Monthly Archives: January 2014

silent hospitals

silence

the hum of the hospital elevator still buzzes in my brain. one of those sounds that puts you at ease and into a comfortable, deep sleep. i remember the furnace in our basement gave off a sound just like the hospital elevator’s hum. i was 7, maybe 8, and i wouldn’t fall asleep until i heard the click of the furnace, then the hum that followed after.

mental thumb-sucking, probably.

dave is sitting up in his bed when i arrive, attempting to eat his dinner. pork chops and mashes potatoes. looks decent for hospital food. small cartons of milk and ensure line the right side edge of his hospital table. he really likes milk.

“is it snowing again?” he asks.

i shake my head. “not today.”

he reaches over and removes a couple of books from the visitor’s chair.

“here, sit down,” he tells me.

i thank him and sit. a trio of nurses looks over our way and talk amongst themselves, about which i can’t be sure. i’ve met a couple of them since i’ve been visiting dave. they seem friendly and caring. dave tells me some of the older nurses don’t even acknowledge him, even while administering to his medical needs.

i wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that he’s a homeless man.

dave tells me he received good news from the doctor. one of three infections surrounding his heart is successfully being treated by the cocktail of antibiotics he takes everyday. still two more infections to fight off, though but he seems up to the challenge. i don’t get the impression he wants to lie down and die.

not yet.

somehow, him and i begin talking about ancient historical leaders and the times in which they lived. dave has a few things to tell me about alexander the great. the brief history lesson draws in one of the younger nurses and soon there’s three of us discussing and debating and laughing.

dave has a good hearty laugh at one point, but it’s interrupted by a cough that echoes deep in his lungs. it puts a halt to the conversation. he puts his head back against the upright bed and closes his eyes.

“i could really do without those,” he says.

everything is quiet for a while. the nurse goes back to her station, i listen to the hum from the elevator still trapped in my head and dave rests his eyes.

i lean back to check the clock on the wall.

“you got somewhere to go?” dave asks me.

“actually, i do, but not for a while.”

he slowly nods and smiles, his eyes fixed on the ceiling tile above his hospital bed.

“i stare at the tiles on the ceiling for hours,” he explains to me. “i try to count the black marks on each one, then try to estimate how many ceiling tiles there must be in the entire hospital. i’ll figure out how many black marks this hospital has by the time they discharge me.”

i’m almost certain he will.

i notice a new necklace he is wearing. it’s made of fabric and has something written on the back of the square-shaped wool pendant. it says something to the effect that ‘anyone who is wearing this when they die will not go to hell’. it’s an old roman catholic superstition from what dave tells me.

“a priest brought it by for me. i figured ‘why not?’ it couldn’t hurt, right?”

“you scared of dying?” i ask him.

“not yet,” he says, eyes fixed on mine. “but i’m sure i will be if or when things get worse.”

“ya?”

“ya..”

silence.

i’m hit anew with the gravity of dave’s situation. this is happening right now. this isn’t a movie i can turn off and return to watch later if i want.

“if i grab that necklace from around your neck, yank it off and run out the door, would you feel any different about your present condition?” i ask him.

he laughs at the idea and tells me, “no. this necklace isn’t going to save me. God restored my soul many years ago. i may have been running from him these past years, but he’s not going to undo what’s been already spiritually done in me. it was grace that changed me and it’ll be grace that keeps me until my final hour.”

his back seems to have gotten a bit stronger after saying that because he’s sitting up straight now in bed, not slumping like he was. his face looks resolute as he turns towards me, courage seems to beam from his eyes. i’m not sure what to say or if any words are even necessary.

more silence.

when i was in grade school we had to read john steinbeck’s book ‘of men and mice’. my teacher’s love for the book inspired my classmates and i as we read through the novel together. it was the first book i remember having such an emotional impact on me. during a particularly important moment in the book, steinbeck writes:

“as happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. and sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

and, so it was for dave and i as we sat there together in his hospital room, letting the silence do all the talking for us.

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if excuses were only enough

i had all the reasons and excuses i could think of not to go and still, there i am covered head to toe in snow, walking down my street in the middle of a blizzard. excuses begin to poke and jab my mind, trying to convince it to turn around and head back to my warm apartment. each snowflake that scrapes at my eyes gives the excuses more confidence to continue their harassment.

i almost buckle.

the walk isn’t long. at the end of my short street sits the queen elizabeth hospital. it, too, is covered head to toe in snow.  i avoid the sidewalk snowplow and then a sliding car on my way to the entrance.

my years of athletics pays off again.

knock on wood.

the wide glass doors open as i’m approaching the entrance. another set of doors open as well and welcome me into the hospital lobby. i see a few people busy hurrying to separate places in the hospital.  a quick pause to de-snow myself a bit.

i don’t like hospitals.

i push the big white elevator button with an arrow pointing towards my feet. automatically the door to my right slides open. a large coffee spill accompanied by a bright cone indicating ‘slippery surface’ are my ride mates to the next floor.

i start thinking about what i’ll say..

the elevator door opens to a large corridor that makes me instantly recall  creepy movies i’ve watched in the past.

hospital-corridor-bwweb

more excuses come rushing in, though these of the more irrational variety.  as gripping as the picture in front of me looks, these excuses are much easier to shrug off and i make my way down the hallway.

IMCU.

i flick on my phone to see if this is the place.  it is.

i have no idea what the ‘m’ stand for but i’m fairly certain that the other letters spell out ‘intensive ____ care unit’. i’m not really sure what to expect when i enter. i take a deep breath and open the door.

‘hi, may i help you?’ asks the short, kind-eyed rn.

i ask her where i can find my friend.

she points down another corridor, though much shorter than the last. i thank her and make my way towards bed 7.  i see him before he sees me.  he doesn’t recognize me at first. he wasn’t expecting company.

who visits homeless guys in hospitals?

‘hi, dave. how are you?’ i ask.

‘hey, lucas! i’ve been better but i’m alive,” he replies.

we talk and catch up on the past couple months. i know dave from the streets of halifax. i wrote about his incredible survival about 5 months ago, when he was jumped by a couple of punks and left for dead, and his fight with a garbage truck when it scooped up the bin he was sleeping in.

after updating me on all the injuries he received from those incidents, he brings me back in time a bit.

‘i was born almost 10 weeks premature. they didn’t think i’d make it. well, i’m here now!’

it appears dave has the nine lives of a cat, because, by all rights, he should be dead by now.

i put it off question longer than my mind can take until it can’t take any more.

‘why are you here?’ i blurt out.

his eyes drop and he explains how a head cold he got while staying at the men’s shelter turned into an infection surrounding his heart. and if one infection wasn’t enough, two more have since jumped on board.  he now has 3 separate infections surrounding an organ than we can’t live without.

dave is rather casual while describing it. he doesn’t seem depressed by the diagnosis nor overly thrilled about it. he says it hurts when he coughs. like thousands of needles poking out his lungs and esophagus.

right then he coughs, and i can almost feel the pain he feels by the look on his face.

his optimism makes me feel optimistic, too, even if i know it’s only make-believe. the vicious kicks to the head from the robbery and the crushing steel walls from the garbage truck couldn’t kill dave, but these infections probably will.

this is what i was afraid of.

i was afraid i’d have to say goodbye to another friend from the street.

and it looks like i was right..

i track down the nurse who was attending to dave earlier in our visit and ask her his chances. she shakes her head,’i’m technically not allowed to tell you anything without his consent, since you aren’t family.’

‘is he going to die?’

i ask but i don’t really want to hear the answer i fear is coming.

her eyes drop.  people’s eyes always drop when they give bad news.

‘it doesn’t look good..’

i head back to dave’s bed to say goodbye for the night. i pray with him and say i’ll see him tomorrow.  i tell him to get healthy so we can move him into the new apartment he just got before he became sick.

‘..you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  what is life?  for you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.’ james 3:14

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