William had been up for awhile. He had told me what a hassle it was to get an official hospital pass since they feared people would come in and steal drugs and there was even talk of a prostitution ring operating on the premises. He returned from the cafeteria with wrapped crackers and peanut butter, some cartons of juice and a couple candy bars. “Man, this place gives me the creeps”, he said as he put the food in the lower drawer of a cabinet near my bed. “Can you believe I had to go through three checkpoints to get here?”

Doctor Fontenot began making his rounds in the Intensive Care Unit and came over to my bedside followed by several interns. “Your vitals are holding steady”, he said while looking at my chart. “We’re hoping to get you out of ICU by tomorrow”. William introduced himself and said he was here to do anything that he could to help out. “Well”, said Doctor Fontenot, “I’d like you to know how to assist the suctioning and dressing changes. That’d be a big help”.

William watched closely as the doctor snapped on the latex gloves and Terri started assembling the supplies necessary for suctioning. “We can’t do this very often or we run the risk of pneumonia developing”, said Doctor Fontenot to William and his interns. “Where’s the eighteen gauge catheter?” “I’m sorry,” said Terri. “It looks like this is all we have right now”. “Damn it! What’s wrong with this place?” he said indignantly. “Wait! Here’s one!” said an intern who had been looking in an adjacent cupboard. “Thank God” said Doctor Fontenot. “That larger gauge would’ve injured the lining of his lung tissue”.

The nursing assistant Morris came over holding the hand-pump resuscitator. “Y’all gonna need me?” he said, looking towards Doctor Fontenot. “Yes, thank you,” said the doctor. “Please have some extra tissues handy and I’ll re-introduce the catheter to show the students how to re-suction”. I looked at William and then at Doctor Fontenot. “Okay, try to take the biggest breath you can when I say so. Nurse, please regulate the machine to the low setting”. She adjusted the suctioning machine and then switched it on. It rumbled to life and Doctor Fontenot explained to his students how he was going to suction as much phlegm as he could through my trachea and then re-aspirate me after directing me to take another deep breath. William took the hand pump with one hand and steadied my shoulder with the other.

Doctor Fontenot removed the catheter from its sterile sleeve and Terri attached it to the hose connected to the aspirator. Doctor Fontenot dipped the end into some lubricating jelly that Terri had squirted into an edge of the basin. “Okay, when you’re ready Brom, take the biggest breath you can”. I concentrated on building up my breath by taking a couple shorter breaths first to establish some rhythm and then took a deep, deep breath. I could already feel mucous dislodging from the folds of my lungs and then Doctor Fontenot inserted the vibrating catheter into the port in my neck. Much of my air was being suctioned into the catheter along with secretions that had accumulated and he probed and twisted in much the same way that Terri had done before.

William’s eyes were unblinking saucers as Doctor Fontenot slowly extracted the catheter and wiped it clean with the sterile tissues that Morris was holding. “Okay, now take one more deep breath” he said to me. Just as I did so, he re-introduced the catheter and suctioned more of the finer filaments so that I was as clear as I could be. “That should save us the trouble of having to do it again so soon,” he said looking over at his interns who were nodding vigorously.

Doctor Fontenot smiled at me. “That’s better, isn’t it?” I tried to smile back and moved my lips. “Thank you”. He put his hand on my other shoulder and then turned to Terri. “Please make sure we have all the proper supplies from now on”. “Yes, of course doctor”’ she stammered.

Two orderlies wheeled in a gurney and set it in an open space by the nurse’s desk. Terri waited to be excused and Doctor Fontenot nodded twice and she left to help get the new patient hooked up to monitors and to attend to his IV drips.

“Okay, William?” Doctor Fontenot said. “I’m going to ask you and Morris to gently turn Brom up on his side and hold him while we get a look at the sore that your chart refers to.” Morris moved some of the pillows out of the way and made sure that my tubing wouldn’t catch on anything. “Just a bit higher” Doctor Fontenot said as I was shifted up onto my side. “Hold it right there”. He pulled a short clear plastic ruler from his lab coat pocket and measured something on my back. “You’ve got yourself a bit of sore going on back here” he said rather as a matter of fact. “See here William? Try and keep an eye on this. It hasn’t broken the skin but a sore like this can turn into something serious fast.”

He instructed Morris to show William how to position the pillows and rolled up towels to redistribute the pressure away from the red blister that had developed on my tailbone. “I’d like to see if you can spend a bit more time on your stomach too”, he said.

“Now that William is here, he can monitor your breathing and summon someone right away if there’s any problem.

I knew this was coming. William learned the procedure quickly and checked all my tubing, IVs and wires monitoring my vital signs before the cot was attached and straps holding my chin and forehead were in position. I tried not to hyperventilate as my head rose to a vertical position and then eased down so that I was staring at the floor. William immediately put a couple seat cushions on the floor and lay down in order to see my face. “Are you doin’ okay?” he said. “Yeah, I’m OK” I said silently.