Thursday, November 3rd, 2011
I spent the next few days trying to recover. I drank energy drinks to kick out of the depression. I watched stand-up comedy routines. I took Harte on that date. I actually did my homework.
Tonight, I watch Eurydice. It’s a modern play that tells the story of Orpheus from the perspective of his wife. Most of the play is set in Hades, with the still-living Orpheus doing things like composing melodramatic letters about how much he misses his wife, then “giving them to a worm” that he hopes can find her. As he slides the letter into a suitcase at stage-right, it falls from the tech rafters – the “heaven” – of stage-left.
The play’s closing sequence features Orpheus arriving in Hades. As he enters the underworld, more than a hundred letters fall down from the tech rafters, presumably the words of loved ones still on earth trying to express how much they miss him.
I think of my rhetorical theory class and the philosophers we’re studying – people who questioned, Does anything human exist outside the invented realm of rhetoric? And can we ever say what we really mean?
After the play, I get a call from my mom.
“Has Dad gotten ahold of you yet? Do you know about Grandpa?”
The moment freezes as I dread what might have happened. I imagine my grandpa standing on a stage, Hades filled to brimming with all our insufficient words.
10:42pm. I arrive at the hospital. I check in at security and they look up Robert Blair in the system. They say he’s in the ER now, but he’ll be going to the third floor very shortly. I may as well go there.
11:18pm. I pull out my phone to find a distraction. Just then, Harte sends me a text. I smile for the first time since arrival.
The lift lasts less than a moment; I return to earth, and my smile is gone.
11:42pm. I give up on waiting at the third floor and go down to the ER. I get to my grandpa and he explains what happened. “I was wrestling with Grandma,” he says. “She wouldn’t do the dishes.” Then he smiles and gives the real explanation.
“I had a bit of a problem with gravity.” He was standing up from the kitchen table, then suddenly he hit the floor. “I heard a thud. I assume that was my head hitting the ground, but my head’s not hurt. Except that I’ve got severe brain damage.”
The last part’s a joke, but it’s getting harder to tell these days.
12:15am. Harte calls me, wanting to know what’s going on. I couldn’t figure out how to text the situation, but said I was at the hospital, and not for me. I was asking for her help, probably, or at least someone to talk to. But when we talk, I have no words and she has no comfort.
I am glad she called; her voice is calming and it gives me an excuse not to follow as they move my grandpa to his room on the third floor. Every bump and turn means extreme pain for him.
12:36am. They come to hook my grandpa into everything, take his vitals, and arrange his medications. The pain is a 4 or 5, he says, but from what I see that’s just our base level. It keeps spiking higher.
The nurse apologizes for pain caused to my grandpa as he was moved from one bed to another. “If you could please just turn off the gravity in the room, that would be great,” says my Grandpa, his tone of levity somehow unmarred by everything that’s happening.
12:42am. The nurse asks Grandpa a series of questions.
“What’s your name?”
“We can play games later. What’s your real name?”
He hesitates, seeming to consider another push at the joke, then answers, “Robert Wallace Blair.”
They move on through questions about the location and date. Then they ask him medical questions.
“Have you ever been a smoker?”
“Once, when I was four. I found a cigarette – but I didn’t inhale.”
12:47am. Another nurse pulls up the image of the break. Despite my untrained eyes, I get a sense of the severity at a glance.
This isn’t a “break” like I’ve come to think of it; nowhere close to “See that thin line? That’s where it broke.” While it’s hard for me to estimate the size of the gap, I’d say well more than an inch. It’s nearly a clean break, which is pretty impressive for the femur. The nurse says he puts it near the top of his “wow list.”
12:55am. My Aunt Jen, a nurse, is staying in the room with me. I ask her to explain the monitored vitals. The top number is the heart rate (BPM, 83), which ideally would be around 70. The second number is the breaths per minute (RR, 31), which we want to see between 12 and 20. The third number is the oxygen saturation level (OC, 62), which – for a normal person – rests between 90 and 99. The fourth number is the blood pressure (BP, 134/67), which you want to see at 120 or lower for the first figure.
Right now, the monitor is beeping because his oxygen is so low. The pain is causing hyperventilation (more than twice the standard RR) and the oxygen just isn’t coming (dropping from the desirable 90-plus to the current 60s range).
I ask my Aunt Jen what the prognosis is. She says that with his body as weak as it is, any major stress is potentially life-threatening. The injury is a big stressor. The surgery tomorrow morning will be a big stressor. Dialysis will need to be done as well, and that alone pushes his body’s limits.
She says she gives it 50/50.
1:12am. Grandpa says he has some numbness in his ankles. He feels like his feet are crossed, right over left. There doesn’t seem to be much they can do for the sensation.
As he leaves, the nurse teases my grandpa, saying, “Don’t run off, okay?”
I add, “Honestly, I’m more worried that he’ll start jumping on the bed again.”
Patient is asleep.
Blood-pressure is a little high, but nothing to worry about. Heart-rate is good. Respiratory rate is good. Oxygen concentration is good. The oxygen tank they hooked him to really helps him breathe.
1:44am. Grandpa gasps and groans in what I can only assume is overwhelming pain. It’s not the first time tonight, but each one has called to me just as strongly.
I know I’m completely useless to him, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing otherwise; I’m not religious, but the prayers are pulled from me each time he gasps like this. “Please, please,” I beg. “Give some of this pain to me. Please let me take some of this from him.”
1:51am. The monitor beeps loudly, but all the vitals are looking good. I ask my Aunt Jen what this means, and she states the same confusion at why the alert is sounding so vigorously when the vitals are all in the clear.
She looks through some detailed messages on the monitor before she figures it. Turns out the IV had some obstruction. She brings a nurse tech in to resolve it, and the alarm’s heart-bracing metronome goes mute.
He’s breathing fast from the pain. His blood pressure climbs slowly. Mostly these numbers stay about the same – though his pain-spikes come with some minor hyperventilation.
2:14am. The door opens; a nurse has come to check on Grandpa. As my grandpa stirs, the pain in his leg re-triggers. His sensation breathes the hybrid child of a groan and a battle-cry.
“Are you getting him something more for the pain?” I ask the nurse.
“Yes, we can do that.”
My grandpa can’t respond directly while he’s at this point of torture, so the nurse just adds, “I won’t even ask.”
When the nurse comes back with a large amount of morphine, he asks Grandpa to rate his pain.
“It was a 10 a second ago.” On the charts they show little kids, that’s the number next to the face contorted into intense crying, labeled with the text “worst possible pain.”
We’ve developed a kind of routine: He rests, I check the vitals; he gasps, I pray.
I write this sentence at 2:32am, sitting in his hospital room. I am here because I have to be here – because I would be useless anywhere else, spiraling out of control as half of me tried to pull back to where my grandpa rests on this hospital bed.
And being here is answering questions for me. In my rhetorical theory class, they asked me, What is real? And what remains when we’ve torn all our words away?
Tonight, I have a response. Give me every word that’s ever been created. Give me “love” and “hero” and “bleeding” and “broken.” Give me my poetic phrases, my “tearing at the seams” and “air as heavy as stone” and “worst possible pain.” You can’t touch this. It’s too real.
The feelings aren’t just a fracture – a “do you see that thin line” sensation. As I watch him tread along numbers that divide worlds – 77, 20, 95, 134/55, 50/50 – I’m ready to collapse in on myself. Every bit of light I have is being pulled into this weight.
Could you please just turn off the gravity in this room?
“Gravity” is an excerpt from Brilliant Heart, from the segment “A Wound.” It was written in Fall of 2011.
Special thanks to Prof Julie Nichols for help with this piece.