Main | Friday, April 08, 2005

BlogDaddy, Part 4

continued from Part 3

When Vasco opened his eyes that day, he began to have his first dim awareness of what had happened to him. He didn't communicate with us, but seemed to acknowledge us with his eyes, before closing them again. Eddie and I left his room, exhilarated.

Over the next few visits I made, Vasco slowly began to come out of his fog. At first, he'd nod to questions I asked, although his attention span was slight. After a week, I walked in to find a laminated card on his bedtable, with words like "pain", "hungry" and "doctor" printed on it, for him to indicate when necessary. On the reverse side were names...his aunt's, his sister's, his friend Donn. I also noticed the name of his ex-boyfriend was on there.

The respirator prevented him from talking, but soon he was writing me notes to ask questions about this and that. I told how concerned everybody had been for him, about my BlogJam experience, the election results, the Red Sox. Mostly, Vasco nodded or shrugged to indicate that he was interested or not. He also let me know that someone had broken into the apartment of the person guarding his possessions, and stolen his beloved iBook.

Three months after he'd been in St.Vincent's, I arrived with a bag of magazines for him. He was gone. Somehow, I'd missed the communication that he was being transferred to Goldwater Hospital, on Roosevelt Island in the East River. Goldwater was another public hospital that specializes in "long-term and sub acute care with centers of excellence in areas such as: geriatrics, rehabilitation and ventilator dependence."

I was told that Vasco was worried that he wouldn't get many visitors out on Roosevelt Island, so I was determined to visit him at least once or twice a week, as they weaned him off his respirator. When I first visited him, I took the tram over the East River and waited at the station for the shuttle bus to the hospital, which turned out to be a little silly, because the hospital was about 500 feet away. But I guess when you can't walk, 500 feet might as well be as far as the moon.

Goldwater Hospital was a nightmarish, massive series of interconnected low-slung buildings, joined by interminably long yellow hallways, which were littered with the human detritus of New York City. On the long walk to Vasco's room, I saw paralyzed drug-dealers in wheelchairs cursing at each other, ranting toothless deranged men cursing at no one, vacant-eyed women sitting alone in plastic chairs, staring out the windows. Each time I visited, an elderly man rolled up to me, pleading "Dame un peso?" The place was spotlessly clean and well-staffed, but still I hoped that Vasco had been unconscious when they brought him through those halls to his room.

And in that room that he shared with 3 other seriously ill men, they began to wean Vasco off his repirator. Sometimes he'd struggle to talk to me, but I'd shove a pad and pen into his hands, because I couldn't understand him. He had a small tv which reached out to him on a long, jointed arm, and sometimes I walked in to find him sleeping, but on his pad were notes taken while watching the news...small reminders to himself of the outside world, as he began to re-engage his brain. Phuket. Thailand. Tsunami. And, hilariously, "Fashion Week".

For first time in almost four months, Vasco ate. He drank. He stood up briefly, and made a few tentative steps with the aid of a walker. Most of this, I missed. My erratic drop-ins to see him always seemed to coincide with a "procedure", and I'd be unable to enter his room, a couple of times just giving a wave from the hallway, as they pulled the curtain around.

He spent Christmas in that bed. In that terrible place.

In early January, I stopped in to find him quite alert and talkative. I had brought him a huge pile of magazines, which he told me he'd probably never get around to reading, because they were talking about releasing him. He was fully weaned off the respirator and undergoing physical therapy. I secretly reveled in the fact that his old familiar sarcastic personality was returning.

And finally, in February, Vasco left Goldwater Hospital. It was almost six months since that fateful evening and his GHB "accident". He'd lost his job and his apartment in that time, and the plan was for a few weeks of rest at his friend Donn's place in Manhattan, then he was to return to the care of his aunt and sister in Brazil, for an indefinite period.

Jose Vasco, my BlogDaddy, the man who went by his last name because "there were too many damn Jose's in New York", the man who enabled the words you are reading right now, made his return to his own wonderful, insightful, informational blog, "And Now, Jose?", with this post.

A month ago, Vasco and I had a "goodbye, for now" lunch at a diner in Chelsea. I could tell that he was apprehensive about returning to Brazil, to his hometown Belo Horizonte', a place he'd described to me as "the Pittsburgh of Brazil." I mean, this was the man with an insatiable passion for New York City, a man who nearly jumped with excitement when he pointed out streets and buildings to me, and related their history, sometimes hundreds of years old.

That afternoon, sitting across from me in the diner, he said, "You know, people are expecting me to be all judgmental and negative about drugs now. But I can't be like that. I made a mistake, and I paid for it. I can't go around judging people because of something I did."

After eating, we walked to the corner and made our goodbyes. Vasco was leaving the next day, and said "I should go home and pack, but I don't really have anything to pack." I think I was a bit too forcefully cheerful, as if I were seeing him off on a vacation. I might have even slipped out one of the few southernisms I still employ sometimes.

"Hurry back, ya'hear?"

When I got across the street, I turned and watched him move slowly down the sidewalk, taking extra care on the snow and ice. He turned and waved to me, then disappeared around the corner.

For an epilogue to this story, written for my readers by Vasco himself, please click here.

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