My Buddy Andrew - Part 3
By Joe & Andrew on AOL

Note from Andrew: I'm nervous about doing so but the story I'm presenting here is mine, since it's about Joe; instead of Joe writing about Chris or me. I'm hoping for forgiveness if the writing isn't what you've become used to. Joe told me to write like I'm talking to any one of our readers. A lot of the readers who know I'm writing this say to do it from the heart. I've come to know a lot of you in E-mail over the past few weeks, so maybe you won't mind that it's me writing to you this time.

Please feel free to criticize. Joe and I write using Microsoft Word 97, so the spelling and grammar gets checked as we write. But it doesn't pick up the goofy stuff and sometimes it heavily criticizes and tries to cramp my style. From here it gets saved to a plain text file and then brought into an HTML editor for formatting and cosmetic stuff. This will travel between our home PC and the office laptop, which I carry with me everywhere I go, over the next week or so, depending on how long it takes to write. I'm working from notes on paper, except for a section that I want to include that I wrote for someone last year.

It's May 12th 1999 at 6:15 a.m. as I write. Joe is being prepped for surgery. I'm a basket case, therefore I write to distract me.

Joe and I always go out on Saturday nights, either with each other or with our friends, or separately with various mixes of friends. His 42nd birthday was March 9th and he has a friend whose birthday is a week earlier. They always manage to do lunch or dinner to celebrate but Joe's friend and his wife were busy until the weekend of the 28th. I went out with our friends from work for a burger and then went to play basketball. Joe drove to meet them for dinner. We are usually home around midnight so we can spend time together before bed. I spend most of the week at my place so I can study for three classes I'm taking in the evenings. Joe says our time apart only improves our time together. I tell him that our time apart only makes me miss him more. But, as Joe said along the way, we do not have to live together 24 hours a day to prove that we are in love. We then spend the whole weekend at Joe's place or my place, depending on what we're going to do for activity.

I got home about 12:20, to Joe's place. He wasn't home yet, so I went to take a shower. As I was drying off the phone rang. I got the phone call around 12:40 a.m. His caller ID box said it was from the next town. My phone # was in Joe's wallet as an emergency contact. Since I was with Joe for the weekend, my home phone was forwarded to his. It was from a police officer saying my buddy was in an accident and he was enroute to the hospital.

Joe had been on his way home, to me. He was less than three miles from home when it happened. I left his place right away, heading for the neighboring town, 10 miles away. There was still fire trucks and rescue equipment at the accident site when I drove by. I kept my eyes straight ahead. This was not something I wanted to see in the least. Rubberneckers and I have never gotten along. But I ended up catching a glance at the bumper of his Cavalier out of the side of my eye. It was upside down over an embankment.

All I knew was that he was dead. I had no doubt. The lights of two ambulances were flashing on one side of the road while a fire truck sat behind them. Flashing blues and reds belonging to three police cars were on the side of the road. People were running everywhere. I had no clue what happened. Had Joe lost control, or fallen asleep at the wheel? He was not a careless driver. One fatal accident in a lifetime was enough to keep him and his common sense on speaking terms.

The emergency room was running at full tilt when I got there. Even chaos was not chaotic enough a word to describe it. I was bumped into, pushed aside, and yelled at before I got a nurse's attention.

"Are you family?"


It wasn't much of a lie, after almost eight years together.

When I saw my Joe for the first time, I was stricken, like someone had punched me in the face repeatedly. When I'd heard and read about Joe's first accident, I could only form images in my head of what it would have been like and what he physically would have looked like. Now I knew those images were nothing like that of reality. I threw up in a wastebasket near the door, with very little warning. A nurse took care of me, best she could. I screamed fiercely. Knowing everything that I knew about Chris' death and how horrible Joe was hurt the first time, this was just too much for my senses. I was in the way here, blatantly, and I was about to pass out.

"Can you get me outside?" I managed to ask the nurse. I almost passed out in the hallway and I turned extremely pale.

"Are you okay?" she asked when she got me outside.

"Not ever again. That's Joe second accident. No one lives twice through that. He's alive?"

"Yes, but ..."

"I know. I can't think about 'but' right now. Please help him. Go and be beside him. I'm in the way in there and I know you'll kick me out, so I'll stay here. Come and get me when you can, okay?"

"What's your name young man?"


"Is he your brother?"

"In more ways than one."

"It might be awhile before I can come back for you. If you get cold, go to the lobby and curl up on the sofa in the corner. I'll come for you, I promise."

I wanted to be beside him so bad. I wanted to be a doctor, having instant knowledge of all the things to do right away that would save my Joe. I wanted to be a time traveler and step back a couple hours so I could warn him that something was going to happen tonight. I wanted to be a magician and make anything that hurt him go away instantly. He had to be in incredible pain. Lord only knows what was broken, or broken again like the first time. I wanted him to live, most of all. Nothing in me believed tonight.

I sat outside the ER entrance door, wrapped my arms around my legs, buried my face in my arms, and sobbed hard, my whole body shaking from raw fear. I didn't recognize my Joe's face when I saw it. It had been brutalized. I told God that if he was going to take him, do it now because there was no way someone was going to give me hope and then whisk it away on me. If he survived the night then he had to live again, or else he should die right now. I waited for my answer.

A gentle hand touched my shoulder. I looked at my watch, which had left an imprint in my face as I sat. It was 3:30 a.m. I looked up. Her nametag said her name was Marguerite. She knelt down beside me and touched my cheek.

"Come inside Andrew. It's too cold out here. You'll get sick and you won't do Joe any good. Come now."

She led me inside. There was no more chaos. No one ran around as if someone's life was in danger. Most of the lights had gone down, as if the order to secure from general quarters had been issued. A nurse sat at the desk updating charts. Marguerite asked me if I would help with some papers.

Full name, address, social security number, birth date, place of employment, insurance carrier, next of kin (me), drug allergies, medical history, physician's name, date of first car accident . . . I answered it all. I knew all the info by heart. I was like a report on the PC, spewing forth raw data so they knew how to care for my Joe.

When Marguerite had everything she needed, she walked me down the hallway to the ICU where Joe would be. But he wasn't there.

"There's a cot for you here, Andrew. Joe's in emergency surgery. You should rest. He'll be there for awhile."

There was no way I was going to sleep. My anxiety had never been so high. The image of Joe's bloodied and beaten face held on. I could see it even without closing my eyes. There was a pillow and a blanket on top of a sheet. I saw the collar around his neck, the bandages on his head and arms and hands. I saw his jeans covered with blood, being cut away and his leg ripped open. My mind wouldn't let me think about internal injuries. There just were that's all.

I lay down on my back and folded the pillow in half, propping my head up. I thanked Marguerite for setting up the cot. There was no question about me going home tonight. I wondered if home would ever feel like home again. Not without Joe it wouldn't. I pictured Joe coming home to the apartment that was Chris and Joe's place for so many years. He must have been heart broken to walk in knowing that Chris was all over that apartment but that he would never see him again. It might be the same for me, walking into Joe's place. What was ahead for us? Would I be granted my wish that Joe die tonight if he wasn't going to be well again? No one told me. There was no sign. Nothing gave me comfort in any form, except Marguerite.

"I have two sons Andrew. One is Joe's age and one is yours. If I ever had to deal with this on my own, I know I could, by my training, but being a mother, it would rip my insides out. I feel for you. I've seen a lot of this over the years. It's senseless what happened, but I bet you don't even know yet, do you?"

"No ma'am, I don't. Please tell me."

"There were two young men racing out on the state highway. There was no traffic and they thought they had open highway. One hit Joe from behind going in excess of 80 miles per hour. The other one hit him from behind and to the side, doing about the same for speed. He went over an embankment and rolled, more than once from the looks."

"Are they here too?"

"No. They're at the county jail tonight. Neither one was hurt."


"No, just racing after midnight on what they thought was open highway. Joe was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"Marguerite. I don't want him to live if he's not going to be my Joe again."

"You have to have faith, young man. He's in good hands right now. He's got the top ER surgeon in the state heading up the team. There are two more surgeons with him and two more are going to be called in for 6:00 a.m. if necessary."

"But if he comes out of there something less than Joe ..."

"Trust your heart Andrew. I know what it says to you right now. Mine would be no different. I would not want my husband, me, or my sons to exist. It's life or nothing. We all have a living will."

"So do we. Joe's has a clause for what should happen if he's ever in an accident again. I can enforce it."

"I know. But give us, and him, a chance. If his survival odds are poor, knowing there is a living will, then he won't be put on a respirator. If his odds are 50-50, it'll be your choice. Have faith, even if it's only a little. Sleep for a while. Under the circumstances I can give you something if you want."

"No ma'am. Not now. I will close my eyes. I won't sleep. I don't want to."

"Okay. Water? Or juice?"

"Juice. OJ?"

"I'll be back in a couple minutes."

I woke to the sound of a gurney being brought in. A team of hospital staff moved Joe from the gurney to the bed. Techs and interns and nurses and orderlies filled the room, did their individual jobs, and left one by one. I looked at my watch. It was 8:45, I presumed a.m. The last time I looked at my watch it was after 5:00 a.m. I guess sleep drew me in finally.

I stood and went to his side. I took his hand and kissed it, gently. There was no skin exposed except for part of his right cheek. Bandages covered everything I could see.

"I'm here, Joe. Please know that I'm here. I love you, my bud."

Marguerite came to my side.

"It's after 7:00. Why are you still here?"

"I decided to work a double shift. I think I want to be with you today."

I smiled at her and kissed her cheek. She smiled back and put her arm around my back.

Joe was a tangle of wires and tubes with every conceivable monitor around him. Joe was in there, at least bodily. I hoped his heart and soul were still there too. A respirator breathed for him. The heart monitor changed by the second, displaying blue luminous numbers that told somebody something. I didn't know what the numbers meant because I didn't know what 'normal' was. My mind said '72'. I saw high 40's and low 50's. The beat was not steady though.

"How come?" I asked Marguerite.

"He's got an arrhythmia. He took a tremendous shock to his chest and heart. We're watching his monitor from our station too. We'll know right away if anything happens."

"I need to go home and get some things. I want to stay with him, and not just tonight -- for as long at it takes for him to either get well or, well, you know. Is anyone going to hassle me over that?"

"Not unless they want to hassle me first. I don't take it from anyone, so you do what you need to do. I'm not going home until after 3:00. I suspect that you are not his brother by blood, Andrew. But I suspect that there is a connection in your hearts that is as important."

I nodded.

"I'll tell you about Joe when you come back on duty late tonight. I need a friend here and I wouldn't mind if it were you ma'am."

"Margie. I'm over 50, but ma'am is too formal. I can be your ally, Andrew."

"I want to be back around noon. I have to call Joe's family, and mine. And one of his work mates, God I almost forgot about that. Joe? Margie is going to watch over you while I go home for awhile. I'll be back soon."

It didn't take long for the first hassle to come. On Monday morning one of the nurses on the 7:00 to 3:00 shift came in. I was sleeping in a chair beside Joe, holding on to his hand. She woke me up.

"Come on. You need to go home and rest. We'll take care of your friend."

"Thanks, but I want to be with him. This isn't his first time in a hospital because of an accident. I owe him."

"Sorry, but not here. Time to go home and let us do our job."

"No ma'am."

"Don't argue with me. We're not going to get anything done if you're in the way."

"I'm in a tiny chair in the corner. I'm not in your way. When you need to work in here, I'll go out for a walk or to the lobby."

"No, that won't do."

I stood up and moved closer to Joe.


"Don't yell at me. That won't help."

"Margie gave me the okay. She knows why I'm here. I'm not leaving."

"You are leaving. You're in my way."

"I'm going outside then. When you're done, I'm coming back in."

"No you're not."

"Andrew stays. You work around him, or ask nicely that he wait outside for a few minutes. You're capable of caring for a patient with family around."

It was Margie. Margie was an angel in human form.

"He's not family."

"His name is Andrew, not He. Cut the attitude or you walk. Joe needs Andrew and he shall find his buddy right here. If he wants to be here 24 hours a day, he can be. I'm working a double today and this room is my domain. Next time Andrew is sleeping, leave him be. Are we clear?"

"Yes ma'am."

"You have something to say to Andrew?"

"Yes ma'am. I apologize for being so rude. I didn't know. I'm sorry for mistreating you."

"And while you're at it, get the other nurses together. We're having a little meeting. Five minutes in the nurse's lounge -- orderlies and techs, too."

Nurse Ratchet left. I looked at Margie. She turned around and gave me a great hug.

"See? Like I said, I don't take it from anyone."

"I love you. You're my hero from today on, Margie. You're aces. What about the doctors? Am I going to have to apologize yet again for not being Joe's real family?"

"No Andrew. You are Joe's real family, as much as that really means. No, there will be no more hassles. This is my home phone number - use it when you have to. Come down the hall with me a few minutes. The staff is about to get an earful and a refresher course in patient care."

We settled down in the nursing staff lounge. There were seven nurses besides Margie. There were also two orderlies and two techs, even though they did not report to Margie. They stared at me for a moment, some knowing who I was. I sat at the table with the techs.

"If you have not met our newest patient, go and take a good look at him. He was brought in Saturday night from the accident out on the state highway. Does anyone not know about the accident?"

Everyone shook his or her head. News moved fast around here.

"Every one of you will care for Joe in some fashion while he's here. While you're at it, please wish him well. You all know how to care for a patient. That's what we do, and I don't mean merely see to his injuries. One at a time now and then come back here when you're done."

Each nurse, orderly, and tech left the lounge one at a time, went down the hall, hopefully did what was asked, and returned. It took two to three minutes each. Margie waited. She was not a hard ass. She demanded conscience and putting one's heart into the job, probably like any good head nurse would. Her heart was not made of blood and tissue. It was made of pure gold.

"All of you in this room think about what you would do if someone you loved dearly were where Joe is. Think about what it really means to love someone so much that you would give up every part of your normal life to be with him or her. Andrew told me Saturday night that he is taking time off from work, at least half days, to stay with Joe. He's taking vacation this week and wants to be here every day. If that's what he wants, that's what happens. If you need to work around Joe, ask nicely for Andrew to step outside for a few minutes. He understands and I'm sure he won't want to see all you do. If he is sleeping late at night or early in the morning, or in the middle of the afternoon, he is not to be woken like he was a little while ago. Andrew, how much sleep did you get last night?"

"Since 5:30."

"Ninety minutes. Joyce, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you didn't know he slept so little. But wouldn't you imagine that he needed to be left alone for awhile longer?"

"I know now, Margie. It won't happen again."

"What would you do if the person there were your husband, wife, lover, best friend, son, or daughter? When you're done counting your blessings that your family and friends are not here, you can carry on. Andrew stays and is welcome here, sincerely. Each of you please introduce yourself to him as you leave. If he needs anything, provide it please. He wants one thing right now and he'll have it. Clear?"

'Okay, Margie' and 'Yes ma'am' echoed through the lounge. Margie would do this again for the 3:00 to 11:00 staff and for the 11:00 to 7:00 staff, somehow. She would talk to Joe's doctors.

I met three full shifts of staff. Each made me feel welcome, sincerely. I had yet to decide how long I would be here, but I would be here each day. This week, as I had told Margie, I would be on vacation. I would talk to our friends in the office via E-mail. Visitors in general would be minimal since this was the ICU. Joe's sister had been here yesterday for most of the day. She could not afford extended time off from work but I would call her every afternoon. It broke her up to see Joe. I promised that he would be taken good care of so that she needn't worry. We loved each other dearly, having known each other almost as long as I'd known Joe.

I wanted to know all that was wrong with Joe. I wanted to know the details of his injuries. I was not deprived of any knowledge. What I heard rocked me. How can he be alive? He should have been a dead man from the moment of the two impacts.

Head trauma, possible brain damage.
Left shoulder dislocated.
Extensive nerve damage in his left arm. It was broken in three places - again.
Four fingers of his left hand broken and the hand itself was broken.
Four broken ribs and 1 cracked rib.
Left lung had collapsed, but ER surgeon repaired it.
Hip dislocated.
Crushed left leg - five breaks.

And the two young men who hit him have nothing wrong with them.

I sat and stared at him. I couldn't see him, only his exposed cheek. A tear ran down my face. The Joe I knew lay broken. If he were made to stand, he would collapse in a heap since all his major bones were broken several times. I looked past the broken body to his heart. The monitor said it beat, albeit unsteadily. He didn't know I was here. He couldn't touch me, or feel me. He was in a deep coma, his brainwave activity barely acceptable. I knew intimately what Brad and Rob felt for this man over 12 years ago under the same circumstance. My heart weighed a ton, my chest tight, my throat constricted.

"Tell me about Joe," came a voice from behind me, her hands messaging my shoulders.

I didn't know who it was right away, not yet able to distinguish whose voice belonged to whom.

I told her about the basics of who Joe was. I told her of Chris and the accident. I told her how we met and how we became work partners and friends. I told her of Joe's volunteer work and his good heart. I told her who I was, so she would know that I was not just a body here in this room.

She bent down and kissed my cheek. It was Carrie, ICU nurse #2, next to Joyce. Then she left the room.

Note: The following section was an E-mail to a friend who wanted to know what my day-to-day was like, with Joe in a coma. He was surprised that I did not carry on with my life since there was little I could do for Joe. I knew I couldn't do anything either, except stay by his side.

Typical days

Dear Mike,

I haven't written anything for you in days, so I wanted to give you an inside eye on what a "typical" day is like here. This is a "day in the life" type E-mail, a chronicle of time 24 hours long. One day blends into another, and is distinguished only in coming and going.

Monday -- 7:00 a.m.

I don't know why, really, the alarm clock is set. I've been awake since after 4:00, staring at the ceiling, thinking about Joe. The images of the accident flash in my head, making me almost see what he saw. My mom has told me that from the time I was a little boy I had a vivid sense. Things in my mind are as sharp and clear as things I see. I'm lying in Joe's bed, holding for dear life onto his pillow. I've done laundry since I started staying here, so Joe's scent is no longer lingering, except in the scent of the laundry detergent that I know well.

I put water on the gas burner so I can have hot tea while I sign on to read E-mail. Joe still gets a ton of it from people who have enjoyed his stories. I don't answer it because these people do not know much of me. I don't want to try to explain that Joe is lying in a hospital. I print them for him to read later, whenever later is. While the water boils, I stand at the window and watch the sun brighten the sky. The rain from yesterday finally gave way to partly cloudy skies. Somewhere out there you are either working out or still sleeping. I often forget that there is an hour time difference between us. At 6:00, I hope more that you are sleeping peacefully.

The mug of tea goes with me to the bathroom as I shower. The spray is as hot as I can stand. Monday mornings are bad enough. Monday mornings with two hours sleep behind you are the pits. At least Joe's place feels more like home than it ever has. My clothes for the week take up space in the spare bedroom closet. As I get dressed, I stand at the closet in his room, smelling his shirts and slacks, trying to get his scent into me to make me feel better.

E-mail has been read and printed, put into the folder to take along, and put beside the door so that I will not forget it. I finish my tea out on the balcony, deciding that I need a sweater at least for the morning. The cool air feels nice. I won't like it once summer hits because this time of the morning will find the air quality humid and sticky.

Monday -- 8:00 a.m.

Traffic is backed up already as I get on the highway to head to work. The first two miles are on back roads to the highway. There is no way to avoid this stretch of road, without making my 20-minute commute an hour anyway. I hate sitting at this spot. All I can do is concentrate on what's ahead. Looking to the side, down the embankment, is impossible. Something taunts me as I sit here, creeping along at 10 mph. A shiver runs up my spine and I shudder against it. I hate this. Ain't no freaking way I'll ever feel good about this.

At 8:25 I pull into the parking lot, walk across the car filled lot, enter the 1st floor lobby with one or two friends, ride the elevator to the 3rd floor and walk down the aisle to my cube, past Joe's. I sign on to the LAN and then grab water to take care of his plants. They are thriving. I wish my Joe was too. I have a class to teach on Wednesday so I get my notes organized and work on my slides. By 10:00, I'm thoroughly buried in my tasks of the morning. Office mates and friends are in and out all morning to get the latest from the weekend. They are disturbed to hear of Joe's heart arrhythmia and his coma. They soon leave me to my own and talk amongst themselves. I hear, but I do not listen. I have work to do and I am spending only 4 hours a day doing it, at least in the office. My laptop, which is with Joe most of the time, allows me to keep up while I'm away. Today I brought it to work to get my files in sync.

By 12:30, I've finished all I have to at my desk. As I walk out, several people tell me to tell Joe they are thinking about him. He can't have any visitors because he'd stashed away in the intensive care unit. I've been given special dispensation from above, having had to prove myself to the powers that be that Joe needed more than a medical staff.

Monday -- 1:00 p.m.

I park at the edge of the parking lot at the hospital. I've neglected my exercise recently, so I need the long walk. I ran on Saturday in a 5K but have not kept up with my five mile every other day running routine. The time away from Joe is too hard to keep up with a routine, except that of being by his side.

The 7-3 shift nurses are in residence. They give me a hug each as I arrive, and I return the hugs to both. I walk in to Joe's room and they come and stand at my side for a few moments, holding my hands on each side, bringing me up to date. Joe's heart monitor is pulsing out numbers between 60 and 68, but all over the scale from one beat to the next. (At my last checkup, my heart rate was between 80 and 82; more normal than Joe's). It's been like that for upwards of 36 hours.

I walk closer to him, having released the nurse's hands. They stand behind me as I bend over and kiss Joe on his cheek and lightly on his lips. I hold his undamaged hand in both of mine, then bring it to my lips and face. I'm not afraid to show my affection for Joe here. These people know who we are and have stood in wonder sometimes at our relationship. They told me recently that I've been here for an average of 18 hours a day. This is my fourth month of being with Joe. Where else am I going to spend my time? All I hope and pray for is enough strength to show Joe more love and kindness than fear. I don't think I'm winning that battle at the moment, but I'm trying. Something has to bring him out of this coma. We are just not finding the right stuff, yet. But we will -- for to think otherwise means Joe won't survive. He needs to know that we are there with him.

I put my hand on his chest, near his heart. Under my palm are electrodes, tubes, and wires. They are all his life-giving instruments. So is my hand. Joe has always loved my touch against his chest. I'm careful now because also beneath my palm lay broken bones. These alone will take weeks longer to heal. There are also remnants of three surgeries, terribly invasive procedures to fix damage under the most adverse of emergency conditions. There is at least one more to be done; hopefully planned and more precise.

His eyes are closed. There are still bandages around part of his head. The sight in his left eye has not yet returned. No one knows when it will. No one knows anything. No one knows what's going on in his brain. They can tell me that activity is minimal, but no one knows what he's thinking. Or what he's feeling. I do. I have a strong sense of him. Can't touch it, or put words on it exactly, but I know what's there. We're connected -- we have been for eight years.

Time isn't measured in minutes in the ICU. It's measured in progress of healing, a steady heart beat, consciousness, and even smiles. It's measured in hope. It's not measured in the loss of it.

Monday -- 3:00 p.m.

The shift is changing. The morning nurses come to tell me they will think about us until tomorrow morning when they return. I don't doubt it. Joe is deeply loved here. He emerged from the coma for awhile, then lapsed back again. When he's had his better days, he's made them laugh. He's told them of his childhood and his college years and his loss of Chris. He's told them of our friendship and of our relationship so that they will know.

The afternoon shift arrives. They come in and give me a hug. This has been a ritual for half of the time that Joe has been here for they have grown to accept me. They do not hold lack of understanding against Joe, or me. They do not care that we are men in love -- they do care that I love Joe and that Joe loves me. There's a difference. The hugs are sincere and welcomed, and are returned in gratitude for the friends that support me as I try with my heart to support Joe.

We talk of news of the day, in Joe's presence. This is also part of a ritual, so that he feels still connected with the world. We all believe that he hears and that it all sinks in to his subconscious. When he awakens again, (there is no room for "IF"), he will have some knowledge of his environment and of the world.

I've brought the stories that he has written. They are not shared. They are for me, to bring me closer to him and to know how he feels about his life. In the future, he will write more. He'll also continue to encourage me to write. What I write now would take him at least half the time to write. For me, it is not a chore, but it is a labor because I write and edit and write more. I have doubts about my writing being good enough to share, yet if I don't share, I will never know. I like words. The PC software will take care of sentence structure. Joe says to write from the heart. So, the words fall into the right place after a fashion. I still write with my laptop in my lap and my feet up on a table, sitting beside Joe. When I need to stop to think about what I want to say, I hold his hand in mine.

The nurses leave us be, as much as they can. I have asked permission to lay beside Joe to rest and to feel him close. They have not denied me this. They say I'm devoted. I don't feel devoted; I feel afraid. Being close takes the edge off the fear. If anything happens (my quiet way of saying 'should Joe not survive this after all'), I will know that he was close to my heart and that I mattered in some way to him.

Around 8:00 or so, I was weary enough to settle beside him. I want to pass him strength. I lay beside him and put my hand on his face or his neck or his chest. Joe talked about a life force once with Chris. He's talked of it to me since Chris. Touching passes the life force back and forth, equally. He draws from me and I draw from him, sharing our needs. I close my eyes and shut out all that I can. I hear him breathing. I hope that he feels me here.

While I rest, the nurses come and touch my head or my back for a few moments. I lay here on my side, or on my stomach, facing away from the world that seems too cruel at times. But to shut it out entirely would be wrong because the world is also filled with people like these nurses, and people like little brothers in college far away. The world is not a bad place -- the world just needs more of the good people. I consider myself very blessed to see more good than bad.

When I wake again, it is 9:30. I seem to sleep about two or three hours for every 48. So, I've just used half of my "allotted" time. Fair enough, I'll sleep again toward dawn. I hope.

Monday -- 11:00 p.m.

Another shift change. The 11:00 to 7:00 crew. These are the nurses who were on duty the night Joe was brought in. They were part of the emergency crew who first laid eyes on Joe. For them, I feel a strong bond because we see each other through the long night. 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. -- the graveyard shift. Aptly named, for the hospital seems to be deathly still at night, except for the steady beep of the heart monitor and respirator.

I am restless and weary, so I start to wander the halls. I walk the length of the corridors, down one flight of stairs, down another corridor and another flight of stairs, and finally one final set. Then out to the lobby for some fresh air. This is a nightly ritual. It means that it is after midnight, probably close to 1:00 a.m. and that I have been here twelve hours. If I could be here 24, I would. I seem to be okay with the 18, mostly.

Around 4:00 a.m. I settle again at his side to hold him, doing so as I fall asleep for as long as I can. By 6:00 I am again sitting in the chair, holding his hand.

The nurses and I spend the dawning of daylight together near Joe. We talk of the sunrise and the bright clear sky. We are far from any windows, but I know, just from talking, what the sky looks like right now.

We talk of what I will do at work for the day. I tell them of the classes I teach every few weeks and the projects that I am doing. I still have a project that Joe turned back over to me to review. Another programmer is making last minute changes or minor code changes. Joe, being very professional and good at his job, does not need babysitting or major code rewrites. Many of our team projects are turned over to users with only minor tweaks.

I look at the clock for the final time of the night. The 7:00 a.m. crew arrives again. Sometimes it seems like minutes since they left. There have already been six nurses through the past 24 hours. I walk out with the crew from the graveyard shift. It is time to go home to Joe's place and to shower. Work needs my attention for at least the next few hours. I stand for a moment in the parking lot and look back to the steel and concrete structure that is entrusted with people to care for my Joe while I am away. Six hours seems like too long to be away. But he is in good hands.

To be continued ...

I'm stopping here, for now. It's 4:00 a.m. as I decide to stop tweaking this. I've been working on this for about 30 hours overall. All I hope is that it's good enough for our readers. I know it's not an easy read. This has been a 14 month venture for me, so there is a lot more to tell. But I'd like criticism on this first.

Andrew May 14th, 1999