Monday, December 12, 2005

Wonder of Wonders

Yesterday Morgan and I made a pilgrimage to Utah to see Jo and do some holiday shopping. I knew the moment Jo hugged me that she was hanging by a thread. Jo is in no way a hugger. (I knew it Friday morning, too, when I finally got hold of her on the hospital phone, and she said with a tearful falter I have never heard in her dear raspy voice, “Oh Adriane it was so scary. I had to hear them holler clear and they took me into a room that looked like a chapel.” I’m still wondering which staff member’s misguided idea that was. Religious surroundings don’t comfort everyone, and may falsely indicate to traumatized family members that a patient is already beyond human help.) Her daughter Deede spotted in Jo’s hand the only remotely useful thing I could think to bring, a big box of her beloved almond Crunch’n’Munch, and remarked, “You sure know your girl, don’t you?” I do. I know for a fact that crusty, scrappy Jo is scared to death. I know that she’s weary and apprehensive, but hopeful, and I knew when she saw me that she was glad we came. And I know it kills her to go into the room where big, bear-like Don is lying, connected to a smorgasbord of equipment, because whenever he recognizes her through his drug-induced stupor, he indicates (if his arms are not strapped down) that he wants her to get the hoses and tubes and needles the heck out of him. He recognizes other people, his handsome son Dirk and feisty daughter Deede and his doppelganger brother Bob. He squeezes their hands (tight enough to crush them) when they ask him to, and then drifts back off to sleep. The doctors aren’t worried about his heart or the stint, but the other organs that took such a brutal hit when he had the second, massive heart attack (luckily already in the ER), his liver and kidneys and brain. They have no timeline for Jo, no definite prognosis, nothing but a terrible, winging expanse of touch-and-go days in the ICU. So Jo sits in the waiting room surrounded by family and a constant stream of friends, recalling hilarious, happy memories of Don and desperately hoping for at least a few more.

It seems odd to think of Don as just a collection of bones and organs, because he has so much sheer presence. It’s not just that he’s so big, like Dad was; like Dad, there’s something I can’t put my finger on, almost like the strength of his character emanates from him- in Don’s case, his intense goodwill and curiosity, impishness and energetic industry. I love just being in a room that Don is in, watching him when he doesn’t realize it, especially when he’s concentrating hard on something mechanical, on a Jazz game, or on Jo’s lips (which he reads because he doesn’t hear very well- too many years around loud equipment). I often think that the essence of love is the way Don looks at Jo when she doesn’t know it, with a beautiful blend of adoration and exasperation, like he may never figure her out but loves trying. A lot of Evanstonians are making the excursion to the LDS hospital on the hill west of the Avenues, tucked against the shoulder of the Wasatch Mountains. So many people love Jo and Don. I am lucky to count myself among them.

Yesterday was the ticket, too, to reviving my gaunt and listless holiday spirit. I spent the day shopping with Bing and the original family Christmas Angel (who gamely convulses me every five minutes with her witty, sisterly silliness), and I found a real holiday miracle to fervently wish for this year: Don’s complete and swift recovery.


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