Wednesday, April 06, 2005

BlogDaddy, Part 3

continued from Part 2

The next day, I got more information.

Vasco had indeed rolled on his back and vomited into his lungs. His breathing had just about stopped by the time he arrived at the hospital. He was in a coma, his breathing being done via respirator. Condition: still critical.

And it turned out Vasco had not been at a sex party, he was at a pre-Alegria cocktail party, and that his ex WENT to Alegria after taking him to the hospital. And it wasn't logical, but it made me even madder to hear that his ex went dancing, not knowing if Vasco was dead or alive.

After work I headed down to the hospital again. I knew Vasco was still in a coma, but I just wanted to go in and hold his hand, say something to him. As I walked up to the 12th Street entrance of St. Vincent's, I ran into my friend Stephen, a fellow blogger and also a friend of Vasco.

Stephen looked ashen. "Joe, it doesn't look good. You better prepare yourself."

"OK. Do you want to come back in with me?"

He shook his head, "No, sorry. I...can't."

I watched him head down the subway stairs. Later that night he made this post.

When I walked into Room 1042, Vasco's sister and aunt were there, from Brazil. I made a little small talk with them before I dared walk around the curtain. His sister spoke a little bit of English, his aunt none at all. His sister was friendly enough, but his aunt seemed displeased to meet me, which seemed fair enough considering the circumstances. I was thinking she probably wasn't loving the gays right then.

After shaking their hands, I said to his sister, "So, what happened?" I wasn't sure what they knew.

The sister said, "He drank something," making a drinking motion with her hand.

I nodded, "Right. Can I say hello?"

She nodded, "Yes, yes," and waved me towards the curtain.

I held my breath and stepped around the curtain. Vasco face was dark and swollen. His chest rose and fell with the steady whooshing of the respirator, a large tube down his throat. There were several various IVs and hoses attached to him. I wanted to take his hand, but I hadn't washed mine since I'd arrived, and I didn't want him to get any germs from me.

I spoke to him. "Hey buddy, it's Joe. How are you doing?"

OK, that was stupid, I thought. I tried again, leaning in closer.

"Hey Vasco! Wake up man, I need some help with my blog!"

I stood there for a couple of minutes feeling useless, then walked around the curtain and made my goodbyes with the sister and the aunt.

The next day I sent out an email to everybody that I knew was acquainted with Vasco, advising of his condition. Days went by, and as others visited him, they did the same. Eventually, I had about 10 guys on my list. We all kept each others spirits up, but none of us had anything positive to report. We learned from Vasco's sister that the doctors had placed him in a medically-induced coma, in order to both maximize his potential to recuperate, and because (as they put it) he would be to "in too much distress" if he were to awaken while on life-support.

Over the next few weeks I visited Vasco again and again. Once, I took my friend and neighbor Rich, a former nurse. Rich took Vasco's hand and spoke softly to him while I examined various cards and notes posted around the room. One of them said "Congratulations! You did it!", a hopeful message for Vasco to read should he awaken. Rich looked at the medications being fed in via the bleating machines and mused, "Man, they really have him under."

At the end of September, I visited Vasco with our friend Erik. We stood there and made silly small talk to him with his aunt looking on. Erik went home and made this post.

More weeks passed. Everytime I visited, I spoke more and more to Vasco's aunt, who was becoming very nice to me. Not speaking Portuguese, I communicated mostly through pantomime.

Somewhere in the 5th or 6th week, Vasco developed a terrible infection in his lungs, doubtless from the inhaled vomit. The infection ate away at his left lung and it developed a leak and the respirator blew air into his abdomen, which swelled up grotesquely. The nurses kept an electronic cooling blanket on him to quell his raging fever. His lower legs were wrapped in compression stockings to prevent blood clots from forming.

Only the aunt was getting information from the doctors and she relayed the data to us as best she could. The doctors had changed Vasco's condition from critical, to "stable, but guarded." The hope was that the infection would subside, and they could slowly bring him out of his coma, and begin to assess what brain damage there might be.

Week 8, Halloween weekend. My buddy Eddie and I went down to see the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, which Eddie had never attended. It was a beautiful night and the crowds were massive. Somewhere around 7th Avenue and 16th Street, we gave up trying to push through packed sidewalks and decided to blow off the parade and find a bar.

We were somewhere near 14th Street when I said, "You know, we should go in and visit Vasco as long are we're right here."

"Is the ICU open at this hour?" Eddie asked.

"It's pretty much open all the time, no matter what the visitor's hours are, I think. I guess they feel like people who are near death should be able to be seen at any time," I guessed.

We pushed through the streets and made it to St. Vincent's in about 10 minutes. The front desk attendant hardly looked at us when we came in, she was used to seeing me. We didn't see Vasco's aunt in the waiting room, nor was she at her familiar position at the window in his room. The beeping and whooshing of the machines seemed especially loud.

Eddie and I took position on both sides of the bed, and I was about to say something to Vasco when Eddie spoke.

"Hey, why is the TV on for someone in a coma?"

Vasco opened his eyes and looked at us.

-To Be Continued-

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

BlogDaddy, Part 2

Continued from yesterday - Part 1

Finally...on the next Thursday, I got a call from Donn.

"Hey Joe, got your email, thought you'd want to know about Vasco."

"Donn! Thanks for calling. What's the story?" I asked, my heart sinking.

"He's in St.Vincent's. Critical condition," he said flatly.

"Fuck. What happened?"

"He overdosed on G."

"Shit. This happened AT Alegria?" It was now 12 days after the party.

"No, I think it was before. I mean, I don't know where he took it, but apparently he was at some sex party at a hotel, and he passed out," Donn said.

"Shit. Did they call 911 to the sex party? I bet that was a scene."

"No, I think his ex took him home and then went back to the party and then later, when he got back to Vasco's, he found him lying on the floor, totally blue."

I couldn't believe this. "His ex LEFT him at home alone? Unconscious?!"

When someone passes out on GHB, it's extremely important that they be put on their side and not left alone, because if they were to roll onto their back, they could vomit and aspirate the vomit into their lungs. This is how most of the GHB-related deaths occur.

"Yeah, I guess so. Apparently when his ex found him, he was just about dead. He got him to the ER just in time," Donn explained.

"Well, did he tell them at the hospital what was wrong? So they knew what to do?" I asked.

"The way I'm hearing it, his ex just sorta dumped there and took off. I mean he probably had stuff on him, and there's always cops in the ER."

I was furious. "He just fucking LEFT Vasco there? Pushed his unconscious body out of the taxi and TOOK OFF?"

"Yeah, I guess. Joe, Vasco's in really bad shape. I mean, I'm just hearing about this myself, and it's been 12 days."

After Donn hung up, I sat down and sent out an email to anybody that I thought knew Vasco. A few of the guys emailed me back immediately. Almost as big as their concern for Vasco was their rage at his ex-boyfriend. Anybody who has gone out clubbing in the last 10 years, whether they do GHB themselves or not, has seen at least a few guys go down on it, and everybody knows that you never ever leave that person alone.

Whatever your opinion about recreational drug may be, to leave a person in crisis alone is simply unforgivable, I don't care what your relationship to that person may be. And if you're worried about the cops finding drugs on YOU, then you should throw that shit into the garbage.

I left the office early and went to St.Vincent's. At the front desk, the woman didn't even have to look up his room number for me.

"Vasco. Yes, 1042."

She handed me a large red laminated pass that read "Intensive Care Unit, Floor 10".

On the way up, I wondered if she knew his room number because so many people had come to see him, or if she knew it because it was such a terrible case.

On the 10th floor, I found a large central area that immediately reminded me of NASA's Mission Control. There were a couple of dozen patient rooms arranged in a horseshoe-shape around central staffing area, where nurses and doctors buzzed about between the computers and monitors. Outside some of the patient rooms, small groups of friends and family gathered in tight circles, speaking in hushed tones.

Almost in defiance of the somber mood of the worriers, was the cacophony of beeping life support machines and the whooshing of respirators. I immediately developed a blinding headache.

Room 1042 was swarming with people. The curtain was drawn around the bed, but I could see lots of legs and movement behind it.

I stopped a nurse, "Hey, I was wondering....I mean, my friend is....um."

She stopped for only a moment, "1042 is having a procedure. No visitors."

"OK, thanks."

I stood there for a minute, then walked out to the small waiting area, past the large swinging doors. All the chairs were full of unhappy people. The TV was playing mutely in a corner, ignored. There was a small cluster of Spanish people clustered around an elderly woman as she prayed her rosary, eyes closed.

I paced in front of the elevators for a few minutes, then went back inside. Room 1042 was still draped off. I saw a nurse roll a large machine behind the curtain. The same nurse I stopped before was now behind the counter, so I approached her.

"Hi, sorry to bother you again, but can you tell me anything about the patient in room 1042? His condition, I mean. His name is Vasco."

She hardly looked up from her paperwork, "Are you family?"

It's funny now, but the very first thing that came to my mind was, "Well, YES!", because of the way that gay folk tend to identify another gay person by saying, "Oh, HIM? Yes, he's family."

Instead, I said, "No, he's a friend."

"I'm sorry, but I can only release medical information to immediate family members."

"Yes, I know about that, I totally understand, but can you tell-"

She cut me off, finally looking up, with sadness in her eyes, "Your friend is very, very sick. I'm sorry, but that's all I can say."


-To Be Continued-

Monday, April 04, 2005

BlogDaddy

September 2004

I was beginning to wonder why Vasco hadn't responded to my last couple of emails. The last I'd heard from him, he was asking if I was planning on going to Alegria, the big circuit party that takes place every month or so in Manhattan. I told him that I'd BEEN to an Alegria, thank you very much, and that once was enough, but to let me know if he was doing anything else and maybe I'd join him.

Vasco and I were just starting to become close. I'd seen his handsome face around various NYC bars and parties, smiling and glad-handing his way around the room. He seemed to be quite popular, but I didn't really get to know him until he began quoting from my Manhunt profile on his blog, saying that what I was doing on Manhunt was "literary performance art", because instead of posting the usual crass physical details and interests that are seen on sex hook-up sites, I would attempt to humorously deconstruct the various personalities and strategies concocted by gay men while cruising for internet sex.

Encouraged by Vasco and others, I began writing a weekly "column" in my Manhunt profile. Where other members talked of their interest in finding a "straight-acting" guy, I talked about self-loathing. Where others posted pictures of their assholes, but not their faces, I talked about self-respect. I mixed up these sermons with a lot of silly limericks about sex gone wrong and other nonsense that jabbed at the phenomenon of online sex. Some of the other members thought I was hilarious, but lots of them thought I was a judgmental jerk.

Vasco and I went clubbing on a few occasions, to hear Frankie Knuckles and Susan Morabito at Cielo, or Paul Ferrer at The Eagle. He knew everybody, and after awhile, it was feeling like I did too. A mutual friend of ours told me that Vasco was a "like a pixie", and when you were in a club with him, it felt like a nonstop ride of dropping in on one group of friends after another, but never actually planting yourself anywhere, and I found that description to be quite apt.

We had one quite spectacular Sunday last March, going directly from the Saint-At-Large Black Party, to the Body & Soul Reunion party. After we left Body & Soul, we bought some falafels and sprawled exhausted on one of the Chelsea piers, where we talked for hours about our families and our childhoods. It was amazing that we had so many similar experiences, considering I was brought up in rural North Carolina, and he was brought up in suburban Brazil.

The next week, I finally succumbed to Vasco's urging that I take my writing bug off of Manhunt, and start blogging. I met Vasco at his favorite coffeeshop in the Village where he spent four (seemingly endless) hours setting up this blog, agonizing over the minutiae of fonts, borders and backgrounds, as my eyes crossed at the impossible complexity of the coding.

After I launched this blog at the end of April, I began referring to Vasco as my "BlogDaddy", a term I'd seen tossed around by others when referring to the person who inspired them to blog or the person who had set their blog up. In my case, Vasco was both. I spent the summer experimenting with my short stories here, but often sending the posts to Vasco first, to get his insight.

So I was concerned, but only a little, when Labor Day weekend passed without an email or phone call from him. I asked around, but none of our mutual friends had seen or heard from him either.

-To Be Continued-

Friday, April 01, 2005

Hah!

He steps into the elevator at the 15th floor.

That's the floor entirely populated by a law firm that specializes in handling estate and probate issues for the wealthy of Manhattan. A few times I've been in the elevator when the doors opened to heated family arguments in their lavishly appointed lobby.

He looks like all the senior executives in Manhattan, sagging and defeated in his trenchcoat, bowtie, dark suit. His back is slightly stooped, his face is craggy, and his hair is grey and wild. A little bit Andy Rooney and a little bit Walter Matthau.

I'm fiddling with the display on my iPod, which for some reason has decided that it's 3:15 in the morning. I see the old man speaking to me, and yank my earplugs out.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"What's that you got there? Is that that iPod thing I keep hearing about?" he asks.

I hold my iPod out to him, "Well, it's one of them."

He examines it without taking it from me. "So THAT'S the thing that the bad guys are yanking outta people's hands on the subway?"

"Yeah."

He looks at me over the top of his glasses. "Well, you don't look like any guys would mess with YOU!"

I look at him and give him a wink, "And more's the pity."

He stares at me, expressionless.

Then, he lets out a whoop. "HAH! That's great! Hah! You almost got me! Hah!"

The elevator doors open and he turns and gives me a salute, "And Happy April Fool's to YOU, too!"

I think about correcting him, but he just seems so pleased, so alive, that I don't have the heart.

Just before the doors close, I hear him one last time, "Hah!"