“The Nurses Like It.”


Amazingly, Dad is now awake and alert.

I walk in and there’s some drama on his tv—the surgeon turns away, zoom in to the flat blue line on the vitals monitor, quick cut to the hysterical family in the waiting room. It hits me much too close to home. I can’t help but blurt out, “Geez Dad, haven’t you had enough of this hospital stuff?” He moves two fingers of his working hand together and across the empty space in front of him. I place the pen in his fingers and hold the clipboard steady. We haven’t communicated since his stroke, a month ago. I hold my breath as he writes one shaky letter after another until the crooked words descend the page, “The nurses like it.”

A week later Dad’s condition is upgraded and he is moved out of ICU to the telemetry floor. This time, the view is of the rooftop and air conditioning ducts, which is actually more intrinsically interesting to him because of his HVAC business… In any case, we are both happy to sacrifice the view for a better overall outlook.

The uphill struggle begins. Dad is paralyzed on his left side and has lost his ability to swallow—dysphagia. They’ve already put in a g-tube in his stomach to feed him. We believe this is a drastic, hopefully temporary measure, until he recovers…


Chatting with an old boyfriend,

I get lost driving through my past.

Twice I loop through the same

two intersecting freeways―the 405 and the 710,

get off and back on the same two ramps―Alameda, del Amo.

as if I am drunk, dreaming or lapsing into early dementia.

It was August of ‘87 when he picked me up at LAX.

I’d come far to leave my family behind in New England.

We’d taken the freeway to Long Beach—

passing signs for Wilmington, everything engulfed in concrete.

billboards, electrical wires, oil refinery towers congesting my view,

circles of smoke rising against a  horizon of yellow haze.

Too many cars and people, had I made a mistake.

He tried to help with google maps,

but couldn’t locate me.

Lost in the Port of L.A.

a headache coming on–

should have eaten before I left Carlsbad.

Driving in circles for half an hour,

tracing a figure 8 of my forty eight years.

Headed for Long Beach, my old stomping grounds,

hoping to find my way.

Vaguely familiar, yet altered –

a time warp into a future that no longer belongs to me.

Insanity―doing the same thing

and expecting a different result.

My second time through,

a right at the light at Magnolia makes the difference

and soon I am climbing the heights of the Vincent St. Thomas Bridge,

a sense of vertigo, even from the car.

The glistening turquoise water on either side so far below―


Force my gaze back to the expanse of bridge stretching before me,

San Pedro next two exits.

It strikes me as funny, imagining the exits dropping straight off the bridge―

cars plunging with spectacular splashes, one after another.

When I arrive at the assisted living facility

where my mother moved the day before,

she’s not there. No one knows who she is or

where she is. Neither my brother or mother answer

their cell phones.

It’s as if I am watching myself from outside myself,

waiting to see what will happen next.

Finally, someone tells me her room number.

And I realize it’s Saturday – she’s at dialysis.

Her door is ajar—moving boxes stacked, overflowing, untouched.

Toppled oxygen tanks, hoses, bandages litter the floor.

Soon I have the two closets overstuffed with glittering gowns and suits

that she no longer wears, but insists on keeping.

Arranging the furniture, far too much for one small room―

two zebra chairs, 2 end tables, a bench,

a bar cart where I display her souvenir shot glasses,

her queen bed, matching nightstand and hutch

with the hidden compartment

where she had kept her father’s rare coins

that my brother and I tried to steal

to cash in for candy in ’68.

I push against the secret compartment twice

and return the jewelry I’d been safekeeping

while she was in the hospital.

She can’t wear the rings anymore,

they fall off her fingers.

Finally, I hook up her stereo

and play her favorite Tchaikovsky CD.

I’m hanging pictures when she returns.

From the bed, she weighs in on which picture should go where

though it’s clear she’s too tired to care

When her dinner tray arrives, I help her sit up,

her collarbone a wishbone between my fingers.

You have to eat, I say, handing her the sandwich,

taking it back, then handing her the spoon

watching as she forces some soup down.

She invites me to stay over,

with her in her bed.

I can’t, imagining lying awake

listening to the oxygen machine’s pumping,

her constant throat clearing,

trying to stay still, fighting the impulse to flee.

I don’t get lost on the way home.

Once I hit San Clemente,

the night sky opens,

stars reveal themselves

and I exhale as if I have been held

underwater for days.

And for the first time since Dad died,

I find myself

writing again.

Sketch 1: Winter Siberia , Late 1890s―Eduard

A spark in the night, a man is shot out of a tree and into his destiny. Eduard, a Viennese officer and prisoner is a regular guest at the lavish weekend parties at the Ignatov’s Estate. An accomplished pianist, Eduard plays piano with the orchestras and solos as well, conversing with the Russian officers, charming the wives and dancing with their daughters.

Fluent in 5 languages, he provides translation services to Sophia Tolsky and is offered a professorship at Omsk University, which he declines. Instead, Eduard converts from Judaism to Catholicism and marries his young bride, Manja Ignatov. Their first son, Paul, is born in the midst of the great famine. Too soon, Manja is pregnant again. A female physician performs the abortion, the first in a series.

Eduard insists on leaving Russia and returning to his homeland, Vienna. Only allowed to bring the clothes on their backs, the couple is strip-searched by the Bolsheviks. Fortunately, the Bolsheviks don’t check the baby’s very full diaper where Eduard has stashed some jewels.

They travel by cattle train for days from Omsk to Lithuania and then passenger trains through Poland. By the time they arrive in Vienna, Manja has become quite ill with malaria. In the years to come, her suffering would take many forms.

Now Ashes (For Ilse)


Ilse Morgan on her 82nd Birthday 5.28.12

My sister whispered, “It’s ok, if you want to go now.”

This is not the week we pictured.

We watched your color

change like a sunset, fade to final.

We each said our goodbyes.

You had changed your mind about ashes.

In Auschwitz, your relatives were reduced to ashes

and in the Lodge fire, your jewelry, irreplaceable heirlooms, now

you too to the flames gone by.

The mantle is like a memorial, I keep rearranging the pictures,

nothing feels right – too final –

they should be black and white, not color.

Tonight the sunset is aflame with color―

the sky slowly burning to ash.

Sometimes night feels so final…

I wonder how I can live in the now,

sifting through the past in pictures,

someone is always saying goodbye.

Absence is the ache of goodbye.

She was color-

ful, you can see it in all the pictures.

In the Danube, she wants her ashes.

No solace for now—

that will be the grand finale.

Obituaries are final.

I did not get to tell my father goodbye.

I know better how it works now―

the sudden change and fleeting color.

He chose earth, not fire and ash.

Left with two lifetimes of memorabilia and pictures.

She would have been “in pictures”,

but her father said “No, that’s final.”

Ashes to ashes,

hello, goodbye,

a flash of color—

and now?

Now only pictures and memories

whose colors continue to fade. Final

goodbyes —the Danube, Tchaikovsky,  her ashes.

Daffodils in the Danube

Born in Vienna,

she played piano

by ear, drove a Cadillac.

Her favorite flower― daffodils

She loved to gamble—

to win money.

Before she died, we argued about money.

She wanted her ashes in Vienna.

I hate to gamble,

can’t play piano.

Wish I’d sent her more daffodils.

Once, we had an accident in her Cadillac.

The telephone pole through the center of her Cadillac.

It must have cost a lot of money.

Spring begins with daffodils.

I visited Vienna

once.  Always have loved the piano.

Adoption is a gamble.

The hotel and bar business was a gamble.

She swung a baseball bat at trouble makers, cads and laughed.

Her biological daughter plays piano.

Her 2nd husband did not inherit the money.

She always wanted to go back to Vienna―

finally did  and  will again. Daffodils―

I can’t look at daffodils

without thinking of her. Gamble

that we’ll take her ashes to Vienna.

I worried about drowning in her burgundy Cadillac.

Always a subject and the object—money.

I’d wake up to her  piano

playing. I can see her at the piano

in Apricots’ lounge, a vase of daffodils

a jar filled with money.

Then, she’d be off to Mohegan to gamble,

speeding in her Cadillac,

handbag plump with tips and her pension from Vienna.

We will take her ashes to Vienna; my sister has her piano.

Into the Danube then, her Cadillac driving days and dozens of daffodils.

Life’s a gamble, far too short to argue about money.

“This could be your last 2 weeks with your Dad.”


“This could be your last 2 weeks with your Dad.”

My father’s ICU room at Castle Medical Center in Kailua, Oahu had the most amazing view. (A view most patients never saw.) I would stand there looking out the window and describe the lush green mountain with the steep red mud red trail slicing through it. I’d talk about how I wanted to hike up there and wave to him from the top like I used to on our Sunday hikes―running ahead just to turn around and see him smiling and waving back. Whether he could hear me or not, I’d give him my daily report on the pasture below and how the white mare, black colt and chestnut filly were grazing or frolicking. Sometimes the pasture was empty and no words came to me. I’d just sit watching for a sign of consciousness, my breath syncopating with the rhythm and hiss of his assisted respiration.

Well meaning friends offered “helpful” tidbits: “It’s over once they stop opening their eyes.” Dad’s eyes opened rarely and then only to scatter around the room like the crystal marbles with blue swirls he gave us as kids. When the nurse pulls me aside to say, “Honey, this could be your last two weeks with your Dad,” I relayed the message to my brother, Greg, and Dad’s sister.

My Dad had a soft spot for cats having adopted a scraggly wet stray on a rainy night in Springfield, MA. My friends whose guest house I was staying in had just rescued a silver tabby kitten with a broken leg. The cast seemed larger than its body. When I told the nurse my idea, she said she would look the other way… Dad opens his eyes and seemed to respond to the kitten.  Shortly after, his sister and favorite niece arrived.

Castle Medical Center, Kailua, Oahu

Journal Entries  9.18.99-9/26/99


Three days ago we got permission to wheel Dad out to the front of the hospital so he could see the mountain views and smell the sweet, soft Hawaiian air.  He was asking questions about getting home.

Two days ago, he had a “pulmonary incident”. In 7 days, we have gone from “potentially fatal” to “making good progress” and back to “critical” and “reason for concern.” Even at the ‘high” point, it was bleak—left-side paralysis, including his ability to swallow. “Tube feeding is necessary for an indefinite duration…”

One day taking a dip in the tropical Hawaiian water on the first day of our family vacation; the next day, incapacitated. Yes alive, but…

Dad never really lived. He worked hard and was very frugal. He had only recently (on our insistence) started to take annual vacations to visit us in California.

They said they would remove the breathing tube today and haven’t…


Serious blood infection (sepsis) now and pneumonia. His stomach function is impaired. They took the breathing tube out, but with his fever now, he has to wear an oxygen mask. I cut his nails today. Strange and difficult to cut someone else’s nails. Dad has always kept them clean and very short. They had grown long in this short time. Greg went home today.

The nurses move Dad every 2 hours to prevent bedsores.  They check his BP, respiration and O2 saturation readings, take his blood sugar and empty his urine bag. There’s a feeding tube through his nose.


More fever and a new highly contagious infection, MRSA. Visitors must wear masks and gloves. He was shaking with chill tremors. I feel helpless. It makes me claustrophobic to wear the mask and gloves.  I have a sense of how Dad must feel with the O2 mask on all the time.

They are talking about a tracheotomy… When he was first in this same room in ICU, I had described the pasture and the horses below to him each day. Today he said, “Greg told me about the horses out there.”  Actually, that was me, Dad…


There’s one tube for feeding/ intake and two for outtake now.  Dad has had several “bad” days in a row. We are, as they keep saying, “Taking one day at a time.” At night it seems as if I can almost map the drive from the hospital to the guesthouse by the smells –intensified in the darkness.  First the sewage treatment plant, then into the fecund native scents — fruits (mountain apple), flowers (plumeria, ginger), the ever verdant rain forest, pungent brown clay earth, the salty fish ocean smell— life rotting and thriving at once.


Nurse Kimi pulled me aside today to tell me, “Honey,  this could be your last  2 weeks with your Dad.” I read Dad the comics this morning. It was hard to keep from crying. Called Greg and Dad’s sister and relayed what Nurse Kimi had told me.