( From Brooke, speaking with effort around his still-inflated trach cuff in a growly voice):
It just somehow had to happen this way, that I would end up back in the same ICU where I was after my diaphragmatic pacer implant, the medical intensive care unit at University Hospital. You may remember my description of my room in this unit, the one with the television eye staring down at me from the ceiling. I’m now in the same kind of room, right across the hall. Few things have changed. I’ve got a call light this time, rigged up so that I can puff on it by the PT we remember from South Davis so well, Dominic, the clever mimic and teller of great Basque jokes, who now works here. But that’s about the only change. It’s a room that’s completely claustrophobic. I asked my nurse this morning if she’d ever heard of Franz Kafka (she hadn’t), and I tried to explain what Gregor’s room must have looked like to him as he metamorphosed into a cockroach, but I don’t think she understood. (Do you suppose this was entered as “confusion” in my chart?)
So here I am back again, just a couple of weeks before the second anniversary of my injury. I’d been in the surgical ICU originally; this ICU emphasizes respiratory stuff, and with pneumonia, here I am again. It seems full circle, in a way.
In retrospect, I might have known how peculiar my symptoms were on Friday morning, the morning before I ended up back here. I woke up unnaturally chilled. I had a nice lunch at noon, but later in the day I couldn’t maintain any kind of equanimity, despite the fact that the day before had been an exceptionally well-balanced one, one of the best of all I’ve had. I’d done 20 hours on the cap, but when I woke up I was feeling wretched and frozen. I thought it had to do with the impending storm. Then at dinner everything crashed, and I felt really, really sick—dizzy, with slurred speech; I couldn’t concentrate. Fortunately, I had a friend to keep me company while the staff huddled interminably at the nurses’ station contacting the doctor; the minutes seemed to tick by endlessly, and I kept asking my friend where they were. Finally, they came in and told me they’d ordered an ambulance to take me to university hospital for “observation.” By that time, I was somewhat delusional. Now, I only remember the five burly Gold Coast guys loading me onto a gurney, raising the gurney to an almost vertiginous height, and wheeling me out to the ambulance. I also remember one of the night nurses saying to me as I rolled past the nurses’ station, Good luck, Brooke. Then down in the elevator, out into the freezing night air, then hoisted into the ambulance and bagged the whole way to the hospital. But they forgot the suction machine. They asked if they should go back to South Davis to get it; I said no, but in the light in the rear end of the ambulance I could see four of these fellows bending over me trying to calm me down, as I tried to control my panic but of course couldn’t. I remember that it was 5 minutes to 8 when we left, and I kept staring at the clock the whole trip, because I didn’t think I would make it to the hospital at all. I know the road to the university hospital almost by heart now; I know the traffic lights; I know where the road goes down past the refineries, then up a long pitch and past the Capitol, then down into town. At one point I asked where we were, and one of them said, we’re heading up Victory Road toward the Capitol, you take a left at the bottom of the hill. I know every inch of that road by now. Peggy drives this road when she’s coming home from South Davis. For each of us, it’s always long.
I’m in the same Kafkaesque room as before. This time I know the ropes, so to speak. But last time I’d just gotten the pacer, and there was lots and lots of optimism. This time it’s a matter of clawing back from a setback, though things are looking up: the pneumonia is a common pneumococcal one, reasonably easy to treat; other things are falling into place, and tomorrow they’re planning to reintroduce the pacer, my old friend, as I’m weaned from the ventilator I’m on at the moment. What’s next? I expect to be here a few more days, then perhaps back at South Davis until I get back to strength, and then finally home. Today was to have been the day of homecoming—already postponed several times, but still clearly in our sights.