By Herman Thorbecke

Every time I closed my eyes, I saw images of print, clear and in color. They stayed up long enough for me to read the text, but none of it made any sense. The first few words might, but the rest was always nonsense. Unable to sleep because of it, I tried to evade the mirages by not closing my eyes completely, but sleeping with open eyes is not very easy either unless you’re a dog. One of my dogs appears to sleep that way.

Sleep in an ICU is in any case impossible, even with repeated doses of morphine being pumped into your veins. It may take some of the pain, but then you have to deal with the texts and the beeps and bells of the monitoring systems and the blood pressure cuff going off every 15 minutes.

And then there are the nurses. Most of them treat you like you were already dead, banging doors, speaking and laughing loudly all the time, prodding you with needles for just another blood test, listening to your lungs, your heart, your gut. Who in heaven’s name is interested in listening to the hidden gurgles of my gut. “Hello sir, my name is Bella. Are you passing any gas yet?”

“None of your business, but can I have something to refresh my mouth?”

“No, sir. You are on a NO food, NO drink diet for the time being. Doctor’s orders.” Bella was the helper, also referred to as the patient technician.

“What do you know? My tongue is glued to the roof of my mouth. Just give me some ice chips, please.”

“Absolutely not, Sir.”

However, when I then tried to get out of bed to serve myself, she ran to get some help, and the help came all the way from Ukraine. Yes, the same country as we now are ready to go to war over with that little man in Russia.

No, this was not more morphine in action. Janus, the real, registered nurse, the sweetest Ukrainian you could ever meet, brought me some ice chips and sang me a song that went something like, “Mr. Herman is thirsty, Mr. Herman needs to drink. A little ice is good for him and we’ll give it to him now. And while I am about it, we’ll get his vital signs! Tralala tralala.”

For the next couple of days, Janus did everything in his power to make my life bearable in the ICU, and that takes some doing.

He also helped me pass the time by talking politics. He was firmly of the opinion that Hitler and Putin were cut from the same cloth, with the difference that Putin had not been offered the opportunity to kill that many people, yet. “Both are very evil men. Have you seen the size of his private yacht?”

Janus had come to the U.S. 16 years ago, as a refugee with his wife and three daughters. Both his wife and oldest daughter are nurses. They all speak Ukrainian at home.

What assets to this country are people like that.

There were two other male nurses that stood out for their kindness and patience. James was a tall dark character, who liked to practice his Shakespearean lines while checking my vital signs and robbing me of endless vials of blood. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!” Stuff like that is very entertaining for someone high on morphine.

Eventually, they released me from the ICU and put me in a nice room on one of the main floors, and there I had the luck to be assigned to Ludwig, a stocky, African-American with an afro, who told me his father was a German and that he had nothing against Germans in general. Just did not like his father.

Ludwig was a bit of a philosopher, an avid soccer player, and recently married. After I told him I had been married all my life, he wanted to know our secret. That put me on the spot and I mumbled something about patience and understanding of the human condition.

“Yes,” said Ludwig, “I have heard those same answers, but where does love come in?”

“Later,” I told him.

“But I am a young man and don’t want to wait forever!”

“Play a lot of soccer,” I told him, “and spoil your wife and baby. Be really good to them, and love will likely blossom.”

He thanked me for my wise words.