Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spreadsheets Can Save Him

Spreadsheets can save him
by Kent Chadwick

Where’s the pattern? What ratio will show
he’s getting better, that he’ll breathe again
on his own? The ventilator pushes
puffs of warm air through our son’s trachea
every time his brain asks for oxygen,
into his second set of lungs, damaged
too soon by pneumonia, scarred and stiffened.
The machine ka-shooshing eighteen or more
times a minute to make Luke breathe when he
needs, and it graphs his breath, reads his volumes,
scoring the resistance—centimeters
of water pressure—ready to alarm
and warn of dangers, displaying seven
variables in LED orange
with each breath, repeatedly—and I stare.
My hope has fallen to this new machine,
that maybe, maybe its gentler aid
can coax Luke’s lungs into recovery.

What numbers, what ratios show progress?,
something the doctors no longer expect.
Is it peak pressures to tidal volumes?
89 to 760
Or his diaphragm’s nerve activity
to the ventilator’s support level?
62, 70 to 1.5
What is significant? What is just noise?
So most every night at ten I write down
forty numbers, take them back to the room
where we are staying that evening—hotel’s
or friends’—enter them into tables, graph,
color, and label them to find something
that the intensive care doctors have missed
and I could show, “See this! He’s improving.”
Spreadsheets can save him.

But Luke gets annoyed
when he sees me staring at the machines.
He mouths, “Stop looking at those.” But he means
“Look at me.” He doesn’t hope in numbers.
And the truth’s blurted out, when Luke crashes,
by the respiratory therapist bagging
him, pumping up his oxygenation
with her hands, squeezing life into him for
another day, worried, focused on him,
forgetting I’m in the room, forgetting
all the euphemisms: “His lungs are bricks.”

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