Academic journal article The Mailer Review

I See You

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

I See You

Article excerpt

IT IS DAY 42 IN THE ICU at Mount Sinai Hospital. My father is a "7" out of "10" on the malnutrition scale, with starving children in Africa being a "5." Dad is thinner now than he was sixty years ago, when discharged with jaundice from the Army. He is unable to speak, eat or swallow and he cannot breathe without a ventilator. The tracheal ventilator--a small, plastic, adaptor--like device-protrudes from the front of his neck near his Adam's apple.

A tube inserted into Dad's chest pulls yellow-gray mucus out of his lungs and siphons it into a bag that hangs over one side of the bed; a catheter is draining urine into a second bag nearby. Liquid nutrients enter his system by way of a feeding tube inserted into his nose. A hydrating IV is inserted into a vein in the crook of his arm while a second IV delivers an arsenal of antibiotics to combat the spike in his white cell count.

The doctors tell us that his lungs, kidneys and heart are failing and his body is shutting down. There is nothing more that they can do for him. His end is near.

He is a prisoner in his own body.

After we meet for a final word with the doctors, nurses move my father from the ICU to a room on the eleventh floor. With fern-green armchairs, forest green carpeting, floral-print curtains and abstract paintings on the papered walls, it looks more like a hotel suite than a hospital room. Except for the ventilator, there are no more tubes, bags, wires, IVs, beeping machines or fluorescent lights. A bit of Dad's dignity is restored. I grab hold of the guardrail alongside his bed, as though I am standing on a train that is about to pull out of the station. With his cloudy blue-gray eyes, pale sunken cheeks, thin lips and toothless grimace, he has the face of an old tortoise. The once-prominent, distinct bridge of Dad's very large nose is now flattened from several invasive procedures.

My father is dying and yet he is wide-awake and hyper-alert. Death is imminent yet I do not know what to say or how to be around him. At this moment, I feel driven to buoy his spirits, which is most likely the last thing he wants. Regardless, I bombard him with an overly solicitous tone:

"Dad, are you o.k.? Are you comfortable? Do you need anything? Are you in pain?" I practically shout since he is hard-of-hearing. He shakes his head. …

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