Last night, very late, I got an email from an acquaintance passed along through another, telling me that my buddy Dean had been hospitalized Thursday night in serious condition. After 36 hours of getting nowhere with phone calls and emails, my pastor pal decided to visit the hospital -- Dean worked with us until two weeks ago, when he was laid off. 36 hours is a long time without news, and pastors have the prerogative at hospitals where friends do not. It seems Dean has a staff infection, complicated by his diabetes which is very difficult to regulate. He has been on ventilation since he was admitted, but they hope to ween him off very soon and feel they have his blood chemistry under control. It's likely to be another two to three days in ICU. He's been semi-conscious at best. I was considering a visit tomorrow, but will perhaps wait and see what I can do for his family instead. They've had a difficult year, and Dean's health has been unpredictable. Thank God they are insured through his wife.
Last night, for reasons better left unwritten here, I found myself feeling a kind of survivor's guilt -- I still have my job, after all. Dean is employed elsewhere as a college instructor, but it's not enough to live on. I would not have supported his lay-off, but I wasn't asked directly. I was, however, asked along with several others what staff cuts I thought we could bear in the interest balancing next year's budget. And I knew his position, while incredibly valued by me, was not essential at present. I wish things had been different. He's under incredible stress now, he and his wife, enough so that a few days of feeling extra-crappy would not have impelled him to complain to her or confide concern. Instead, he passed out at the pharmacy. I don't think he blames me for a second over the loss of his position, but I felt last night that somehow I should have done more to protect him. I should have tried to argue the case for keeping him, even though I know this would most likely have been rejected.
Not knowing how sick he was, but knowing how sick he could be (his medical history is complex and fraught with aggravated disease), I spent a chunk of the night wondering where I could have been a better friend to Dean. I've involved myself to varying degrees with his professional life and have tried pretty hard to funnel work his way, but our styles and attitudes differ enough that it's easier to be friends than partners. I've backed out of a couple of his projects over the years. I think of him as something of a mentor, a guide, though he occasionally comes to me for advice. I worry there hasn't been enough reciprocity.
What is a friend? I've loaned money to people, given it away really; I've held hands at the doctor's office, offered my couch to friends at various unhappy times, listened, advised, scolded, forgiven. But I fuck things up too, I neglect correspondence and forget to return phone calls, I get impatient, and I sometimes get too involved. I don't do worse than anyone who calls themselves a friend, I'm sure; maybe sometimes I've done better. And I try not to keep track of who owes whom and why. But in individual cases, the game is never played out.
Last night I prayed for Dean and his family. Right now he's asleep in a bed somewhere, with the requisite tubes and lights and bells, the noises of medical care, of prolongation. He's looking older than his years. What spirit moves in him, in his semi-conscious state, is hard to say. Soon, I pray, he'll awake and recover. I hope the gift he gets in exchange for all this, somehow, is a new future and new opportunities. For surely this is a low point. Surely he'll need strength. Just now, he's asleep, and I wonder what happens as each subsequent day unfolds for us.