Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pushing Boulders

Dr. Stanovich called me at home the night after the surgery to tell me that John’s infection was an antibiotic resistant “Super Bug” called MRSA, which is most often acquire in a hospital setting. He sounded very doubtful that the infection could be overcome with drugs. As a bonus, it turns out that John contracted scabies at the nursing home, which, I was disgusted to learn, is not uncommon. Dr. Stanovich made it clear that the MRSA, the scabies and John’s escalating blood pressure all put him at very high risk of dying “on the table” during his future surgeries, which were necessary to close up the gaping hole in his arm.

I visited John the following day. There was a sign posted on his door warning of contagion and I was required to don a yellow paper gown and blue latex gloves before entering his room. When I walked in, John was muttering to himself. As was my usual routine, I pulled a chair near the bed, wheeled over his table, lowered it to desk level, and set up my laptop. I looked like a secretary at a hazmat site, but when John finally noticed me he just smiled and asked how much I thought the Yankees were paying Babe Ruth. I reminded him that I don’t know much about sports, so he furrowed his brow, turned his head, and drifted back to the 1930’s.

Throughout the week John’s health improved enough to schedule the next arm surgery. Killing two birds with one stone, they called in a vascular surgeon to place a catheter in John’s chest because the veins in his arms were collapsing from IV medications. I asked if that might create another pathway for infection. The answer was yes.

The night before the surgery, Trudy called me. Answering the phone when Trudy calls is new for me. Under normal circumstances, I would let her go to voicemail and only return the call if, and/or when, I am prepared for the onslaught of crazy. But now that Trudy isn’t speaking to either of her other children and my father is seriously ill, she’s got me where she wants me. On this occasion, Trudy called up crying because she felt so sorry for John. Fed up, I warned her that it was pretty creepy for her to keep telling everyone she feels “sorry for” her dying husband, and that she might do better to consider, “Oh my God, I love my husband, I’m so afraid he’ll die, I’m lost without him, whatever will I do…,” that sort of thing. I was also going to request that she stop saying John’s dementia is, “kinda cute,” but I didn’t feel like getting into it. I asked her if she would be at the hospital in the morning and that’s when she hung up.

Miraculously, Trudy did appear the next day. John slept while we stood by his bed waiting for the orderlies to arrive and cart him off to the OR. All of a sudden, a very small, elderly, Filipino nun wearing thick glasses shuffled into the room. Trudy was so pleased. This wouldn’t have been any fun for her at all had I not been there to watch.

To get the ball rolling, Trudy bestowed upon her the condescending smile she reserves for those who hold the false notion that they are deserving of her respect. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d leaned over and tickled that little nun under the chin. Next, Trudy sweetly asked her name. She replied softly, “I’m Sister Teresa.” Trudy then wanted to know if she was named after Mother Teresa. “I just love her.”

Trudy went on to describe John’s horrifying medical disintegration in detail, modestly tossing in her own Sisyphean efforts to save his life. She then paused dramatically, as if waiting for the nun’s words of wisdom. Sister Teresa spoke in very broken English. But that didn’t impede the speed or accuracy of her guilt delivery in the least. Shaking her tiny head she told us, “Many, many time I come. Here. To this room. He alone. All alone. No one here. The husband all alone. Nobody wife, no one here.” Trudy’s brave smile faded as she turned to ice. Sister Teresa went on. “The Alzheimer make the pain for everyone.” Trudy was getting bored. She replied vaguely, “Oh, uh huh, I’ll bet.”

Then, the nun made a move toward John’s bed and motioned for us to join her. I wasn’t going to budge and Trudy was done, so she just dismissed her firmly with, “Well, it was very nice meeting you, Sister.”

After John was wheeled away to surgery, Trudy and I sat in the waiting area together. Alone. I read a book and she worked a crossword puzzle, until about an hour later, when we were paged to the 4th floor. During the entire, painfully slow ride up, Trudy kept clutching my arm and whining that she was scared and asking me what was going to happen. (This is the same woman who used to scold a certain perpetually anxious five year old for being such a, “worry wort.”) I wished I’d taken the stairs. Trudy has a bad knee. She would never have been able to keep up with me.

The surgery revealed that the infection in John’s arm was clearing up. The doctors concluded he needed just one more operation, to graft skin over the wound. Trudy was uplifted by the news. “I feel so much better now. Everything is going to be alright.”

And then Dad contracted pneumonia.

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