Great Hospital Raid by Russell Giles
A Father’s Passing
Congestive heart failure allows no easy exit
The pain spasms defy anticipation
And medication barely masks
The muscular contractions’ intensities
Each hurt fractures a treasured breath
Hospitals allow a private man few dignities
The nurses’ pragmatic kindnesses
Often drift to tortured interruption
As records policy demands brutal routine—
Wake every two hours for pulse and BP,
Blood drawn twice daily from now hiding veins
Small pains cast upon a greater pain
Yet still he is so patient and polite.
The family (long separated in different lives) gathers for five days
Resurrecting old rivalries, becoming siblings again
Sleeping fitfully on well worn lounge couches and armed chairs
Walking empty hallways long past visiting hours
Meeting over stale coffee, recalling times past
Finally negotiating small truces after they watch over
Their once strong and gentle sire’s troubled breathing
Willing it and the pain to stop.
Each son and daughter and then frightened wife
Has had their own private moments with him
Each hoards the depth and equanimity of his love,
Blessed by so rare a thing in his eyes—
Complete acceptance and unconditioned pride.
On the sixth afternoon in the snow they move to hospice.
The once wayward wandering son (first born male)
Now a man himself past fifty
Stands this last days vigil alone.
The exhausted family gratefully allowed to miss the final hours.
But this son (who has known more of death than the father)
Cherishes the silent moments in the lowering dark
Watching the stuttered rise and fall of his old man’s chest.
Chanting a silent one word request
To all the lost gods he knows: “Soon?”
In the blackest hours of a new day
The dying man’s discomfort force him to one last sit up.
The two manage it slowly, the son rolling the torso
Pulling withered legs over the bedding’s edge
Then hefting trembling shoulders to upright.
He then props his father’s brow against his own to hold balance
They are like two monks bowing to one another
Each striving to achieve the lower homage.
And in their eyes both opened
They say all the silences.
Just before dawn, the old man rolls to his side
For perhaps one final sleep
His breaths so long apart yet strangely strong!
I let go my practiced meditations, my compassioned detachments.
I am good with the deaths of others
Smiling away the fears and honoring their last privacies.
But I would steal a moment of my own with this, my dad.
I sit on the floor and lean against the high mattress
My head just beneath his face and opened mouth
I let my father’s last breaths wash over my face and rustle my thinning hair.
I let myself be little again and hold my daddy’s hand
So wrinkled and yet so soft!
Once more I am finally home safe in his love.
I drop to dozing just before he leaves me.
When I wake, a gray dawn drifts through the windows.
Only a heavy body remains to be gently straightened
And posed for the undertaker’s assistant.
I help him lift this dead weight and watch the cart wobble out.
Then I am alone in this now strange room crying into my dad’s last pillow
A long awaited grief and gratefulness.
My phone vibrates, a ride to the airport lingers for me
I leave his place of passing
Finally wearing my father’s heart with my own.
I wear it still.
His love carries me when my own heart fails.
The Great Hospital Raid
Thank you all beyond limits of words for your prayers, love and support for Sheri and I in these
past few days while I lingered upon the shores of mortality. As you read this, obviously I am still
alive and as coherent as I have ever managed to muster. I started this little episode with a general letter to all of you, and since then I have received several requests to continue my little musings and poetics; so I will present some here. During my stay at Hospital Calderon Guardia in San Jose, I kept a daily journal, partly to keep focused on present happenings and partly to maintain my sanity in the cacophony of noise in the general ward. One part of what follows is pretty much verbatim (sans my creative spellings) from my hand-written pages. No edits, no suppression of “private” intimacies of body or between Sheri and I. The second part of this missive is perhaps more important if quite a bit shorter. It is the reflection, the response after re-reading my own narrative and it is indicated by Italics.
You see much of what almost all of us do moment to moment, is react. Then we take a moment (but not a breath) and proceed to judge based upon those reactions. Here's the rub: 99.999% of all
those reactions and their ensuing judgments are outside our conscious control (unless you've been meditating 14 hours a day for the past 40+ years). Further, the perceptions that prompt those reactions are dictated by our personal histories and cultural training—brain-washing. Succinctly said: we are continually reliving and validating our pasts, most of which have little redeeming value in the gracious acceptance of what life presents us in each and every precious moment we call: now. So, unbeknownst to myself, in my hospital bed, pen in hand, I had been engaging in Byron Katie's, 'the work', an essential part of which is: “if you are going to war, do it on paper”.
So on occasion, you may find passages that sound critical of some of the processes I experienced
and observed, sometimes written with wit and humor (when I'm on my game), sometimes sarcasm
(when I'm not). Unfortunately (in a weak moment) any of us could interpret a phrase or passage
herewith to justify a previously held low opinion of this country, its citizens and its social systems.
To the degree that occurs in this narrative, then I have failed miserably at this task and I apologize for the misuse of your time.
Not only am I led to these after-thought commentaries by Byron Katie's instructions, but also, by a few daily lessons I actually remember from A Course In Miracles: # I am never upset for the
reason I think. # I see only the past. # I could see this differently. # I am determined to see. So, I
am determined to learn from this adventure both from the participation in it as it happened, and
also, from my consideration afterward. I hope you find each to be of some value to you.
Also, know that I harbor no desire to pour love n light, angelic intervention, etc. all over this
report like ketchup at some cheap truck stop diner. I have no Polyannic bone in my body and my
lean is to skepticism when not frivolous. Sometime love's vision delights; sometimes it burdens
heavy, else we never become resilient. And I am no innocent to the darker side of modern
medicine supported and driven by a pharmacological behemoth, hell-bent for profit, managed not
by a small number of sociopaths who would control virtually everything in the universe...except
their own paranoid addiction for control. These are the few who we have allowed, since 1900, to
finance the training of our doctors, nurses and surgeons. These are the few who since 1950 have
filled our electronic signals and printed media with deceptions, deflections and outright lies
regarding a truer nature of health and our own power to grasp and participate in our own
destinies. In many ways we are in an aching world and it calls to us, sometimes for more than our
verbal prayers. Quite accurately, much of the CR Caja challenges I note in my narrative, can be
traced directly to the US government, if one simply takes the time and energy to historically 'follow the money'. Okay, end of diatribe...
...however, if you would like to slide deeper down this and similar rabbit holes, I invite you to
peruse the very last edition of this narrative coming in the near future. After all, I do have a
masters in philosophy; lingered in social/psychological research, as well as corporate America for 40 years. I am fairly well-read and equipped with continually questing thought processes, even if they are all a little bent and rusty. Nuf said.
So to review: standard print equals at-the-time journal entries; italicized print equals after breath contemplation when hopefully a little more sanity rises to the surface.
Lastly: at the request of a few of you, I have added a bit of relevant(?) poetry to this medical
travelogue and commentary. So here and there, I'll add a verse or two. Here goes...and thank you
all again for being in my world and in my heart.
If you would know me: Ask a question I could only answer in the immediate honesty of now
Where all life beckons.
Else you seek only history--the scattered leaves of me already fallen from my limbs.
All these I would gather and offer to you
If you would but leap into such a pile and play
Crushing some and scattering others further
Then let them lie askew at the end of this day
Knowing they are only what I was
Not who I am or who I could be becoming.
Day 1: Monday 24 April
So this here is a coach class planet?
I can order safety or self-expression,
But not both.
I must keep my seat belt fastened,
But the chairs aren’t bolted down.
Many of the outside doors are clearly marked
(Cancer, gun-shot wound, cardiac arrest, etc.)
But nobody knows how long the exit slides are
Or if the flotation devices
(Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.)
All the tickets look the same
But you haven’t a clue
If they are one-way or multiple round-trip.
And finally, no one has ever, really,
Seen the pilot.
Great! Where do I sign up?
Met Dr. B, head of neurology, just outside his office door promptly at 7:00 am. He walked me
around some very long corridors to a sneaky unalarmed outside exit to the sidewalk and the
general din of early morning San Jose traffic. He carefully pointed and directed me to the nearest corner of the block and told me to walk halfway around the whole Calderon Guardia hospital complex to admissions (Note: seems like everywhere I've needed to go on this little sojourn is exactly opposite of where I am...mmm, much like life.)
Once I arrived at admissions, after stumbling into one uniformed minion who could point, I
deposited my admission paper form (received from Dr. B) into a mail slot in a wall. There it
disappeared into bureaucratic oblivion. I took my seat among 30 or so Ticos, but realized 2/3 were family members awaiting arrival of their loved ones coming via ambulance. I waited for my name to be called (this a little challenge as I had been beckoned as Mr. Russell, Mr. William or Mr. Giles —pronounced Hee-liss—announced through an antique speaker system capable of obliterating any human language.)
Waited about 10 minutes—that's right fellow gringos; the caja sometimes works better than the
local banks—and was called to one of four glass windows. Underwent admission processing in
about 5 minutes while having a great time misunderstanding the clerk several instances, then