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Intensive care

We’ve been in the States for two or three days, now. The flight over was OK – we slept, got fed a couple of meals. We didn’t realise how strict flights to the US would be and our bottles of water (bought after going through security) got confiscated before we boarded.

At Kennedy Airport, we had to wait half an hour after landing at 9 pm before the 747 docked with a gate. Then we had to wait about two and a half hours in line before Habiba could get through Immigration. I had a few minor problems – I hadn’t been given a visa waiver form on the plane, and then there were only Spanish ones in the Immigration hall. The officer didn’t have any – he told me to see an Asiana representative, but there was no one from the airline around. I filled in most of a Spanish form, but there were some questions on the back that I couldn’t make any sense of. I asked the officer if he could tell me what they were, but he couldn’t. A little while later, talking to another member of staff on the hall floor, the officer came over with an English form for me. When I’d filled it in again and went to see the officer he said, ‘CYA couldn’t translate it for you?’ I had no idea what CYA was. Then it turned out he’d said, ‘See why I couldn’t translate it for you?’ The questions on the back were all about crimes of moral turpitude and things that might stop you getting a visa. I finally got out into the baggage hall at about 12:30am.

Once past Customs, I hooked up with Habiba again and with Carol and Elias. Carol is Habiba’s half-sister’s mother and Ramana’s ex-wife, Elias is her partner. They’d had to wait a long time for us, but they didn’t seem at all put out. They took us to their home, somewhere leafy outside New York city. Once there, Carol, in very Jewish motherly fashion, made sure we had lots of food.

The following morning, Carol drove us up to Albany, which was a ride of about two or three hours. There, we parked in the Albany Medical Center car park and made our way over to the main building, and to the Surgical Intensive Care Unit where Ramana is being treated. Habiba and I had to make sure we cleaned our hands and we wore face masks to go in and see him (Habiba saw a doctor shortly before we left for the airport back in Korea; he diagnosed bronchitis and prescribed five days’ worth of medication. It would seem that I have bronchitis, too, but I haven’t seen a doctor about it; I think it’s getting better now. Anyway, we needed to take extra care not to spread any of our germs).

Habiba was very emotional. We’d heard a lot about her father, but seeing him brought home how poorly he is. I think she was also simply happy to see him. Her mother was also there, along with her half-sister, Erika, and her wife, Bridget (not merely girlfriend, as I said before).

Ramana was (and is) in his own little room in the ward. He was lying in a complex bed, his back propped up at about 30 degrees (there’s a little readout on the side, an arc with a ball bearing showing the angle). His legs were spreadeagle in a strange way, both his feet and lower legs bandaged and braced in different ways. He had a few sensors strapped to his bare chest and a large tube in his mouth, connecting him to a respirator that was helping him breath. Behind the bed was a pillar-like piece of equipment that was a hub for many of the various wires and tubes that were connected to him. At the top was a monitor showing his heartrate and other information. The respirator was separate and stood to the side, its own monitor showing his breathing rate.

Ramana seemed better than the descriptions we’d been getting in Korea. He wasn’t as disoriented or as unhappy as we’d heard. People talked to him and he responded by looking at them, facial expressions, shrugging. I said hello and my mask was removed at a distance so he could see my face.

I felt like a fifth wheel a lot of the time I was there. I don’t know the family very well, and I didn’t know what to say or do. I’m here primarily for Habiba – but I want to show my support with my presence. I was also very tired much of yesterday; Habiba kept hitting me to wake me up (she’s kind like that).

In the evening, after a day spent in and around the SICU and after Carol had gone home, we were driven to the Abode by Erika and Bridget, where Habiba’s parents had been planning to build a new house. It’s about half an hour to an hour away from Albany; the road passes through several very small towns and lots of forest. The Abode is near a place called New Lebanon and seems like th middle of nowhere – apart from people driving to and from the Abode, there is no traffic noise at all (a huge change from Korea).

The place consists of several large, old buildings, plus a few new ones, and was originally, I think, built by Shakers. We were given a room in one of the buildings that serve as accommodation for visitors. The place is all creaky wood and quite chilly, but very pleasant. Although it was cold, it wasn’t too cold and we had a decent night’s sleep. In the morning, we breakfasted in another building that has a large communal kitchen and dining hall. There is a walk-in fridge full of tubs of leftovers and general supplies. Habiba met and hugged and caught up with people she knows and who know her parents. I said hello a lot.

Also on the Abode is a farm and a mountain – which latter I haven’t seen yet, but there is more accommodation there, I believe. Habiba had wanted to go to the site of Ramana’s accident to look for his lost glasses, but Noorunisa, who had stayed in the city, told her not to over the phone – some of the trees Ramana had been cutting down still hadn’t fallen completely, being caught on other trees, so it was dangerous.

On our second day at the hospital, there were a few changes to Ramana’s situation. He was extubated before we arrived. The significance of this is that he no longer needed the tube removing fluid from his lungs and he no longer needed so much help breathing; he would also be able to try talking – whispering, actually. This seemed to be a big step forward, but he was less comfortable than he had seemed the day before; he was no doubt tired out by the process. Later they put him in a kind of chair bed and had him sitting up straighter. He was also wearing a face mask that gave him humid oxygen so his windpipe didn’t get too irritated. Later, he was put back on the respirator without being intubated again.

During the day, Habiba, her mum and I went out for a walk and to pick up some new glasses for Ramana. Later, we went back to the Abode for food and sleep.

At about 1:40 in the morning, we were woken by Habiba’s friend Alia, who told us Ramana had suffered a heart attack. Alia drove us, along with Noorunisa, to the hospital; Erika and Bridget followed us in their hire car. Ramana had apparently suffered cardiac arrest for eight minutes, but he had been worked on to keep his heart and lungs working. He had been intubated again and was back in the high tech bed. He seemed conscious, but weak and drugged up. As I write this, we don’t know what his new prognosis is; more tests are needed.

While we were standing at his bedside, Noorunisa – who seems to have been remarkably level-headed through the whole thing – signed Do Not Resucitate forms. It seems like a heart-breaking decision, but it’s apparently what Ramana wanted straight after the accident. Noorunisa talked to Habiba about it a few days ago and Habiba was dead against it. Now that she’s seen her father, I think Habiba is worried about prolonging his suffering.

Now, as before, as it has been since Ramana’s accident, all we can do is wait. We can’t do anything other than be here and provide company and support for Ramana and each other. We just have to wait to see if Ramana’s body can recover from its injury. We just have to wait to hear what news the medical staff can tell us – and hope that it’s good.

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