Illustration by Jay Insult

The ICU and The Vortex by Will Kenneth

May 18, 2023

The nurse stopped my brother and me as we walked into my dad’s room in the ICU. He recognized us from our visit earlier in the morning.

“Does your dad have a sense of humor?” he asked.

I looked to my brother, and I could see he wasn’t sure what the nurse was fishing for either. My brother said “yes” and I said “no” at the same time.

My dad was sedated. He was brought to the hospital two days before for confusion and weakness, and while there doctors discovered his kidneys were failing. Hours later his heart stopped for eight minutes when staff administered dialysis for the first time.

Doctors saved his life, but no one could be sure how well his brain fared. His nurse started easing my dad’s sedatives to test his physical and mental abilities. The tests started earlier in the morning and involved yes and no questions, which he was able to answer well, but he didn’t respond to other commands.

The nurse told us he tried again while my brother and I got lunch.

“When I asked him to give me a thumbs up,” the nurse said, “he flipped me his middle finger.”

I almost doubled over laughing and started clapping my hands, and then I apologized for being loud. “He’s still in there,” I said to my brother. He was laughing, too.

When my dad flicked off his nurse, what he meant was “fuck off and leave me alone.”

He had a tough recovery ahead of him, but once he was alert he was back to swinging between turning on the charm and tossing barbs at everyone.

Not even flying into Palm Beach was enough to put me in his good graces while I was visiting.

He got frustrated with me when I caught up on work from the ICU, and he told me to get a real job. I may have thicker skin these days, but I’d be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. (I’ve been working for a tech company for the past decade, never mind being a journalist in a prior career.)

The ICU staff had to put up with him for a week, but I flew home once I knew he wasn’t at risk of dying.

I thanked his lead nurse—and apologized for him being difficult—before I left.

“I don’t understand,” she said, confiding in me. “One minute he loves me, and the next he hates me.”

“Welcome to my world,” I said, shocking her. I left the hospital floor while her jaw was still on the floor.

I wasn’t too worried about them, though. They had a great trick for when he gave them too much trouble.

The day before I left they told me he got agitated and started yelling, “My son went to Harvard Law!” (his other son, not me). “And I’m going to sue you if you don’t let me out here!”

All they had to do was push a button and out went the cranky old man. If only we could do that to every abusive person in our lives.

They just sedated him. Never mind he was too weak to walk, eat solid food, or remember where he was. They didn’t need to argue with him or validate anything about him being in any condition to go home. All they had to do was push a button and out went the cranky old man. If only we could do that to every abusive person in our lives.

Since my dad is home, he’s created a vortex of new problems, and he’s sucked everyone into his orbit. His main two health problems are both affecting his cognition and causing him to be confused.

He ended up in the hospital due to his kidneys failing, which turned into metabolic acidosis, a buildup of acid in the body. He now needs multiple dialysis appointments a week to prevent that from happening again. He was also diagnosed with myeloma, a type of blood cancer that is treatable.

After I flew home, my brother worked hard to find my dad a credible rehab center, a case manager to help my dad navigate his care, and a home aide to help a few hours a day around his house.

My dad rejected help from both the case manager and the home aide, and we all upended our lives to help him manage an almost daily avalanche of emergencies he’s creating.

The aides couldn’t come into his house as long as he held onto his guns, and no matter how much we all begged him to let my uncle or my dad’s friends store them, he refused to give them all up.

He wanted to handle talking to doctors and booking appointments himself, but he couldn’t remember his schedule, and he couldn’t relay to us what doctors told him. He missed dialysis a few times, leaving us to scramble to both get a hold of him via wellness checks and then reschedule on his behalf.

He’s crashed his car more than once, even though we’ve begged him to stop driving. Without a car, he doesn’t know how to get food for himself. He knows that’s a problem, but unless someone takes him to the store, he can’t fix it.

I’m surprised by how often he tells us he’s grateful for our help, but the best thanks he could give us is to accept help from the people we’re trying to hire for him.

My mom had plans to babysit my nephews in Tampa while my brother went on vacation, but she was reluctant to leave without someone being able to help my dad in case he had another emergency. (I’m so grateful for my mom. They’re not even married, and she’s helping him out for my brother and me).

My brother asked me to fly down so we could have someone cover him, and at first I agreed. Then I struggled with how selfish my dad was being and how frustrated I was to have my life upended to accommodate his awful decisions.

I chose not to go. We were able to get my dad’s friends to check on him for a few days, and my uncle spent some time with him over that weekend, too. My brother still went on his vacation, and my mom was still able to babysit. Their lives didn’t stop because I enforced a boundary.

My dad could kill himself by mistake, and I’ve come to accept that’s not my fault if he does.

My dad could kill himself by mistake, and I’ve come to accept that’s not my fault if he does. I know that’s easier to say when I don’t even live in the same state, and I’m not constantly on the hook to save him from himself.

Not going was not about not loving my dad, but loving myself, and knowing what was best for me. I flew down when he was in the ICU because I have to admit I still care, but I stayed home weeks later because I know how to care for myself, too.

Will Kenneth lives in New York City. ALL > Descendents. (Facebook | Instagram | w o l f m a n w i l l [@] g m a i l)