Thursday, March 5, 2009

Breath of Life

Three in the morning and my medical education leaps forward with more information than I ever wanted to know. My Doctor Pal and I have agreed to work together, but never imagined it might be with him as the patient and me as care-giver.

He has been heavily sedated for thirty-six hours now, one official and two minor tubes stuck down his throat, three different lines feeding solutions into his body, two more draining out. Earlier, twenty-five sensors had been glued to his head, but shortly after removed as the decision for a different procedure superseded.

They are slowly stepping down the sedative, bringing him closer to the surface, hopefully able to remove the tube in the morning. His body begins to twitch and move with discomfort and regained consciousness, and I am here to hold his hand and hum his favorite tunes, welcoming him back.

The staff is glad to have me here. They go about their business as carefully as they can. No fault can be described about the hearts that want him healed; still it is painful to witness all the poking and prodding he must endure.

In rare moments of quiet and dim light, I gaze at the screen monitoring his breathing, the fits and spurts of his life force represented in little mountains erratic and with jagged peaks. It is hard but vital for me to remember how bright and alert he was two days ago, more so out of this environment three weeks ago.

I continually visualize the sunny day this spring, snow melted and grass green, when we walk his doggies and talk intensely about relationships and recall Grateful Dead shows we may or may not have seen together. He will survive!

Mired in this intensive care unit, it is impossible not to marvel at the fragility of life. Each beat of a signal from the complicated equipment shatters the night with terrifying regularity.
While there is relief that they can find nothing wrong with him, the consternation that worrisome symptoms such as fever, tremors, sodium levels and dementia continue makes them look harder for an answer. Not professionally involved, I begin to wonder if the mere presence in this environment has not itself become a cause.

I can see where doctors (including my Pal) are trained to be decisive and conditioned to heal, unable to restrain themselves from active participation in the cure. Embracing their granted authority, they are compelled to find answers. Lacking clear definition, they order more invasive tests to rule out more obscure questions.

Regularly accused of seeing conspiracies too often in simple routines, I still yearn for a more passive treatment. Not at all questioning their motives and depth of Hippocratic commitment to care, it just seems more apparent he needs to be disconnected from all monitors, relieved of the stream of drugs, and allowed to go home where he can truly rest and recover.

His body seems to be working well in its own defense, unpredictable and independent as it might be, to rid itself of an infection that may have been launched from a well-intended needle. All agree this mishmash of symptoms could all come from the side effects of the drugs.

The irony is not lost that the tube was inserted as a precaution to the sedation and the sedation is now required to protect himself from the discomfort of the tube, less able (because of the drugs and the tube) to breathe on his own. To the distraught layman and family member, the solution seems so obvious, yet how does one answer when the doctor implies that doing less could be harmfully negligent?

The tools are available, how can we not use them and remain idle?

One can only give over, gaze at the bank of monitor screens showing the mountains of breath, and pray that it continues in and out, erratic but regularly, until that day this spring when my visualization of our walk with the dogs becomes reality.

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Anonymous said...

I do hope that your friend recovers soon Kip... I'm sure that that walk will take place :-)

Zannah said...

The three of us were at that Dead show in Highgate!! One of the best concerts I've been to!

Laurie said...

It sounds like the story, "If you give a mouse a cookie". Sometimes the best thing to do is let nature take its own course and allow yourself time to heal. It doesn't make sense to amputate a finger because it has a splinter. I am like you in that I wonder if sometimes we use technology just because we have it and not necessarily because it will benefit us.

You are a great friend Kip,to sit by his side and care for him during this time.