“When all the while, his heart hungered for home.”

A week ago, my husband Don and I went to bed on an unremarkable Friday night. Six hours later, there was a startling 4 AM phone call telling us that my brother Richard had just undergone emergency abdominal surgery for a perforated bowel, part of which had been resected. The event was life-threatening and the peritonitis could still kill him.

I got on a plane a few hours later and flew from Cleveland to Phoenix, where Rich lives by himself, with his border collie puppy Mia for company.

At Chandler Community Hospital, Rich had so many tubes and wires coming out of him, he looked like a distributor cap.  He was on four kinds of antibiotic in the hope that one of them might help. He was also morphine for significant pain, and he did not react well to it.

There were funny hallucinations at first.

“I am in Germany,” he announced.

“Really? How can you tell it’s Germany?” I asked.

He looked at me like: well, isn’t it obvious?

“Short pants,” he said.

That was the last funny thing for a long time. The hallucinations rapidly became so grotesque, violent and terrifying that his doctors asked if he was a combat veteran. Or if he, um, might be an alcoholic suffering from withdrawal. No, on both counts.  Rich just watches a lot of violent movies, and he doesn’t drink.

He became increasingly paranoid and insisted that the nurses were trying to kill him. That night I went back to his house to take care of his dog and get some sleep. All night, he called repeatedly, demanding that I come and get him out of that hellhole — which was actually the nicest, prettiest, quietest hospital I’ve ever seen. He was getting wonderfully attentive care, but when I got back to the hospital the next morning, he started snarling abuse at me and the nurses, convinced that I had betrayed him, that we were all in league against him, and that we were trying to kill him.

I confess that at that point, I was too frightened of him to snap, “Keep that b.s. up, pal, and you might be right!” My brother had been replaced by a person I began to call Paranoid Delusional Abusive Scary Guy, who was rapidly getting better physically but who was still hallucinating vividly.

While all this was going on, what Rich wanted, more than anything in the world, was to go home. “Make all this stop. Get me out of here. Take me home. Everything will be fine again if I can just go home.”

That’s not a bad definition of home: a place were “all this” stops. A place you go where things will be fine again. It might not be where you live. It might be a place in your imagination. It’s where you yearn to be.

A week after all this began, Paranoid Delusional Abusive Scary Guy has crawled back into his cave. Funny Decent Sensible Nice Guy is coming home this morning at 10 AM. Rich has made an astonishing recovery — the infection cleared, the bowel functioning again, the incision healing well. He will need help from his retired buddies Dave and Dennis, who’ll visit and drive him places. Another friend is moving in with him to help with his puppy (who is sweet but nuts). A visiting nurse will come every day.

As I told Rich yesterday at the hospital, “I love you, kid, but I love Don more. I want to go home as much as you do!”

Tomorrow at 10 AM, I will board an eastbound plane, knowing that  I am a fortunate woman. Where I live and where I yearn to be are the same place. Tomorrow night, if all goes well, I’ll be back in bed with my honey.

And for a few days, I’m going to turn off all the telephones!







9 thoughts on ““When all the while, his heart hungered for home.””

  1. Mary, so sorry to hear about this troubling time. I can relate to some of the medical scare since Mike had emergency open heart surgery several years ago, but the personality change sounds like the worst part.

    I agree with the definition of home as “where all this stops” since suffering through a bullied daughter. Home as a safe place was such a necessity for her.

    A sweet but crazy pup sounds like the best medicine now that her is back to himself.

    Safe home!

  2. it is never good news when the phone rings in the dead of night.

    what a harrowing (and strange) medical trip your brother richard took! happy to hear that p.d.a.s.g left and f.d.a.s.g returned, hopefully no worse for wear! such a great sister that you went out, stuck by his side even when p.d.a.s.g emerged and took care of dog and home…..

    welcome back home enjoy the quiet and your safety of your own nest.

  3. Well, I admit to watching lots of history, and war films from the Greek myths to WWII, but not the slasher dasher, shoot ’em up for the sake of shooting bang-bangs. I can handle the fake stuff, but I cannot stand the horror sort of things, never did. I don’t even watch them draw blood out of my arms. While under morphine I also remembering seeing spiders crawling up and down the walls, and I saw the names of all the people who had died in that hospital were being written on the before my eyes. I could not rest. so I figured I had to get out of there and get to where I knew it was safe. So I wanted out. Finally got to the point that no matter what the pain or discomfort, I wasn’t taking any more medications for pain if my mind was going to be blown away at the same time. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

  4. This makes me think of the time I got locked out of the house and in the garage. It’s so shocking to suddenly, without warning, be standing on the wrong side of a silly piece of wood that, it turns out, signifies whether you have comfort and familiarity (not to mention a bathroom) close at hand.

    I have also had the odd bad medication side effect, and the feeling of being locked out of your own sense of yourself, your comfortable center, your own mind, is horrible. I like to feel that I carry my home with me wherever I go, but at those times it’s as if I were thrown out, the lock is locked and I’m in one of those awful endless hallways that star in nightmares. Where is home then? What the heck IS home?

    You just know it when you get there. And the only way to get there is to hold on to the belief that you’ll know it when you see it with all your might through the storms.

    Having someone you love with you is like the proverbial light in the window too – I’m glad you could be there for your brother, even though you had to venture out of your own home to do it. My beloved husband has held my hand through so much in the tough times and that makes all the difference.

    I’m so glad everyone made it back home in the end.

  5. I just saw this. I hope Richard is doing much better by now. My Uncle Brad had ICU Psychosis, the name his doctors gave to his hospital-only hallucinations. Terrifying for us all.

  6. RIch is doing really well. The wound is healing, and he probably won’t need a skin graft after all. He walked his dog for the first time since surgery and I’m pleased to report that not only did Rich do well, Mia isn’t pulling any more, so the leash training I did with her stuck!

  7. I went to Cleveland for a complicated hip replacement. When I awoke I, too, was connected to a morphine drip. That first or second night I had a dream that scared the crap out of me! It took me a while to convince myself that it wasn’t real. Very troubling. When I mentioned it to the nurse she said, “Oh, yes, that’s just a morphine dream.” Just! I immediately had them disconnect the drip. Granted, I wasn’t in that much pain but the terror I experienced was not worth the comfort if provided.

    We’re running with sisters when we fiddle with the brain.

  8. I’m guessing you mean “running with scissors,” Frank! My brother certainly agrees with you. At one point in the festivities, he looked at me and said, “How fucked up does your life have to be, to make you want to feel like this?” On the other hand, some people must really like this stuff — otherwise there’d be no street market for it.

  9. Ha! Talk about your Freudian slips. My sisters would enjoy that though they would probably contend that it was the older brother who was the danger.

    Maybe I did mean my sisters! Maybe I was thinking of the nuns who taught me. Maybe it was the last remnants of morphine. At any rate, I think I’ll use “running with sisters” in the future if only to bedevil Rebecca and Jennifer.

    Nice lucid remark by your brother. That kind of insight must run in the family.

Leave a Comment