Dr. Fontenot returned to my bedside with an assistant that I hoped was his prized pupil. “All Right. Let’s see what we can do about this,” he said while peeling back the wrapping from a new pair of gloves. I had gotten into a rhythm with the machine and tried to anticipate the deeper sigh that was set to occur once every ten minutes.

Thwee Tucka, the ventilator sounded and I noticed a small brown cockroach duck under the unit as Dr. Fontenot examined the readings. “Damn bugs!” he cursed under his breath. “All right Brom” he said, looking directly into my eyes. “You still won’t be able to talk and we’ll stay here until we’re certain that you’re going to be able to handle this on your own.”

He motioned to Terri, the evening nurse who grabbed the hand pump that was mounted on the wall by her nurse’s station. She came over and smiled her warm smile and I felt a little less anxious.

“All right” he said turning to meet my eyes. “I’m going to have my assistant switch off the ventilator and when I remove the cap I want you to take a deep breath and then just let it out, Okay?” He looked over to his assistant. “Ready? Now!”

The machine stopped suddenly and he unhooked the cap and detached it from the tracheotomy. It was so surprising that I gasped and took in a big breath. “Now let it out,” said Doctor Fontenot. A rumble deep in my lungs rattled with phlegm. “It’s to be expected,” said Doctor Fontenot. “I’ll bet you wish you hadn’t smoked all those cigarettes now. That’s it, just take another deep breath and let it out”. “It looks like he might be doing okay,” offered the assistant and Terri lowered the hand pump that she had raised in readiness.

“Let’s make sure that you’re as clear as can be”, said Doctor Fontenot as he started reaching in the cabinets near my bed for gloves, a catheter, some gauze pads and the purple kidney-shaped basin.