Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Man Who Lived

Poppy Lucky was at a popular upscale restaurant in a nice part of town.  His big Italian family was celebrating his birthday or some equally important event, as one can imagine, with extravagant Italian food, wine, and dancing.  In the middle of  his celebratory dance, Poppy suddenly clutched his chest, fell to the ground, and usually, this is the last memory Poppy would have.

Not this day.  Poppy Lucky opened his eyes to twenty concerned and astonished faces and bright fluorescent lights. "What are you all doing here? Where am I? Why does my chest hurt?"
"Dad!" His son and daughter rushed to his side.
"Why is everybody crying?" Poppy was perplexed.
He would not know until later that the EMTs and Paramedics had performed CPR on his body that had no heartbeat and no breath for half an hour, and even shocked him once with a defibrillator.

"Poppy Lucky, what day is it today?" RN Muscles asked.
"Why, it's Sunday, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes it is," RN Muscles replied, "And do you know my next question, Poppy?"
"No, what is it?"
"Did you go to Church today?"
Poppy thought this was funny and gave us his warm smile.  I could tell that the deep creases in his face were shaped by his frequent use of that big smile throughout his life. He was also pure astonishment. He had many questions, as well as he should have.

As what seemed to be dozens of his offspring, their spouses, their children, cousins, siblings, and family friends took turns to come see him, he began to realize the gravity of his situation.  I could tell that though he was accepting their professions of fear, love, well-wishes, and gratitude with graciousness and well-practiced  humor, he was troubled. It was nearly impossible for him to understand that he had collapsed and almost died.  I don't think he could reconcile nor process the minutes in his life in which he technically ceased to exist.  After all, who really could?

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," I interjected once, "but I'd like to write down your blood pressure and see how you're doing, Poppy." "Well of course, young lady, please come in," he waved me in.
"So, how's his heart-rate?" his red-eyed son asked nervously.
"You know, it is a very stable 70 beats per minute right now," I answered.
"What about his blood pressure?" his son continued perplexedly.
"I think it looks like right where it generally should be at 110/70," I answered.
"What is that blue line? Why is it flat?" his daughter tried, "Why did the machine start beeping?"
"Oh, Poppy, you need to keep this sat probe on your finger, see? It stopped beeping. The blue line is his oxygen level, and it's quite good at 99%" I answered.
"So everything is...okay?" the son asked, a bit incredulously.
"It certainly looks that way," I replied.
"Oh Dad, it looks like the machine still thinks you're alive and that you'll be with us a while longer," he squeezed Poppy's hand and wiped his tears with the other.  This would be an awkward conversation in any other situation, but his words were oddly appropriate for that moment.
"So are you feeling any pain right now, Mr. Lucky?" I asked.
"No, not really, except my ribs, where they apparently worked on me." Poppy shrugged, but I could still strongly sense his uncertainty and sense of wonder at all that had passed.

Perhaps in future days, he will tell his grandchildren and great-grandchildren stories of bright lights, tunnels of darkness, flying angels and the voices of loved ones calling him back into the world of the living, but I saw in those first moments I spent with him an acutely incredulous man.  Those he loved best had convinced him of the biological facts, but it will probably take a long time for Poppy to find peace with how/why he beat the odds of staying asystolic/apneic, of sustaining brain injuries, of being intubated, of not coming back.

Poppy knew he had been given another chance at life the moment he understood what had happened to him.  As he described to me his family, the meal, the dancing, his eyes gained a dream-like state and his voice softened.  I could tell that he was habitually proud and extroverted, but during his stay, he became increasingly contemplative and humble. He will undoubtedly be a changed man after that day. And in some ways, so will I.


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