|Resting Lion by Rembrandt|
Then, on Wednesday, E's Dad had a bicycle accident that put him in intensive care. He had brain surgery around 4:30 p.m. to remove blood and bruising from his brain. The surgeon left part of the skull out so that his brain would have room to swell without a buildup of pressure in his brain.
Since the surgery, he has been in a medically induced coma to help him keep still and rest. His bed is a rat's nest of tubes and wires. His face and eyes are bruised and swollen almost beyond recognition. The surgeon's incision on his head is a slithering rail road track of staples across his puckered and yellow skin.
I can't say that I am shocked by what has happened. I thought I felt hopeful and optimistic at first, but now, I am not so sure. Recovery from brain injury is measured in months and years, not weeks.
I watch him lying there, listening to the hum of the machines, and the clicks of the respirator and the beeping of the monitor, and I can't help but marvel at our glorious bodies, and how much they do on their own when they are healthy. I look at all these tubes snaking their way around his frail body, and they all have a purpose: they do the work the body normally does without assistance.
The most complicated apparatus helps him breathe. Two giant accordion tubes, one blue, one white, meet in a y at his chest and narrow into one blue tube forced down his throat and make their way to an oxygen tank. Another tube drains blood from the injury these tubes made in the back of his throat. It is clear and I can see that it is full of blood and mucus and air bubbles. One silvery white tube snakes down from a bag on a metal hanger above his head and into his nose, feeding him formula as if he were a tiny baby in a terrible science fiction movie. Another tube is connected to a vein in his arm, and this one supplies saline solution the doctors prescribed to help limit the swelling in his brain and organs. Yet another tube gives him medication to keep him sedated and still, because brain trauma often causes confusion and agitation in patients. Another tube pulls fluids out of his stomach and fills a series of quart sized canisters behind him with foul looking bubbling brown bile. Soft, but heartbreaking restraints bind his wrists to the bed so that he can't try to remove the bewildering jumble of tubes inserted straight into his mouth. Even more tubes are snaking out from underneath his hospital gown, hidden from view. How they are connected, I can only guess.
I sit there beside him and marvel at how my body is executing all these functions for me without any help at all. My lungs are filling and emptying regularly, by themselves. My stomach is digesting food and moving it through my body to give me strength and energy. The waste is being collected and controlled. All without my asking anything of it, my body does these tasks. I never have to consider it.
Here at the hospital, they can keep Dad alive, but look at the measures they must go to. Look at all the equipment they need, all the needles and tubes and beeping machines. During weekday mornings a team gathers in the ICU to make the rounds with each of the patients here. They give updates and discuss their various duties to collaborate and avoid mix ups. On that first day, when I saw all of them gathered outside of his door, I felt so humbled by the preciousness of life. There were so many of them, all there to help save him. There was the brain surgeon, the trauma doctor, the pharmacist, the breathing therapist, the nurses, the social worker, and others whose jobs I don't even understand. All these people who don't even know Dad, they don't know anything about him at all, but they know that his life is precious and they have gathered around to rescue him from the darkness that wants to swallow him up.
I have been so angry with him, since before this accident even happened. I was so angry about his lack of dignity, his lack of will to pull himself together and face the problems that he had created by ignoring problems for so many years. I still am angry about all of that. But seeing him in this bed, and knowing that he is alive, I know beyond a doubt that I don't want him to die. I want him alive, I want to see him hold my little babies some day, I want to hear him tell his stories about growing up in Millard, Nebraska. I want to watch him jut out his chin in that pompous and silly way as he and E and I sit around the patio table discussing the universe, travel, the point of art, the meaning of life. I had no idea of the depth of my love until now. I was so blind, I thought a few bad choices could turn it all sour. But what is any of that compared with his one wild and precious life? His life? What is worth more than that?