April 2nd, 2005


Watching the numbers

Every four seconds, the little clown car horn beeps. I think it’s the respirator, but I’m not sure. There are seven bags of intravenous medicines going into his right side. On his left, there’s a drip of insulin and a bag of type O negative plasma pumping into him. Two large blue tubes bottleneck into a single small white one that’s filtering the air into his mouth. His hands and feet are white; white like the last time I saw that white—white like Billy was when I found him.

It doesn’t even remotely resemble my dad. His body is so bloated from accumulated fluids that his face is balloon round, his eyes swollen shut. His beard has grown, something I’ve never seen on my dad, and a thick scar sutured with metal starts at the top of his abdomen and goes below the sheet.

The doctors must’ve seen me when I first wandered into his room. They came over immediately, three of them circling me. The elder one explained that they’d had to perform emergency surgery on Tuesday night because his bowels were blocked. He went into a long explanation, but I wasn’t really listening. I’d just seen my dad, or someone they claimed was my dad.

I flew back into what they were saying. His kidneys had stopped functioning; his lungs thick with fluid, all of the antibiotics they’re pumping into him cannot target their infections because the flow of his blood has virtually stopped.

“I’m afraid I can’t offer you hope.”

That’s what the eldest doctor said. The young intern at his side looked attentive, but sad. I started to cry. I looked back at my dad. It really was him. They talked some more. I took it in. I looked at my dad.

Sudha, his nurse, is in constant motion around him, tending each monitor and bag in a complex tango. I constantly ask her questions, each answer highlighting another question. She’s kind. Soft brown eyes, kind eyes, and she gently explains that the red numbers are his blood pressure, which is too high for them to kick in the dialysis.

I stare at the red numbers, waiting, and I am thrilled when I see them go into the one-thirties, but they go right back up into the one fifties, and I keep staring them down.

I’ve sat with my hand on my dad’s arm, my hand fusing to his arm, and I talk to him, whether Sudha is there or not. I’ve brought a National Geographic, its cover story on the Civil War, his second favorite war, and I read it aloud. I start to read each paragraph twice.

Since I arrived, he has shown no signs of consciousness. They’re unable to test his brain waves, but they tell me he’s not responding to touch. I ask my dad questions like he’d be able to answer, like he was able to a few days ago, but I don’t expect a response now. Not now.

Earlier, after the doctors gave me no hope, I called his brother and sister. My dad is the eleventh out of twelve kids, evenly divided in gender. There are five left, including my dad. “We can’t lose another one,” his eighty-five year old sister cried.

I watch the numbers. His foot, his white foot, is sticking out of the sheet, and I can’t bear to look at it. Billy. I cover it with the thin sheet.

It’s half past one in the morning. The shift changes and I lose Sudha. Kay, her replacement, told me that she’d taken care of my dad before his emergency surgery, and that he was a real joker. It made me smile. He can make friends of anyone. I pepper her with questions, many of the same ones I’d fired at Sudha. The answers are the same, just in a different accent.

I ask her if it would be okay for me to go back to the hotel to sleep for a little while. “There’s no way I can answer that question.”

“I know,” I say, and let her off the hook. I pray that he’ll make it through the night, somehow, and that I won’t be sleeping when the second most important man in my life decides to go to the land of colors we cannot see.