Waiting room

Waiting room January 3, 2023

The neighborhood fireworks people were setting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve because that’s what they do, but that’s not something I can ever explain to my dog.

Willow doesn’t understand about New Year’s Eve, or about fireworks. And there’s nothing I can say to her to make them less frightening and confusing to her. So I carried her upstairs and put her in her little Thundercoat and just sat with her and let her know I was there and promised her that everything was going to be all right. Maybe that helped. Maybe not. She was shaking all over and seemed scared and inconsolable until the fireworks finally subsided around 1 a.m.

Or high water.

Usually when there are fireworks or a thunderstorm, Willow hides under the bed in my daughter’s room downstairs. That’s where the dog usually sleeps now because she’s 15 years old and the stairs have gotten difficult for her. But my daughter was away for a long holiday weekend trip with her friends, so I had to carry the dog up the stairs to the bedroom I share with my wife.

She wasn’t home on New Year’s Eve either because she’s got pneumonia and since Thursday she’s been in the hospital getting pumped full of oxygen and antibiotics.

The hospital isn’t a great place to be on New Year’s Eve. They let me stay there a little later than the usual visiting hours, but they still kicked me out at 10 p.m. — long before the ball drops in Times Square. So Saturday, for the first time in 15 years, I didn’t get to kiss my wife at the stroke of midnight. Instead I kissed her at 10 o’clock, on the forehead, while wearing a mask, and we joked about it being New Year’s in Greenland. She sent me home with a list of stuff to bring back the next morning. Made me write it all down and read it back to her so I wouldn’t forget to bring the good socks or the second phone charger or to text her with our Hulu password.

I returned on New Year’s Day with everything on the list, but my wife was now in a different room. She hadn’t been taking in the oxygen as well as her doctors had hoped and so they’d moved her to the PCU where they could keep a closer eye on her. She was frightened by her inability to breathe well and she was growing confused due to a lack of oxygen. And because of that confusion, there was nothing I could say to her to make it less frightening. All I could do was sit with her, letting her know that I was there, and promising that everything was going to be all right.

Sunday night her doctors moved her to the ICU and hooked her up to a ventilator. They’re confident that this will aid her recovery and they are confident that she will recover. Basically the idea is to have her sleep through this bout with pneumonia, let the machine do the hard work of breathing for her while the antibiotics clear her lungs.

The doctors and nurses have been very reassuring and I am trying my best to be reassured and, especially, to appear reassured when talking to our daughters.

The doctors have explained that this is not an unusual or extraordinary course of treatment for pneumonia, and that it is usually an effective treatment. They’ve done this before. It works. And I have now repeated all of that to myself often enough that I’ve sometimes even managed to feel like I believe it — to feel reassured and not just to feel like it is now my turn to be the one who is scared and confused.

Part of what I’m doing here, you see, is practicing. I need to return to work tomorrow night and everyone there is going to be asking me what everyone has been asking me for the past couple of days and I want to be able to answer them while remaining composed and seeming hopeful and assured. So I need to practice this some more. I’m not there yet.






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