Going through Joe’s stuff, my daughter found a copy of Inscape, a literary magazine published at Pasadena City College to showcase creative writing pieces by students. I worked on the editorial staff in 2012-2013 and had a piece published in it myself.
Until today I forgot it was a piece I wrote about Joe. Sort of: it’s about what I went through, and what I wish I had known, when he developed a brain aneurism back in early 2001. We’d been dating a little over 2 years at that point, and only saw each other about once a week, when he’d come over on Sundays and hang out with my family.
It’s a strange thing to read today, having known him for 22 years and lived with him 18.
And when the hospital called this last time things went very differently.
But in the aftermath of his aneurism, we found lots to laugh about. Because that was Joe: find the humor in everything, especially the bad times.
So I thought this deserved a repost. Edited a little because I simply must.
When the Hospital Calls
1.) Wake up. Try to take in what the doctor is saying. Don’t ask questions yet: you might not need to. When the doctor is done, ask questions. Make him repeat the story a couple times in the process. Ask things he cannot answer.
2.) Start to call your boyfriend, Joe, but don’t complete the dial. Remember, the doctor just said they’re prepping him for emergency brain surgery. Hang up and call your mother instead. Sob directly into the phone and talk much louder than you intend.
3.) Go about your day, because there’s nothing else you can do. Your everyday routine will bring you a sense of normalcy, and you desperately need that right now.
4.) When his 80-year-old mother calls to tell you what happened, try to act surprised. She needs to feel in control. She will not be happy if she knows Joe had the hospital call you.
a.) When you do tell her that the hospital called, take the focus off of yourself by asking her how she is doing, and if there’s anything you can do for her. Treat her like a grieving widow.
b.) When you fail to do this, prepare for her wrath. Starting today, throughout Joe’s fragile recovery, and until her last days on earth, you are enemy #1.
5.) When the hospital calls again, go visit Joe. It might be 3am, after your shift at work, but that’s okay: neurological ICU is open for visitors 24/7. The scent of rubbing alcohol and floor cleaner will curl its way into your nostrils as you exit the elevator. Despite the scurry of nurses and the soft beeping of invisible machines, the entire floor will be eerily quiet. Joe will still be under heavy sedation. He will look very, very bad. Half of his head will be shaved, and a huge incision from the top of his head to the top of his ear will be stapled shut. His eyes will be swollen. His skin will be sallow. There will be monitors the size of pencil erasers screwed into his neck on either side, like Frankenstein’s monster. Tubes and cords will form a spider web over him. It’s okay to be afraid, and cry. The nurse knows how to comfort traumatized visitors.
6.) Call the hospital yourself on the days you can’t visit. When Joe’s mother calls to update you, do not…I repeat DO NOT…tell her you already know. I know you want her to know that you’re doing your best, but trust me on this one. Don’t tell her you visit. Don’t tell her you call. Just like before, let her tell you. Ask her again if she needs anything.
a.) When you do tell her that you visit and call, she will cut you off. She will tell the hospital that no one is allowed access to Joe without her. No visitors. No phone calls. You will call for your regular update and be denied. You will be devastated.
b.) Call Joe’s best friend, Erick, and tell him what that mean old woman did. Erick will go to the hospital himself. When the hospital won’t let him see Joe either, he’ll stand in front of the elevator for an hour. When Joe’s mother emerges with her church friends, Erick will cuss her out in front of them. You’ll have access to Joe immediately. Call the hospital: the staff will be happy to hear from you again.
7.) Joe’s mind will not be right. The surgery affected his memory. It will be disturbing, but stay strong. Bring him balloons and cards and pictures. Point them out when he wakes up. Tell him about Erick’s first visit, because you know he doesn’t remember: tell him about how he took two shaky breaths and then tried to hand the oxygen mask to Erick as if it were a joint. Puff-puff-give! Tell him how Erick was too traumatized to get the joke.
a.) Joe will fall asleep. Wait for him to wake up. When he does, he will have forgotten your whole conversation. He will have forgotten you were even there. It’s okay to repeat the conversation you just had: it was perfectly good, why waste it? For the rest of his life, his favorite story will be about how you two had the same conversation six times that day.
8.) From now on, when he introduces you to old friends, he will say, “Tell them about the time my head exploded!” He will laugh harder and harder with every retelling.