For five plus weeks in 2016, I spent time with my father in hospitals. Beginning last January, dad spent a short week in a hospital in Macon from an undiagnosed issue, which we later discovered involved a lack of oxygen to the brain. The reason we learned that he failed to transfer enough oxygen involved another hospitalization in Nashville in early July and a third in Macon at the end of July. In between, we spent five days in a hospital outside Chicago due to cellulitis, and he missed his nieces wedding. Just before Christmas, we returned to the hospital again with what appeared to be another skin infection. Spending Christmas in the hospital hooked up to antibiotics, dad then spent New Year’s Day recovering from surgery. We have spent a lot of time just sitting in hospital rooms.
There are broken silences that exist in those rooms. In many ways the idea of that people hurry up to wait in hospital finds a different inflection in the silences. Waiting makes us aware of the sounds around us. Since many of dad’s hospitalizations have included machines that beep when bad things happen in his body or when he shifted his weight, I became aware of the quiet moments when the only sounds involved the whir of an air exchanger or the fluorescent lights; I also became acutely aware of dad’s breathing. I also noticed when the conversations we had—serious and humorous often in the same moment—ended on words lost in memories, a pause not intended but embraced. I hated the quiet at first because it felt like we were not talking about things we needed to discuss. By late June and dad’s most difficult hospitalization when nurses rushed in often to beeping noises, I had to tend to dad’s every move, and heard voices all the time in the hall including three code blue calls followed by wailing families, I paid attention to the pauses, those moments when I heard nothing not even the whir.
Dad has spent the past three days without being fully cognizant of what was going on, slowly emerging from the hazy of anesthesia and pain meds. And nurses were not always running in to check on him. The quiet came softly as a I paid attention to how dad’s breathing found rhythm with the help of his C-PAP machine. I also noticed when the noises broke off quickly and the whir gave way to my own breathing. There is a sermon there somewhere: surrounded by noise we have to find the still small voice. I don’t know how to speak that sermon, but I am learning to live it. I would prefer to have understood these things without spending time in the hospital with my dad. I am confident he would be glad to have skipped every one of those weeks with pokes, prods, and finally surgery. There is no need to make meaning out of the pain and suffering. I simply noticed the silences, when they were broken, and their return. It was in those moments that I learned the gift that broken silences create by making me aware of the return of the silence.