misinformed you. What was their name?”
Yeah, make me a snitch. I could see where this was going. I said, “Jen. She’s the one with the really strong back.”
“Well, I’m sorry to say, but you have only another five minutes. Sorry about this.”
Yeah, right. I figured I had more time than that on this mortal plane.
We opened the window that would not raise up all that much, to air it out. There really wasn’t all that much smoke, you know, but we were cool about it.
By the way, why don't hotel and hospital windows open all the way? Not enough for a human head to poke out. Were they worried that someone might walk out on the ledge?
So I packed up, and my wife asked what was going on. “I have to leave this room.”
She looked worried in spite of the pain meds. “Why?”
I shrugged. “You just remember, I am not going home without you. I’ll see you in a couple of hours. I’m gonna go find a place to wait until they let me back to see you.”
She grabbed my arm and pulled me close to give her a kiss.
Sue came back in the room at that moment, all sniffling and coughing, really working it, and she lied down in bed behind her curtain.
My son and I walked by and I said out loud, “Jeez, they kicking us out all over again.”
Son looked at me and he could barely keep from giggling.
+ + + + + + +
We found the solarium, where the sun had open access throughout the day. I claimed this as my bedroom. I pulled the huge shade over to block out the night, but it only went half way across.
I put my laptop bag down and we sat in the easy chairs away from the round table. More celebrity news was flickering on the wide screen in the dark corner where I would make my bed on chairs.
We talked some more, laughing about the evening’s events, making jokes and such.
At around 1:30, he said it was time for him to drive home. “You really gonna stay here tonight?”
I nodded. “I promised her.”
My bed was only ten miles away, but it would be a thousand if I left her alone.
A pact is a pact.
He smiled. We said our goodbyes, and I nestled down in one of the easy chairs. It was not a Laz-E Boy, so I placed a folding chair under my legs.
Then my son came back in with two pillows and a white cotton blanket.
“Hey, where did you get those?”
He pointed back out the door behind him with his lips. “I asked them. They always happy to give an Injun some blankets.”
We laughed about that, and said good night again. He shut off the lights on his way out.
I made my bed, and I wondered about some homeless man coming in to steal my shit while I slept, so I hid it under the table on the other side of my low, sloping seat and plugged in my phone with the extension cord I always have in my laptop bag.
I set my phone’s alarm clock for six a.m., and overslept until 8.
In the middle of the night, I woke up often, adjusting on the seats that were made for sitting but not for sleeping, and when I did, I would sneak down the hall and check to see if the light outside of my wife’s room was blinking.
Those night nurses had better not treat my wife badly and leave her alone in her pain. They better help her get up to use the restroom.
Towards morning, I opened my eyes when I felt someone staring at me in the dark.
A pale figure stood there, with white hair hanging down across its shoulders.
Then it slid away sideways and disappeared.
My skin crawled.
How many people had died on this floor? In this whole building?
Wasn’t there a morgue way down below?
Who was down there now, wanting to awaken and return to this mortal plane?
I could not sleep again at all, and then I woke up late.
+ + + + + + +
Yes, the morning sun blared into the solarium like the screech of feedback from an electric guitar with an amp full of lovely tubes.
I panicked. Was she still alive? Who had helped her to the bathroom? Were they mean to her?
I scrambled up and collected all of my shit and crammed it into the laptop bag.
I stalked down the corridor to get my wife.
It was time to get the fuck out of Dodge.
Before I reached her room, I woke more and thought about how I would greet her. Flowers? Balloons?
Why not some coffee and a nice breakfast sammich? I had found out the day before that the cafeteria cooked pretty damn good food.
So I went that route.
When I came into her room, she looked me up and down, and noticed the wrinkled clothing I had slept in, which I had been wearing the day before.
+ + + + + + +
She indeed felt much better, and thought that we could make a go of it back at home. Fuck yeah.
I told her about my sleeping situation and how I'd worried about some freak stealing my shit.
That was when Sue spoke up. “You know, I went walking about the floor last night, and I saw a homeless man camping out in the solarium! I got the heck out of there!”
My wife said, “That was my husband! He was sleeping there after he got kicked out of here.”
We all three laughed.
Then Sue talked about how sorry she was for causing a stink about our smoke from the night before.
She apologized. It made things better between us.
Then she told us her own story, and while she did, she was interrupted.
Someone down the hall outside of our shared room had been shouting all along, and then they screamed, “Help Me!”
They shouted it over and over again.
I looked at my wife just as I was about to get up and go help them, and she shook her head.
“That girl has been screaming for help all night long.”
Sue said from behind her curtain, “I think this is where they take those folks who are on the Bath Salts. They take them here and strap them down.”
Out of their mind.
Hopefully, it would be temporary for that poor girl.
Here, on this certain floor of the huge Medical Center where you might find a room if you needed one all of a sudden, when your half hour surgery turned into two and a half hours and you would not be able to make it at home without medical expertise nor pain management,
or you were at the end of your health insurance and life and needed to save money,
or if you had no health insurance, but you had bought some cheap drugs and overdosed on them and this hospital had the moral obligation to help you out,
Well, it was like a friggin fruit salad on that floor.
And yet, it was also an oasis.
Sue asked if we would mind if we parted the curtain.
After all, we had the window, and she had the only curtain.
We said yes.
Outside, the wind blew the snow sideways, and Sue said that she thought it was pretty. Then she wondered about her grandkids who would be driving up from the coast to visit her.
We were struck by how old she was. She had the sort of face that revealed many stories and also a life of hard living.
“I’ll be 53 in a few months. I hope I live to see it.”
My wife and I looked at each other. That woman looked to be about eighty.
After the doctor came and assessed my wife and told her she was good to go home, and then the day nurse came in and went over our home care papers, it was a few more hours before we would leave, due to the paperwork that needed to be transcripted.
Sue had many things to say.
We didn’t know why she felt the need to unload.
Then again, perhaps we did.
You see, I had seen the look of helplessness in my wife’s eyes, and I never wanted to be helpless again, for her.
Here was this old-looking lady who spoke gibberish when she was on her morphine drip, and she became lucid again when she was off, before the pain would begin all over again.
Then there was the young lady down the hall who was restrained in her bed, but not in her speech. She was out of her mind, and would be like that for a day or two more.
When she finally regained her sanity, she would have no recollection of her words nor her actions.
Where do we go when our mind is gone?
Do we simply skip forward to the next time we are awake again?
What if we didn’t wake up?
Oh well. Who knows?
Only thing I could think about was the talks I had with those who mattered to me.
I would carry those with me and skip forward to the next time I could do it all over again.
That's how it works, right?
God Help You.
God Help Us All.