HUMBLED NOW, HE AWAITS THE 'SISTERS OF MERCY'
by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
SAN DIEGO -- "Oh, the sisters of mercy they are not departed or gone... ." It's Sunday morning and I'm in the shower singing this old Leonard Cohen song, thinking of going to see my patient. I knew he was alone in the hospital wondering where the hell he was.
"They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can't go on," Coehn, the gravelly-voiced Canadian poet sang. Of course, the version in my head belongs to Judy Collins.
My patient, now coming out of heart surgery, has suffered from a sudden onset of confusion. It may be residual, from the post-surgery anesthesia, but I don't think so. It seems more like some form of dementia. Along with a fresh double bypass and a new aortic valve, he was facing an upcoming Roto Rooter job for a prostate run amok, and then heads back into major surgery for an abdominal aneurysm the size of a grapefruit.
In times like these, even a strong man cries - or gets dementia. Reality can just be completely unacceptable.
It seems to me it's the men who have the hardest time when things go south. The powerful men, the ones who've been used to being in charge and of everything and everyone. This particular man was still handsome in his mid-70's, with a full head of silver hair and dark bushy eyebrows and lovely, deep-set brown eyes. He is over six feet tall and a world traveler and photographer who is high up in state politics, and also an avid golfer until his arms started going numb. They told him it was his heart and he ignored them for as long as he could.
When I met him he was sitting in therapy catching his breath from taking three steps with a walker. His right leg had an incision like a zipper going up the inside of his calf past his knee into his upper thigh. His chest had another one. He made continual jokes to slice through the sense of futility that hung in the air like the partially closed curtains around the rest of the patients, mostly old and very tired-looking ladies in rehab. None of them wanted to be there. None of them could believe they were there.
He was more than glad to escape and when I saw him again he was laying on his couch in his living room, contentedly resting with a small dog parked upon his long, thin body. He didn't want to talk about his heart, his weakness, or anyone else's agenda. He wanted to talk of the Indian art hanging on his walls. There are water colors, Anasazi paintings, Kachina dancers, stormy clouds over a mesa in New Mexico.
He did well for a few days. Ate peaches, anything else he wanted, drank lots of ice tea, grape juice and lugged his urine bag around as he navigated with the hated walker. He put up with the different strange women constantly fussing over him and telling him what to do. But one night while alone in the bathroom he'd had enough poking, prodding and tubes in tender places and unceremoniously pulled out his catheter. I think it was his version of a sun dance.
As is usual for such incidents and sun dances alike, blood was everywhere and so they went to the first doctor's visit that morning; war paint everywhere and towels for dressings stuffed in his pajamas.
On the way into the house after the visit with a completely clueless doctor his blood pressure dropped to nearly non-existent (it had been so at the office), he passed out and collapsed in the caregiver's arms. She prayed out loud for the ability to hold him up and her prayer was granted. Someone called 911.
Sitting in the emergency room, pumped up with fluids, he didn't think he needed to be there. Needless to say, they kept him anyway. Three days later, I walked into his room on a Sunday morning. The catheter was back in and they were watching his chemical odds, the lab numbers, like bookies to see when and if he could go home. He thought he was in Phoenix. He smiled when he found out he wasn't and told another joke.
They started him on antidepressants. Good thing. He's run his race well, he's danced his dance like a warrior, but now his heart is tired, his mind wandering and he faces the hardest part of his mountain, where the air is thin and the terrain unforgiving.
It's time for the peace pipe, the buffalo robes and the sisters of mercy to sweeten the last leg of the journey.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at email@example.com