Yesterday I thought Milt had just entered the hospital that morning, since that's when we got the call from his son, my ex-step brother-in-law. But he's been there since Saturday. I felt a little irked that no one had called me sooner, but that's how it is with ex-step-families, I guess. He'd already moved from a regular, semi-private room to a pre-ICU room, with ICU-style monitors and a nurse right there in the room 24 hours a day. He told us that in the semi-private room, he'd suffered from some kind of panic attack. He couldn't catch his breath, and the nurses didn't respond to his panic button. So he lay there gasping, he said, drowning. "I never want to go through that experience again," he told us, and he meant it literally.
This room has an expansive view of the East River, which is more a benefit to his visitors since Milt's bed, though right near the window, faces toward the city he's lived in for the last 6 decades.
Milt was glad to see us, and pretty perky considering. He rubbed his unshaven face and apologized. The razor, he said, was too heavy. I'd offer to give him a shave today, but I've never done that for another person in my life. You'd think the nurses would know how to do this. Milt's voice is gone, all he can do is whisper, but we're used to this. He lost a good deal of his vocal cords to cancer a few years ago. When the nurse leans over him to fuss with his catheter, he says/whispers, "isn't she beautiful" to me. She smiles shyly. Later he tells me, "see, that's how I get extra attention." I think she's on to him, though.
Talking wears him out, but he can't stop when we're there. He tells us about a book he read in the library of his apartment complex. I want to figure out who the author is (Sarah somebody, he says), and get him one of her works he hasn't read yet. Only I'm not sure which ones he's read. He tells me he's in love with her writing style. Detective novels. The detective is Jewish, but didn't know he was (because of an adoption mixup). I'm sure I can find it all but maybe not in time. I'd like to be able to read him the next one in the series. So he won't have to talk.
He was having trouble lifting his spoon, too, so I fed him his dinner. Hated the fish. Loved the cherry jello. I promised to come back today to feed him jello again. It's a pleasure to find a way to help him, after all the kindnesses he's shown me in the last 30 years.
My son and husband leave to let Milt rest. He motions me toward him and tells me when -- if -- he ever leaves this place, I have to go to his apartment with him immediately, because he has something to give me. "It's not a fortune," he says. Just what he's put away in cash for my son, and the two step-grandkids who live in upstate New York. The three of them are his late wife's only grandchildren, and of them, only Jody is her blood relative. But for Milt, they are all his, too. It throws me for a second, though. Haven't they told him he's not getting out of here? I tell him, don't worry, I'm sure one of the boys (his sons) can do it.
"Oh no," he says. "I don't want them to know I have that kind of cash lying around."
Which means he doesn't realize that they won't be getting mad at him for things like that ever again.