I wanted to record the moment. What if I don’t get more?
These past two months, my brother’s death expectancy has been greater than his life expectancy. When my niece sends a text to ask if I’m able to take a call, she feels she must add “nothing is wrong.” Because we’re both expecting a call telling us that something is very wrong.
I love my brother, but we are as different as day and night. I am the Miss Goody Two Shoes to his Bad Boy image. My brother isn’t evil; he’s just made life decisions that keep those who love him at a distance. Since he also lives a distance from me, we rarely saw each other.
But when he was hospitalized near my work, each day for nearly three weeks, I crossed the DNA Bridge, called that because of its helix design, to reach him. Blood is thicker than water, and our shared DNA was motivation enough to be with Scott in his time of need.
The back story
He is my brother. Suffering, sickly, oh-so-stupid. He doesn’t seem to grasp he has done this to himself. Or has he? I’m not certain.
Certainly, he’s fonder of drinking and smoking than eating. His lifestyle choices resulted in a broken neck four years ago, a trauma to his neck he’s either never recollected or never admitted. Surgeries that mended his neck messed with his swallow, and made what smelled good not taste good. It was the perfect setup for losing weight — except Scott needed to find some, not lose more. My 60-year-old brother weighed just over 100 pounds.
A week before he arrived at the best hospital in my town — three hours from his hometown — he’d lived independently. He had finally tired of the excruciating pain and open wound between his shoulder blades and called 911.
His local hospital passed him off to a hospital an hour or so away from his home. It was where he’d had his original neck surgery, and his wound — with metal hardware protruding — likely prompted the transfer to that location. Once there, however, his loss of blood and inability to breathe trumped his pain. Internal bleeding and a collapsed lung got most of the attention once Scott was in the hospital.
But he was unaware, intubated and sedated, as they poked and prodded, suctioned and swabbed, and determined the best route to his good health — which just so happened to go through the university’s hospital in my fair city.
Fancy meeting you here…
The first time I saw him at the hospital ICU, he was intubated and in and out of consciousness, but he was happy to see me, not realizing he had traveled to me, not I to him. (Although I had planned to drive until I heard about his transfer.) He was frustrated with the tube lodged between his upper and lower teeth, keeping his mouth agape and his tongue from forming speech.
I held his hand and looked into his eyes that were so like my father’s. Scott was desperate to communicate, unable to use words because of the tube in his mouth. He used his eyes, and I knew what he was saying from his expressions.
The days that followed offered little wins. Doctors removed his tube. Stopped his bleeding. Determined a treatment plan for his neck. IV antibiotics for the infection. Time to gain weight and strengthen his body before the ordeal of neck surgery.
I had the unexpected joy at being with him as he battled all these things. Each day, I made an appearance in an effort to comfort my brother and send the subliminal message to his vast team of medical caretakers that someone cared about this little man — and they should too.
(I also encouraged my brother to behave and speak pleasantly even when he didn’t feel good. He could be a cussing curmudgeon or a Prince Charming; he managed to be P.C. more often than not.)
He would stay in five different sections of the hospital before he would be released to return to a rehab in his hometown.
Fourth hospital room, Day 9:
Just typing that subhead gives me pause. Day 9 and this is my first blog post. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about my brother’s situation; I just haven’t had a chance to complete those thoughts in a blog post. I could either visit him or I could write. I chose to visit.
On this particular day, I had arrived at the hospital later in the day, as afternoon meetings kept me at work. I’d spoken to Scott and his nurse on the phone and knew when he had returned to his room after a medical procedure in which he’d been sedated.
Though he’d been wide awake when we’d spoken on the phone, he was dead asleep when I arrived. Reluctant to leave, I pulled up a chair, whipped out a little notebook I had in my purse, and took the time to reflect and write.
Here’s what I scribbled:
I am sitting by his bedside as he sleeps, sedated from a medical procedure.
I want to take a selfie with him — for fun — and to prove I was here.
The nurse says he won’t remember the day, let alone my lengthy visit.
Yet I sit, relaxing at the sound of his breathing — no longer intubated but still assisted by oxygen. He mouth breathes, deep in sleep. He looks almost healthy.
Minus the tubes, machines, and hospital room, he could be normal — and I could be the weird one, a voyeur watching her brother sleep. My hope is that he’ll wake up and visit with me. My hope is that he’ll sleep, rest, relax his way toward good health.
I still want to shoot a selfie.
His phone has rung, unheard by him. A housekeeper has come and cleaned his bathroom, emptied his trash, taken his soiled laundry, wiped every surface, mopped the floor, talked with me, conversed with someone else just outside his door.
And still he sleeps.
I shifted to the hallway while the housekeeper did her work. When the floor is dry, I’ll return to my vigil beside his bed.
It is a strange yet welcome calm in the midst of Day 9 in the hospital, a death-defying mission for my brother.
He came for the pain in his neck, an infection, hardware that has moved, hardware to fix a broken neck — but he will leave with the shifted hardware and infection and pain still intact, but under treatment.
But he’ll have a stomach no longer bleeding, lungs that can fill with air, and the ability to eat — or that is the hope.
“Come back in 30 pounds,” I imagine the doctors saying. “Get strong and healthy — and then we’ll address the real reason you came.”
Sometimes our felt need isn’t our real need.
(I shot some selfies.)
When my brother was complaining about pain, hunger, and the need to pee (and the lack of a urinal to use) — it was a rare moment of whining for him. I reminded him that those were felt needs (albeit real) and that he had other needs he wasn’t feeling at the moment.
He had had moments of pure panic when he couldn’t catch his breath.
I’m not saying his pain isn’t important — but breathing? not bleeding to death? Those sorts of issues are more significant.
It’s amazing how unaware you can be that you’re bleeding to death internally.
He awakened for a couple of minutes and was glad to see me. I told him I shot a selfie and he laughed.
He’s snoozing away again.
I’m not going to lie. What a treasure it is having these moments to reflect and write while I know I’m trapped by 5 o’clock traffic and am calmed by his deep sleep and the appearance that all is well — or at least the nurse and doctors aren’t running in to check on him continually. That must mean something good. Right?
I will leave him now. Glad to have had the time with him.
Just let me send him the selfie so he’ll know that I was here…
I did send Scott the selfie. His response when he received the image? “The picture of you was good.” Then this:
His voice recording indicated he looked terrible, to which I responded, “You’re handsome!” (And I meant it.)
I feel I need to explain my urge to take selfies with my brother. Four years ago, when Scott was at the hospital recovering from his original neck surgery, my husband and I had visited.
I will never forget arriving at his doorway and peering in at his bed before I entered, looking at the scrawny, weathered, sickly legs poking out the bottom of the sheets. They belonged to my brother? How could that be?
I will never forget that image, but I didn’t capture it with a photo. We did shoot one hurried photo of him and me in front of a jigsaw puzzle, feeling awkward to capture that moment of his life. It wasn’t great.
Then some months later, I visited Scott at his home. (He doesn’t remember this.) I visited him to take him to visit my senile mother at the memory care facility where she resided. (He hadn’t been able to drive since he broke his neck, and I offered to pick him up and take him.) But he was too nervous to go see her.
Instead, we sat outside his house in a golf cart, while he chain-smoked and drank Four Loco and told me about his neighbors, medicinal marijuana vs. the real thing, and the squirrels.
What saddened me most about that day was not just that Scott wouldn’t go to see my mother but that I thought it might be the last time I saw my brother — and I hadn’t even taken a photo to capture the afternoon.
Those remembrances and regrets gave me the boldness to shoot photos of my brother fairly often during his hospital stay in my hometown. The selfie makes me smile — because I felt silly and sneaky doing it — and because I have a photo with my brother, not just of him.
I wanted the context of time together represented in the photo — in this case, time he mostly spent asleep. 😉
As I type this (many days beyond Day 9, I’m afraid), my brother is still struggling to survive, and I do think I may have seen him for the last time, though I pray not. He has been transferred back to his hometown, where his daughter is his constant companion and advocate.
(And selfie taker, I might add.)
I am forever thankful I had those weeks to visit him while he received quality care in my hometown — and thankful I captured some of those moments in photos. (And that Liz is doing the same.)
Meanwhile, I hold out hope for a selfie with my healthy brother someday soon. In a day when his life expectancy outdistances his death expectancy. As it should at age 60.