Diaries of a Dying Man Pt. 3
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I got to the door at the top of the stairs. Cal, the hospital staff member was speaking with the paramedics, so I had to wait. When Cal came up beside me on the landing and unlocked the door, I imagined that he must have had a similar experience on the first day of his job. He would have been a staff member, not a patient, but still waiting around for other people to unlock the doors. I suppose as a staff member he was never really locked in to begin with though.
Inside, he led me into a small white room across the hall from the door we had just come through. He locked me inside. When one door opens, another door closes. I looked around and saw a picture of a horse grazing in a pasture. Unlike Peppa Pig, I appreciated the horse, I appreciated it’s pasture, and I appreciated it’s freedom. There was a vitals machine on a rolling stand next to my chair. I didn’t have energy to expend on anger about having to repeat the routine I had been subject to for the last 24 hours over again, nor on being in a place I didn’t think I belonged.
A male nurse named Alex came in through the door. His scrubs were a pair of fitted grey khaki joggers, and his clogs a pair of black and white Vans. He had the face of a 16 year old, not of a nurse capable of assisting me. He sat down across from me with a manila folder that had my name on it. He introduced himself as Alex, the charge nurse. Charge nurse? Why was he telling me that he could work a defibrillator? He asked me a few questions about myself and my life, and I returned the invitation. He seemed interesting, and if not interesting then kind, and if not kind then less like the nurse at the hospital and more like the paramedic. He handed me some of the paperwork in the folder to sign, all the while telling me why I was there. I was there because I had a Section 12. I would have to stay at least 72 hours before I could be evaluated for release, and seeing as it was Friday, and it was a long weekend, I wouldn’t get out until at least Wednesday.
He took my vitals when all was said and done, making some remark about how low my heart rate was. It was because I ran, and he said that he ran, at least he used too before becoming a charge nurse. When he had been given all he needed, he led me to the bathroom around the corner where Cal, myself, and Alex were supposed to squeeze in. Cal held the little yellow bag that the other hospital had given me for my clothes. Inside the locked bathroom, he opened the bag and felt the clothes to see that there were no harmful items lurking in the folds of my clothes. I was then asked to remove my pants, shirt and socks so that they could ensure I had not hidden anything in the folds of those clothes or my skin. Their job was made easy due to my lack of skin folds. After coming up empty handed, I was asked to re-robe and follow Alex to my room. The door opened, and the three of us exited the bathroom, Alex and myself going across the hall to a room with four low lying beds. He said that dinner would be soon, so I could do whatever until then. With that, Alex left, and I was left to orient myself. I laid down on the bed for a moment, started up at the textured white ceiling, and there it was, a giant drawing in pink crayon of a penis.
The following morning marked the beginning of my first full day in the unit, though as many of them followed the same basic schedule, I’ll give you a taste of just one that should suffice for most.
- 7:00–7:10 AM: Wake up and ask to have the bathroom unlocked.
- 7:10–7:30AM: Go to the common room to get your breakfast and put in your request for lunch and dinner
- 7:30–10:00 AM: Choose between a myriad of activities you could use to fill your time (reading in my case)
- 10:00–10:45 AM: Engage in an all floor activity with one of the art or music therapists
- 10:45–12:00 PM: Read
- 12:00–12:30 PM: Go to the common room to eat lunch (mostly tuna fish with pickles for me)
- 12:30–1:30 PM: Read
- 1:30–2:15 PM: Go out to the tiny square of fenced in pavement that reeked of cigarette smoke
- 2:15–3:30 PM: Read
- 3:30–4:30: Meditation, another group exercise, or something to get people out of their rooms
- 4:30–5:00 PM: Read
- 5:00–5:30 PM: Go to the common room for dinner and say how you think the day went
- 5:30–7:00 PM: Read
- 7:00–8:30 PM: Movie
- 8:30–9:00 PM: Get ready for bed
- 9:00–11:00 PM: Quiet time where everyone goes to their room and is loud, just with the doors shut
There did exist more variation in each day, but usually it was nothing significant. Some variations were enjoyable, and others not so much. Seeing my mom was unenjoyable because it meant dealing with the outside world, a world I did not want to be a part of, and calls were much the same.
Inside the hospital though, it wasn’t nearly as unenjoyable as I had anticipated it would be upon crossing that threshold with Cal. I got to read for hours and hours on end. Where fantasy would usually whisk me away to otherworldly places, Man Search for Meaning took me to Auschwitz, Your Brain on Food through my intestines and up to my brain, and Drop Shot (which was a mystery novel) to New York City.
When we went outside to the dingy little patch of pavement, I got to soak up the rays of afternoon sun that made their way through and around the branches of the imposing willow. I sat in the adirondack chair and watched the birds that perched along the tops of the fences that gated us all in.
Each night when the sun had set, I would go to the window at the far end of my room and lean against it to see the moon hovering over the roofs of the other hospital buildings.
When each day was over and we had all gathered back in our rooms, I would sit down on the floor with my roommates Anthony and Jovani and play Palace and Rummy (both of which they taught to me). I got to experience Jovani’s kindness, and Anthony’s openness. Jovani would sneak food in from the common room for our evening card sessions so that we could stay up late, fueled by Twinkie’s (my first being in the hospital) and Ho-ho’s. We laughed together to the point of crying, and every time I would laugh, Jovani would say “What the fuck bro!” and begin laughing himself, increasing my laughter as well. Everything was more beautiful.
Sooner rather than later, the long weekend had passed. In four days I had seen people be restrained, and seen them laugh. I had seen people crying at all hours, and I had seen them giving support to those who were crying. I had seen people talk discouragingly to themselves, and I had seen people talking encouragingly to one another. I had witnessed the best and the worst of the human condition, and yet I found it all beautiful.
When the doctor came in on Tuesday morning, he met with myself and several other patients. Our meeting wasn’t terribly long, and he asked me some of the same questions I had been asked the whole week prior. I answered them honestly and sincerely to match the honesty and sincerity with which he was asking me. I was nervous that he might say I needed to stay another week, yet I knew that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. The verdict did end up being that I would be discharged on Wednesday morning after we all met with my parents to discuss the next steps.
That same Tuesday morning, Anthony had been discharged and so it was just Jovani, Jayden and myself left on Tuesday evening. Jayden didn’t find playing cards to be a particularly entertaining activity, so really just Jovani and I were left. As I sat down on the floor, Jovani reached behind his bed to get what I thought were playing cards, but turned out to be four paper cups. As he set them down, I saw that each had been filled with either a colorful assortment of gummy bears or Starbursts.
Jovani: The rule is, we’re gonna play ten games of cards. Five games of Palace and five games of Rummy. After each round, the winner has to take a handful of gummy bears and a handful of Starbursts and eat them.
Me: That sounds awful! No, I refuse to do that. I won’t be able to go to the bathroom for days!
Jovani: Just do it! We’re celebrating!
I did do it, and Jovani let me win every single game that night. I didn’t end up going to the bathroom for a day or two, but I’ve never regretted indulging that evening. It made me think about what my first few weeks in college would have been like Jovani had been my roommate. I wondered what life would be like if I knew more people who liked me without a doubt and simply wanted to entertain me with some innocent fun. That evening was a masterclass on the healing powers of playfulness, the gift which is kindness, and the warmth that comes from hospitality.
When Wednesday morning came, I followed my same routine of eating, reading, and interacting until it was time for the family meeting. When the time finally arrived, I felt a sense of yearning. I wanted to stay and I wanted to go, and I knew that each option would be beneficial, but only one would move me forward. I knew going into the meeting that I would be leaving either way, but it made me nervous to think that I would be leaving behind comfort and acceptance. I had to leave though, and so when the meeting ended, I packed my bags, pulled off the linens and said goodbye to the staff and patients. As I made my way for the exit, or the entrance depending on where in the journey you are, Jovani was standing in the threshold of a door across the hall. I went over and gave him a hug.
Me: Goodbye, Jovani! You’re gonna be alright. I’m sure I’ll see you again, but don’t let it be in a hospital next time.
With that, I walked out the locked door and down the steps to where I had been dropped off only five days earlier. I thought about how funny it is to end up in the same place as you began, and how good it can be when we do. When we opened the door to the outside world, the birds looked beautiful, and the weeping willow looked much larger than it did from behind the fences. I’m sure the moon looked beautiful later that evening as well. I guess life really does have a lot to do with your perspective. Sometimes it means looking at a distance through the glass of a hospital window, and sometimes it means coming as close as you can to touching what you’re observing. Either way, beauty is in the eye, not the lens which distorts the imagery in or out of our favor, so look beyond the lens.
To be continued…