Wednesday, October 20, 2010

'Nothing is ever easy'

I wrote those four words on a sheet of paper with my eyes closed and a machine doing my breathing for me in the late evening of July 17, 2006.
It was the culmination of a couple of difficult years, but long story short, I had come out of a triple-bypass heart surgery and could not wake up. I had forgotten how to breathe. My eyes refused to open. I passed in and out of consciousness.

I was supposed to come around before 5 p.m. that afternoon, the doctors said, and my family gathered in the room trying to wake me. I heard bits and pieces of conversation, the voices of my wife, mother, sister, father, children. At one point, I heard my sister suggest someone turn on the TV and find something I like to watch.

“What channel is Sci-Fi?” she asked, and I raised my right hand at the elbow. I showed five fingers and then two fingers. “Hello,” and “Peace,” it might have seemed to say. I did it again and she said “Fifty-two? Channel 52? Of course, you’d know what channel Sci-Fi is on.”

But I was gone again pretty quickly. As I awoke again and again throughout the evening, they brought me a clipboard with with pen and paper so I could write to them. If my eyes ever opened, I don’t recall seeing anyone. They explained to me that I was on a respirator and had other tubes and IVs, but I would come off the respirator as soon as I could breathe on my own again. They named off people waiting in the visitors’ lounge.

I felt desperate, like a drowning man. I was alive, but I was afraid that status would change. Every time I fell asleep again was like dying, and every time I awoke was pure panic as I felt the machine pushing air into my lungs. I tried to pretend all this was a lark, and I wrote that message down.

“Nothing is ever easy.”

The nurses sent away my family as the night wore on. I wrote on the paper at one point, “Let Debra stay,” but they refused. I know I must have cried. I remember tears in my eyes, but they had been there all day, and no one noticed them now. Throughout the night, I would awaken, fight to open my eyes. The nurses tried shutting off the respirator a couple of times, but I would go back to sleep and fail to breathe. All night long, I felt like a drowning man fighting to stay afloat.

I finally came awake about 5 a.m. and a nurse was able to take me off the respirator. I had to think about breathing. I had to think about staying awake. I recall someone taking the drain tubes out of my chest, but don’t actually remember when that happened. I recall using the portable toilet in the room, but that may have been later in the day. I don’t remember when I got visitors, or who they were, except that I remember my wife and my children.

I recovered quickly, met the milestones I had to meet for release, and was out of the hospital three days later. But the truth of those four words has stuck with us.

My wife and I joke (because laughing is better than crying) that our luck is not the best. There’s always a cloud when we find a silver lining. There’s always a catch. Good deeds are punished with extreme prejudice.

If there's some assembly required, then there are also parts missing. Batteries not included — or affordable — and also the wiring is bad. Our comp tickets aren’t at the window. I can sell all the books I can afford to purchase first. The person who offers to be my agent goes out of business. That free lunch (quite literally) gives us food poisoning. That kid’s stomach ache is actually appendicitis, on the same day mom is scheduled for surgery. You have a wreck going to pick up a sick kid at school. You have a blow-out bringing another sick kid home from the doctor. You fill out all the paperwork, get all the approval codes, travel two days to Miami for testing, and insurance refuses to pay. We’re invited to a “fancy, red-carpet, black tie” event and get all dressed up and everyone else there is in flip-flops and jeans.

Nothing ever works out for us the way a normal person might anticipate or come to expect. at least now we have a response for that.

“Nothing is ever easy.”
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