It's amazing how acutely you can feel insanity and chaos when you're thrown headlong into it – after you've been distanced from it for an extended period of time. But, of course, as my father is involved, I should expect nothing less.
On Tuesday night, I found out from one cousin, via another cousin, that my father – who has lived about 200 miles away for the last several years – is in serious condition, probably dying. A friend of his had used an old contact number to reach my cousin; the friend thought family should be involved because he was on a ventilator.
Determined to at least try to do the right thing, I responded. I found out that sometime on Wednesday, he'd been taken off the vent – and was breathing on his own. By Wednesday evening, his vital signs had stabilized. He had not regained consciousness.
When I called back the next day, I was confronted with an interesting twist: "Do you have the password?" the male nurse asked me after I explained who I was and who I wanted an update on. Password? What password?
The nurse rattled off names to me. One of them was obviously the friend. The other was the name of his most recent ex-wife. "Can you call one of them to get it?" the nurse asked.
I don't know these people. I don't have their phone numbers – and the nurse can't give them to me. (That's not entirely accurate. I HAD the friend's phone number. His wife was supposed to call back on Wednesday but never did. I wrote them off as unreliable and called the hospital myself after that.) Exasperated, something just snapped.
"Look," I began. "I haven't had a face-to-face conversation with this man in 25 years. I haven't spoken to him at all in at least three or four years. He calls. My mother will talk to him sometimes, but I refuse to. I know this is not your fault, so forgive me, but I left my secret decoder ring at home today. I'm trying really hard to be decent here and to do the right thing – so how do I get a password? Someone needs to help me. Who can I talk to who can help me?"
An understanding charge nurse heard me out, asked me a few questions I could easily answer and I had my password. She put me right through to ICU and to the care nurse. I got my update: still unresponsive. And, while the friend had said he had voiced wishes to not be on life support, no DNR is in place. The nurse gave me his vitals and said he was due for a bunch of lab tests on Friday. I asked the nurse about his prognosis. She couldn't give me much. "His heart could stop tonight. His heard could stop six months from now," she said. "He's very sick."
Well, I'd kind of figured that much out on my own. I asked if he could rally and come out of it or if his current state was as good as it was likely to get. I was trying to get at how the lack of a DNR was playing into his care. "As it stands, if he codes, we will do everything in our power to save his life." But, that has a limit. If they had to do anything "invasive" – like a trach or a feeding tube – that would require the permission of next of kin. "I guess that's you."
Yep. That's me. And this was just the start of 36 hours of insanity …