Dead in the Next Bed
My 85 year old dad got hit in the butt by a door while he was going to the doctors and fell down and hurt his hip. Actually, he fractured it. Fortunately (one might say) he was at the doctor’s office, and there was a ready ambulance to rush him to the hospital where he was promptly X-rayed. The X-ray confirmed he had a fractured hip and they were going to immediately bring him to surgery. My stepmother called me at this point. She tells me what happened interjecting with a sorrowful statement of “why does this happen to her.” Then, she tries to lay a minor guilt trip on me – saying I should have taken him to the hospital instead of the elderly van. I (maturely?) fluff (yah right) off the comment, saying that someone didn’t always have to be with him.
A day later, I go up to visit my dad. Now, I’ve got to say here, I am a person who hates hospitals, but feels obligated to go anyways. I traverse the parking lot and hospital web to my dad’s room and see him lying in pain. He has not gone to surgery yet. He says he wants to move his leg, but moans every time he does. I wonder why he doesn’t just leave it still.
There is a spot of blood on his sheet. He complains he hasn’t eaten for a day and a half. I go and talk with someone who looks official in the corridor. I ask him if they could get an ice pack for my dad’s leg. He says sure, he’ll find my dad’s nurse. I sit down on the chair next to my dad. My head is against the wall and I try to peak over to the other bed in the room, the one behind the curtain. I do not see a bed. I think that’s strange, but do not think too much of it.
I look at my dad. His nose is craggily from all the cancerous skin they have replaced. It looks like a miniature roadmap. I’ve gotten used to seeing him look so small. I remember a dad who was over 200 pounds and strong. Today, you can barely see his body’s outline under the blanket.
My dad tells me that the night before, about 10 people rushed into the room to the bed next to him. He thinks the guy is very sick. Soon I hear a woman behind the curtain talking on the phone, telling someone that her husband is dead. For the first time, I was glad my dad was partly deaf and couldn’t hear everything. I didn’t want him to know that someone died next to him. He might see that as a bad sign.
A female and (the person whom I talked to earlier – who I later learned was named Mark) a male nurse came in the room. They close the curtain to my dad. I could hear them changing my dad’s soiled sheets and placing an ice pack on his fracture. I hear them say that the blood on the sheet is there because the IV came out. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t come that day – would he have to lie in his own blood all day? Would he have to suffer in pain, without any pain reliever? Would his blood just continue to flow onto the sheet – until maybe someone finally noticed? I was glad I was there. It made me feel grown up and needed.
A doctor walked into the room. He quietly nodded to me. He had a sad, determined look on his face – like he was gathering the courage to say something and I should have strength (I had no idea what I should have strength about – but I soon found out.) The doctor walked behind the other curtain. He said hello Father. Hmmph, I thought, a priest is behind that curtain. Then, the doctor began talking: “Your husband died of a pulmonary embolism. What we figure happened is that he got a blood clot in his leg and it traveled to his heart.” I was shocked. Was this a TV show? No, I was sitting next to my dad while this doctor told the woman behind the curtain the details of her husband’s death. This was no show!!! This was reality (and it wasn’t reality TV!!!). The doctor continued his narrative: “He complained about having shortness of breath and then passed quickly.”
At this point, I walked out of the room into the hallway. I leaned against the wall. I was shocked. I had just heard a doctor tell a woman how her husband had died. This had not happened in a private place. It had not happened somewhere else. It had happened next to where my Dad and I were. Again, I thanked God that my Dad was hard of hearing.
I decided to take this time to go down and see my cousin, who worked in another section of the hospital. When I got there, I discovered she worked on the night shift. I am one, who when something bad happens, has to talk to someone. I asked the nurse at the desk (whose name I never got) if I could share something with her. I told her what just happened. She was shocked. She said I should immediately go straight to the Floor Manager or to Public Relations. What that doctor did was certainly not protocol. She called over the Nursing Manager for her area. I told her what had just happened. She was surprised, but peppered it with the fact that she didn’t know what the protocol was for that floor. She called up to the nursing manager (remember Mark?) on the floor where my Dad was. I couldn’t hear the other end of the conversation, but she offered to walk me up to the floor and talk with him.
When we got there, we went into Mark’s office. I asked Mark why they couldn’t tell the family somewhere else – like in the waiting room? He explained to me how the family wanted to grieve near the body. “Excuse me – near the body!!!” I exclaimed in a restrained quiet whisper. “You mean to tell me there is a dead body in the bed next to my dad?” He tried to explain to me that the family needed to grieve and they needed to grieve near the body. Excuse me, I thought, is grieving not supposed to happen at funeral homes? I asked how long will it (the dead man) stay there? Minutes? Hours? He told me “as long as it takes.” I did not want to go home and envision my dad next to a dead body all evening. I asked again “Minutes? Hours?” He couldn’t give me an answer. He said as long as the family needed. He said he could change my dad’s bed location, but they were all full and it would take a lot of shuffling. It didn’t sound encouraging. The part of me that doesn’t want to cause a bother slipped in and said, “no, you do not have to move him.” (Hours later I regretted this decision.)
I was starting to be afraid that my dad would wonder what I was doing talking with these people. I truly didn’t want him to know there was a dead man in the next bed. I went to his bedside. He seemed like he was trying to keep up a face – almost with a smile on his face. I thought to myself, he knows something is up. What could I say? I said I was talking with the people about getting an ice pack and changing his sheets. Did he buy it, I do not know. A person whimpered behind the curtain. I thought of the dead body that was there. I told my dad I had to go and get a drink of water. I walked out the door and composed myself. I came back – and made some small talk with my dad. I again heard talking, crying, – I was extremely uncomfortable in the room and couldn’t stay there any longer. I told my dad I was going and kissed him good bye. I hated to leave him in that situation, but what was I to do? I prayed that the people would leave soon; that my dad would go to surgery soon and everything would be OK.
When I talked to my stepmother the next day she said they had moved the man in the next bed a couple of hours later, my dad had had his operation and was recovering OK. I was relieved, but my fear of hospitals had increased that day. I hoped to stay healthy and die quickly.