Two years ago I received a call, it was from a number I didn’t recognize and though I never answer unknown numbers I answered this one. I was rewarded with the quiet but jolly voice of one of my very best friends. I don’t think I will ever have pause to forget this phone call but I am strongly reminded of it now.
J: You’ll never guess where I am.
CK: Jeff? You aren’t in jail are you?
J: No, in the hospital.
I was getting ready to laugh, thought it was some big joke but I already knew it wasn’t. He explained that he had gone in for a test because he had experienced some chest pains and that instead of testing him and sending him on his merry way they did the doctor version of “HOLY SHIT” and admitted him to the hospital for something like an octuple bypass surgery. I must interject here that when I say octuple (which I don’t even think is a real word) bypass it sounds like i am taking liberties with this and I assure you I am not. I clearly remember the number 8 and the word bypass.
I sat very very still while I listened to him speak. I asked if there was anything I could do, did he need anything, anything at all. I was so in shock still that I don’t think I remember his answer.
The next evening he had not yet gone into surgery so we packed ourselves into the car (K Mr. Kaos and I) and stopped at our local grocery store. We bought some stuff, maybe more for our comfort than his own. We choose bizarre things, a Star Wars novel, Maxim magazine, crossword puzzles, cards, maybe a coloring book (K helped) a deck of cards, I think some gum, I can’t remember it all, we left the store with our pockets much lighter and a very heavy bag of “stuff to do” you know, for after his major surgery when he would be so alert and bored and needed things to do because people wouldn’t be constantly knocking at his door to visit or poke him with yet another needle.
We visited and K was jubilant, glowing so excited for any chance to see her Uncle Jeff. Mr Kaos was pretty quiet, but positive, he gave me a lot of strength even though I know how worried he was about our friend. I can’t recall just now if I was speechless or if I babbled on to pass the moments as I looked at my dear friend as he smiled and laughed in his hospital bed. There had been family and friends there all day. Well, maybe just family. You see Jeff is one of those amazing people that once he touches your life he can’t be a friend anymore. He becomes your brother, your son, your uncle. He becomes family because he is so good, so strong and really so amazingly caring.
When it was time to go we wished him good luck, made sure someone would call us after surgery and gave him hugs and kisses until later. I had never seen my big 6’1″ friend look so fragile. After we made it out the hospital doors I cried just a tiny bit to get it out of my system and then we went to a favorite restaurant and toasted Jeff. We ate food he would have loved, we drank drinks he would have toasted and we thought about him as we made our way home and tucked little 3 year old K into bed.
The next morning across town my sweet friend lay open on an operating table, in a waiting room not too far away his mother and a few of his friends sat waiting, I sat at home unable to think of anything else, K played and watched movies and I swear was so perfect and so sweet the entire day, all over Portland the people who loved Jeff waited for word. Hours and hours went by and I called his cell phone. The friend who was in charge of answering told me there was no word yet. I called a few more times but didn’t want to bug her anymore so I started calling the hospital. Still nothing. After hours. After more hours. Hours after he should have been out of surgery when he was supposed to be fine there was still no word.
That night some friends came by and we invited them to stay for dinner, to hang out, to keep the fear at bay a little longer. You know the fear, the fear that some one who means so much to so many people could pass from our world so easily and no one would want to say a word.
I learned he was out of surgery. It hadn’t gone well. There were problems. Complications. He wasn’t awake yet.
The next day it was more of the same. The day after that Mr. Kaos stayed home from work, I couldn’t take it any longer. We stopped by the grocery store, the same one where we went to by the hopeful books and magazines and bought lots of food. We got sodas, chips, sandwiches, soup and maybe even some candy I can’t recall. We took it all to the hospital for his mom and his friends who had been there the whole time, barely stopping to rest or shower.
We sat in the waiting room knowing that he was still asleep, for lack of a better word. He wasn’t in a coma, they were keeping him unconscious to keep him alive. I could explain maybe 70% of the complications. I still remember what happened, I still remember so many things that went wrong. So there with his loved ones I gathered my strength to visit a friend. The doctors were preparing us all for the worst. They asked us please not to get our hopes up. I got ready to say goodbye to one of the kindest men I had ever known. K played the clown and made a few people smile and laugh making the tiniest of dents in the gray cloud that hung about and I went back through the big double doors to see Jeff.
When I arrived at his room I found myself surrounded by a greenhouse. Three walls were glass and there was sun and plant life all round just on the other side of those glass walls. It would have been beautiful if not for all the monitors and the carts and the machine that goes ping, and Jeff. Sweet Jeff laying there in a sick impression of a sleeping fairytale princess. Naked, completely yellow, covered in a loose sheet with the medical equivalent to plastic wrap covering his surgical site.
That was not the Jeff I knew. The Jeff I knew laughed and fought and carried on and made the world a better place just by living. I couldn’t find many words. I tried not to cry. To be strong for my friend. I stroked his hand, it was almost lifeless and it was all I could do to keep it together, to say a few things, to tell him how much I love him, how much K loves him and Mr. Kaos too, and my mom and dad, and my brother and S. How much everyone in the world loves him and I knew that somehow he could pull this off.
But my voice was very small that day.
When I walked back through the big double doors to the waiting room I felt worse than when I had gone in. I knew that I was supposed to have said goodbye but there was no way for me do it.
A week went by. 8 days. 9 days. 10 days. He was still Sleeping Jeffy. After two weeks he woke up.
2 weeks asleep in that fucking green room and he finally opened his eyes.
His story wasn’t over. He spent 33 days in total in the hospital and his recovery went on from there.
It wasn’t an easy time, but he made it, he struggled, he worked his ass off, he made a better way for himself and he’s living.
Happy day Jeff, I love you.