9PM – Sophia’s stepfather, Vartan, is not doing well. He is at a rehab center near Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills. Sophia and her mother have been at his side constantly for weeks and they are exhausted, so I told her that I would stay all night and watch over him. Sophia told me to caress his hand and talk to him to help him sleep.
9:15PM – Vartan has an amazing life. He is older than Sophia’s mother. He fought in World War 2, and was a POW in a German camp. He went through turbulant times in the Soviet Union. He was a prominent cancer surgeon in Russia. He moved to America with Sophia’s mother because he loved her. Rumor has it that they fell in love while still married to others, and they waited decades until they were able to be together.
10:20PM – Everyone here seems to be elderly and in pain. If you’ve been to a place like this, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, it’s better off you don’t know.
10:30PM – The sounds. The screaming of the man in the next room.
10:45PM – In one day, I’ve gone from writing about the hormonal teenage years of early manhood to writing about the inevitable weakening of man because of old age.
11PM – I can’t wait until morning arrives, for the nurturing power of the sun. I know this sounds insensitive, but I don’t want to be in this place anymore. I’m getting dizzy. Don’t faint. Be a man. Be a man like Vartan. Think of all the stress that Sophia and her mother are under, doing this every day.
11:15PM – How many of my blogging friends are nurses? Kudos to you for the work you do.
11:30PM – There is another man in the room, in the other bed. He constantly watches sports on his TV. Every time I walk by, he wants to talk with me. He is lonely. He used to work for ABC Sports. He thinks that I am Russian. He wants to talk about the famous Olympic hockey game between the USA and the USSR. He was supposed to cover that Olympic event with ABC, but he was assigned to bobsledding instead. He has always regretted that day.
Midnight – Vartan is going in and out of reality. Sleeping pills don’t work. He tries to leave the bed. The nurses have to “soft restrain” him to the bed. It is painful to watch. At times, he knows who I am. At other times, he is in his own world. I try to decipher what he is doing in this other reality by watching his movements.
12:05PM – He is talking to someone in Russian. But this person is not there. Who is this person that he is speaking to? I don’t know.
12:10AM – He is petting what looks like a boy’s head. Or a dog? Perhaps it is a dog he had as a child? He is making rapid movements with his hands and fingers. Swatting flies? Conducting an orchestra? Writing on a blackboard?
12:45AM – The nurse enters, wanting to change the soiled sheets. What a tough job these nurses have! Still, it is a little sad that there isn’t more of a human touch to the caregiving at this facility. One patient seems interchangeable with the next.
12:50PM – Vartan is doing his hand movements, and the nurse just finds them an annoyance as she changes the sheets.
2AM – I decide the hand movements are Vartan performing surgery. I find that dignified. He senses that he is in a medical facility and is doing what he is trained to do. He is not just some old anonymous guy. He is a skilled surgeon, and he wants everyone to know that.
3:15AM – Earlier in the evening, Sophia had sent over some Chinese food from a local restaurant, but eating Kung Pao Chicken in this facility made me queasy, so I hardly touched it. But I’m just noticing that at the bottom of the bag sits a can of Coke. Not Diet Coke, but real Coke. Woo-hoo!
3:30AM – That was the best Coke I ever had. Seriously. This post could be a commercial for the intense power of Coca-Cola. This Coke was my escape out of here. It’s the real thing. It transported me. Coke does not belong in a rehab facility. It is the soda of youth. I close my eyes and I am at a summer picnic, drinking Coke. And there is BBQ. And women. Life affirming stuff.
4:10AM – Vartan is doing his hand gestures again. But, this time, I notice that during the movement, he brings his hand to his mouth, as if he is eating something. That’s it! He is NOT doing surgery with his hands. He is picking something — from a tree? — cherries? grapes? apples? — and eating them. He grew up on a farm. Is this eating of the fruit his equivalent to my drinking the Coke? Is he at a picnic too?
5AM – I try to calm Vartan down again by caressing his hand. He is a cool guy. He used to laugh at me because I sipped my vodka.
This is hard. Soon, I will go home and Sophia’s mother will replace me at his side. We’re all hoping that Vartan recovers.