On Labor Day of this year (2004), I flew to Queens, NY on short notice. My father had collapsed at the US Open. He spent a good chunk of that sunday on an operating table, after which he was taken to the ICU.
My sister and I flew out the following day. My dad had a subdural hematoma that appeared more or less spontaneously.
It’s a scary thing to see a parent in the hospital. We should never see our parents helpless. We should never see our mother cry because our father hasn’t been awake in days. They’re the ones that bandage our knees, feed us medicine, and give us hot chocolate when we’ve had a bad day. We never really see them sick. I would suppose that as they older, they’ll start to get sick more. That prospect is frightening beyond belief now.
It got me thinking. We talk often enough about the things that man can do: war, rape, bombs so big you can see them from miles away. It’s the worst we’re capable of, and it’s scary. There’s something even scarier though: The worst that God is capable of. I don’t mean to say that he’s not good and he’s not merciful: I’ve seen both in my life. Still, the things we can’t explain? The ones that make us feel completely helpless? That’s all Him, too. And, maybe it’s a test: for the wife, or the son, the daughter, or even the son-in-law. Maybe –hopefully– we learn something from it. There are valuable lessons all around. Is that the way to learn them, though? I’m unconvinced.
It was strange: For someone who’s kind of grown up in hospitals, I can’t recall ever spending so much time in one. My mother would wake up in the morning, head to the hospital around 8AM. I would shower and head over at 9AM with my sister and her husband. My mother would say the rosary. We’d stay essentially the whole day. At home, we’d say the rosary. The next morning, we’d lather. We’d rinse. We’d repeat.
We made friends there. Other families in the SICU waiting room were in much the same state: waiting, visiting, making phone calls, taking naps. You can tell how someone is doing by watching their family in the waiting room. Almost to the minute.
We made other friends too. My father is Malayalee, and New York, apparently, has a number of them. One of my father’s medical school classmates lived nearby to the hospital: he dropped by when he heard. A Malayalee nurse (who goes to church with the classmate) introduced my mother to the rabbi who gave us an apartment to stay in “for as long as we needed” and cooked food for us. Another nurse next door befriended my mother. A random cardiologist who had apparently heard about my dad through the grapevine, told us that if we needed something we could call him.
It’s nice to know that an all-pervasive network like that exists — that if you’re in trouble you can get help no matter where you are. I guess, in the end, there is a lesson to be learned: we are helpless, we are useless, we are completely at a loss, but we can do a lot as long as we’re surrounded by good people. And, thank god, that’s easier to do than I might’ve guessed.