The ICU is where you live if you can’t live anywhere else. You don’t choose to go there, don’t choose how long you stay there, and you don’t choose which way you leave there. The front double doors of the 4th floor ICU open to the West Wing corridor. Through them, patients, visitors and staff flow back and forth in the irregular rhythms of ICU life. The back double doors open to eternity; transport teams push covered gurneys through them on their way to the morgue.
Today, Aaron left through the front double doors to take up residence at room 1041 in the West Wing on the 10th floor of the UCLA Medical Center. He is well enough to live outside the ICU.
The 10th floor is the last elevator stop up. Through north facing windows we overlook the UCLA campus and can see to the west the Getty museum, where some of the world’s finest tableaus of life hang on walls and are perused by admiring patrons. Here in the Medical Center, dramatic tableaus unfold daily as involuntary denizens are subsumed into them, and consumed by them.
The 10th floor is an “All Suites” floor. Cancer patients do not share rooms. Doors are always closed; the corridor is usually empty. Infection is the enemy’s most persistent, pervasive, and deadly ally; isolation is a key defensive tactic.
Natalie noticed day before yesterday that Aaron’s upper right chest was swollen. An ultrasound scan revealed no clotting. Yesterday, a multitap (like an octopus of tubes) IV line which penetrated the swollen area was removed on suspicion of infection. Today, his white count drops to 30,000, and for the first time in over a month, the fever does not perform its daily dance.
Aaron is mostly lucid. (Yesterday morning he announced that he had fixed a number of bugs in the hospital computer system.) When he moves his hands, they tremble like hands whose owners are inflicted with advanced Parkinson’s disease. He talks only a little before tiring. The talker valve restricts airflow enough that it makes breathing harder; he wants it out most of the time. He is helped to sit up again for a short while.
He does not like to be left alone. He understands that he cannot fix problems, cannot operate the bed controls, cannot operate the call button, cannot summon help. In the ICU, attention is close and constant. The 10th floor by comparison seems deserted. A visitor’s cot is brought in for overnight stays. Isolation is tempered so it does not become desolation. Room 1041 feels almost homey.