Sunday, July 5, 2015
JULY 5TH, 1995--ICU--THE TROUBLE WITH DREAMS
The subzero cold woke me. I must be on the tundra, I thought. My eyes tried to see what they could--it wasn’t much, for every time I tried to inch my way up the pain was so excruciating it forced me back down again. However, I was able to see the same breathing tube coming out of my mouth, the same or similar wires leading from my chest to machines somewhere behind the bed, and the same I.V. lines going into a pole behind me from which hung bags of various fluids going into my arms. I also heard the slow, mechanical “beeps” from the various monitors in the room. I knew from the rhythm of them that I wasn’t alone.
A nurse came over to take my blood pressure. She wrapped the cuff around my arm and began to pump. “I’m cold,” I said, but the words came out so muffled it sounded like I was talking under water. I couldn’t be sure she heard me. “I’m cold,” I repeated. She looked at me and smiled. A moment later she brought back a thin blanket and put it on top of me. It barely helped, but it helped enough to bring back some warmth and feeling into my body.
My chest, or I should say the skin covering my chest, felt strange, like something was pulling halves of my flesh together. Slowly, I ran one of my hands, careful not to disturb the I.V.’s in my wrist, over the blanket. Each small movement tugged slightly at the needles tightly taped there, but I needed to know what, if anything, was causing the sensation I felt. Lightly, I brushed my fingertips up and down the middle of my chest and felt these protruding objects which ran from just underneath my neck to just below my breastbone. What the hell was this and why does my right calf and leg have almost the same feeling, this pulling?
In ten minutes the nurse was back to again take my pressure. I motioned as best I could to my chest and leg and turned my palm over.
“Oh,” she said, once comprehending what I meant, “they’re staples, that’s all. After the operation they put staples where they opened your chest and some in your leg, where they grafted a vein. It’s O.K., don’t worry.”
“Staples?” “Vein?” “Don’t worry?” What was she, out of her fucking mind?
There wasn’t very much for me to do in the I.C.U. except wait for my next shot of whatever pain killer they were giving me, and testing the threshold of pain I could tolerate by breathing in as deeply as I could until I could go no further. Thirty minutes before my next shot was due, my mind and body would begin to gear up. After the shot, I’d drift for the next few hours.
Out of one of these dream states I saw Diliberto standing by the foot of my bed, checking my chart. He must have felt me looking at him. “So far, so good,” he said. “How’re you doing?” I was able to nod my head, and roll my eyes a little bit. “Typical,” he said, with a hint of humor in his voice, “let’s have a listen.” He came around my bed and sat down on the edge of it, and, with stethoscope in hand, began to listen to my heart. It was then that I saw, for the first time, what had to be the staples running up and down my chest with a piece of surgical tape over them. He saw how I looked at them. “They call it a zipper; you have a zipper now.”
“Can I piss through it?” I mumbled through the tube.
Unlike the nurse, he had no trouble hearing me. “Being funny, that’s a good sign. Charlie, I’d like to listen from the back. I know it’s going to be painful, but I want you to sit up. I’ll help you.” He stood up and grabbed me by the shoulders. When he started to pull me forward I made an attempt to aid this maneuver, but the pain was so intense I thought I was going to die. I took one of my arms and hugged him. “You’re doing fine, just a little more. Yes. Good. I need you to hold that position for a few seconds.” He put the stethoscope to my back and listened. The rounded, cold steel, actually felt good. After he had heard what he needed to, he gently lowered me back down, which was no picnic either, but at least I was going down. “Sounds very good. Another day or two in here and we’ll move you back to your room.”
“Nick,” I mumbled, “am I...” I couldn’t get the rest of the words out; so much for my if I die, I die, bullshit.
“You are. I did too much work on you for you to do anything but live. At first I thought only three arteries were blocked, but after we opened you up, we found four. You had a quadruple, Charlie. A Home Run. A four bagger. About seven hours on the table, we worked.”
I leaned my head back on the pillow and felt the heat of tears come into my eyes. This time he did nothing to stem the flow of them. He patted my foot but then, as he was turning to leave he stopped, held my foot in his large and warm hand and said, “You’re going to live, Charlie. Can’t say how long, but your odds are no better or worse than any other poor sonofabitch who’s been walking around with diabetes for over fifty years. Quite extraordinary you made it this far, with the lifestyle you led, but you did. Now, I’d like you to try and do the hardest thing you never had the courage to do: be good to yourself.”
“Thank you...and fuck you,” I said to him, as he put his hand on the knob.
“Don’t mention it, Charlie. Anytime, Charlie, anytime at all.”
And with that, he was gone.
From: THE TROUBLE WITH DREAMS, 2007
© 2015 Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015