Saturday, January 24, 2009

More news from John Sr.

In the rain, Los Angeles transforms itself into another pacific northwest town, grey with wet concrete. Cedar's Sinai occupies a few acres next to a shoping mall and the respiratory unit of ICU is in a whole other building, facing Jerry's deli. No-one walks in LA but even fewer are walking today in the drizzle. Those who are carry their umbrellas awkwardly and forget to do up their coats. The hosptal is a good one. The lobbies and hallways are obscenely jam-packed with blue-chip art -- Rauschenberg, Ruscha, Close, Rothenberg -- jostling for position. The doctors are some of the best in the country. My father-in-law tells me that considering there are 8,000 beds, the food isn't bad, and that the nurses on the 7th floor are the hottest. He's back in ICU and yesterday they took him off the respirator to see if he could do it himself. The trach is in place and hooked up to a machine that delivers a heady mix of O2 and fine H2O mist to moisturize his throat, but the breathing he's doing alone. When we arrive this morning he looks terrible -- his skin is red and mottled, his ribcage and diaphragm is heaving, and he is sedated with valium and atavan. His eyes are closed and he is in and out of consciousness but he is breathing on his own. Sandy looks exhausted. She's been there since just after midnight. The doctors want him to be able to breathe on his own but they don't want to cause him too much stress and clearly the anxiety is getting to him -- shooting blood pressure, headaches etc. So the debate is on: should they change the trach collar for one that can be adapted for the respirator if needed? A doctor comes by, not the respiratory doctor, and then another. The respiratory nurse pops in and lends her two cents. He cheers up a bit when he sees us and gradually his color returns to normal. "You're doing so great, baby" says Sandy. "Look, Dad, you're doing it on your own," says John. "This is all good, you're on the right track." "It hurts like a mother f***er" mouths my father-in-law. "It's okay honey" Sandy says. She combs his hair and talks gently to him. The day nurse comes by, applies the lilac-colored non-latex gloves, suctions out his lungs, leaves. John asks for juice. He asks for a phone. The priest walks by the room. I attempt some lame humor. He breathes. His chest is rising and falling, now in a more steady rhythm. His brow is less furrowed. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays on the tv. "His movies really are terrible" notes J, astutely. His Dad complains again, makes a face. "My throat is raw" he mouths. It's quite comical when he tries to speak. If Sandy is out of the room we're completely useless. We guess the words blindly. "Too fast, could you try that again?" He rolls his eyes at us. It's really hard to make out the words. Sometimes, however, he is absolutely clear. Sandy bends over his face, her hand on his shoulder. "Do you remember what I told you yesterday honey?" she says soothingly. Without missing a beat, John turns his face to us and mouths with perfect articluation "No Blow Jobs."

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