"I'm scared," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. He had just had another seizure. I work with him once a week doing an overnight shift; I'm there to make sure his oxygen machine works, that he can make it to the bathroom all right, that he can feel safe. Though he's in his late 20s, he looks about 12. He's abnormally small, weighing only about 50 pounds. He was born with many disabilities, one of which gives him breathing difficulties. Lately he seizes up at night, choking for breath, yet nothing is as bad to him as having to go to the hospital, and I can't force him to. So I am there with him as each episode hits, soothing him until it's over and then cracking the sort of jokes he likes in order to create some semblance of normalcy. I'll call him Henry.
Henry can't sleep without the TV on. Specifically, Henry can't sleep without the QVC shopping network on, something that frankly has made no sense to me. I can't sleep with any sounds, let alone idiotic sales banter. When I sleep at his house on the living room couch I generally have to stuff my ears with plugs and cover my head with pillows to drown it out. Yet somehow I can always hear him call to me. It occurs to me that this is some innate female thing.
I heard him moaning and I went into his room. His back was arched, his eyes were rolled up into his head. "Henry," I said, placing my hand on his chest to feel for breath. It was there, ever so slightly. "I'm calling 911." His eyes got as big as saucers. No, they pleaded. Then it was over. His normal shallow breath returned.
"Don't leave me alone," he asked, so I got my comforter and laid down beside him, holding his hand. We watched QVC.
"What is this crap?" I asked, knowing it would get him to smile — but also, I mean, come on. Onscreen there was a woman and a man, and they were going back and forth about a 24-piece Thanksgiving bakeware set. Behind them was a faux winter wonderland outside the window, because this kitchen set would work perfectly for Christmas, too. They began to ladle up hot steaming stew for a close-up.
"Mmm," said Henry, which was a good sign that his appetite was coming back. His eyes closed as he began to drift off back to sleep, but then all of a sudden he gripped my hand and was in the throes of another seizure. I used the entire set when family came down last year, said a caller on the show, what a special experience. What simple satisfaction it must be to call somewhere and share how products have enriched your lives, and then to have the people who sold them to you compliment your good taste on national television. I stared at Henry and rubbed his arm until it was over. I readjusted his oxygen mask.
"Ok?" I asked. He nodded. "Cool. Back to these amazing autumnal bargains. Can't wait for the savings!" He laughed, which led to coughing, which made me feel guilty. Still, I know he likes his staff to be funny. He has "Live Love Laugh" signs all over his apartment.
Now the TV people were on to Vitamix blenders in 10 different colors. They spoke to each other, then to the camera, and then to the callers. I admit by this point I was sort of sucked in. There was a soothing pace and no commercial interruptions — the show itself was one long commercial interruption. I realized then how important TV was to Henry, or to anyone bedridden. Having company sets the mood. QVC works especially well, because it's all happiness, all hope, all fantasy. Imagine the impression I will make when I roll out the turkey and all the fixings on my matchy-matchy serving dishes. It's Normal Rockwell in five easy payments.
It lolled us both into sleep, finally, and the next time we awoke it was light out. "Wanna get up?" I asked him, knowing full well the answer would be yes, since no matter what, he loves a new day. I helped him replace his oxygen mask with tubing and situate himself behind his walker. He scooted out slowly to the living room while I made coffee. When I returned he was on his back again, seizing. When it was over, he looked lost, tired, scared.
"Can you hand me the remote?" he asked.