Today starts with the familiar pattern: sleep, awake, cough, vomit, back to sleep. Coughing strong enough to sprinkle the inside of the translucent corrugated oxygen tube with blood. (Blood: In the real world, blood is supposed to stay tucked away inside the veins of one’s body or carefully hidden from view in a monthly exercise of female discretion. The sight of blood outside the body makes the squeamish stomach churn. In the ICU, blood is everywhere: dried, fresh, venous, arterial, puddled, sopping, dripping and squirting. What doesn’t erupt on its own or in conjunction with ever so much piercing, poking, slicing and stitching is drawn from veins and arteries like money from an account with perpetual overdraft protection. The sight of blood is so common, a little sprinkled inside the breathing tube doesn’t seem like such a big deal. And it probably isn’t.)
It occurs to the doctors at morning rounds that a cough suppressant might be worth trying. The savior of many a miserable soul trapped in the hacking clutches of bronchitis is prescribed and later administered: Codeine. Unfortunately, Aaron is sharing his nurse Suzy with a more demanding client, so she doesn’t have the time to reduce the giver of sleep and monitor the codeine’s effect. By late evening, Anne and Natalie convince the night nurse to reduce the Propofol enough to let Aaron really wake up. He does, and he is awake enough to play the ICU version of “20 questions”…”Are you in pain?” “Shake.” “Are you uncomfortable?” “Shake.” Do you want to be suctioned?” “Nod.” (In the ICU, clear plastic canisters fill constantly with bloody phlegm from vacuum lines whose sucking tips are regularly being threaded into lungs and poked into noses and mouths and throats that cannot blow, sniff, spit or swallow.)
Aaron deliberately performs leg and arm lifts. He’s getting in shape. He begins to cough, but he is awake enough now to suppress the cough and keep it in check by force of will. He repeatedly lifts his left arm (his right arm is still tangled in tubes and probes), each time a little higher, angling toward the trach tube/oxygen supply tube coupling. “Do you want to take out the tube?” “Nod.” Anne and Natalie are alarmed. He touches the coupling with his index finger and smiles. He got ‘em.