By Jeremiah Reardon
My friend Ramon’s wrists are secured to a side rail of his critical care bed. Perspiration trickles from his forehead to straining eyes which roll upward. I wipe his brow and hold a hand. I’m alarmed at his condition on my first visit to the hospital and pray for his recovery.
A cotton blanket lies at his feet in a pile. He wears only a diaper. For six weeks he’ll fight for his life against the scourge of the flu aided by the staff at Hospital Vicente Corral Moscoso, Cuenca’s free public hospital.
My wife Belinda and I have known Ramon for six years. He’s the neighborhood cabinetmaker, and lives behind his rustic shop. My greatest achievement in retirement has been making furniture for our home with input from my artist-wife. Our association with Ramon and his workers has helped immensely in executing my designs.
Ramon’s shop expertly finished our dinner table; built a wood-frame sofa; crafted six dining chairs, a handsome desk, and two end tables. Items painted and stained inside the shop are left to dry on the sidewalk for all to see.
On April 2 CuencaHighLife reported that the public hospital, also known as Hospital Regional, is treating twenty Covid-19 patients. With fifty beds available, it will treat most of the Cuenca virus patients requiring intensive care.
For a couple of weeks in February 2018 we hadn’t seen Ramon. Shopping at his sister Maria’s corner tienda, she explained, “Ramon’s very sick with the flu. He’s in Hospital Regional.”
“Maria, we want to see him and show we care,” Belinda said. “Where is he in the hospital?”
On our first visit to Corral Moscoso, Belinda and I received a visitor pass from the front desk clerk to present to the security guard. We lingered in the sun at a rear door with fifty others till it opened.
The guard checked passes and admitted us into a utilitarian basement hallway. The elevator didn’t work, so we used the stairs. At the third floor landing medical staff in an array of colors hustled in and out of closed wards. We pondered which way to turn.
I examined a printout attached to a bulletin board listing the floor’s patients. With no mention of Ramon’s name, we asked a nurse for help. She checked it and said, “Try the fifth floor.”
We ascended the stairs and entered the ward for intensive care patients. We wondered why whether Ramon’s case required such treatment. Windows admitted light into the clerical section of the unit. A young man in white garb greeted us. “Your friend is in critical care. It’s across from the emergency room,” he said.
To locate Emergency on the first floor we encountered the pediatric care area. We felt sorry to see babies and children in cribs with family members in attendance behind a glass partition wall. “Isn’t it sad, Jeremiah,” Belinda murmured.
An emergency room nurse offered to help. She stepped across the hall to enter Critical Care. “I’m sorry, but they said that visiting hours are over. You may see Ramon tomorrow at 8 p.m.”
I failed that evening to get admission. And returned a few days later in the afternoon. An emergency room nurse pushed aside the Critical Care door and entered, “You wait here, please,” she instructed me.
In a few minutes, she returned with a blue gown. “Please wear this. And take off your shoes, and use these.” She held the door open for me. The third time is a charm, I thought.
Overheard lighting warmly illuminated the unit. About six men lay in litters anchored by locked wheels. Tubes ran to their arms from clear plastic bags supported by metal frames. Monitors blinked and chirped. Several medical staff worked the shift.
I approached a woman doctor wearing green scrubs at the nurse’s station. “My friend is Ramon. May I see him, please?”
“Yes.” She pointed, “He’s in that bed. You may stay for ten minutes.”
“How’s he doing?” I asked.
“He’s stable. He’s doing alright.” She looked at me sympathetically. “We’re treating him for pulmonary infection. It’s good of you to visit.”
“He’s a good man. Ramon is my neighbor and carpenter,” I explained.
When I approached his bed, he thrashed in fits and starts. “Ramon, it’s Jeremiah. I’m happy to see you. And Belinda says hello.” He gazed at me for a moment, and then I lost him. He struggled with his bindings. He’s a couple of inches shorter than me, about 5’9”. His brown curly hair felt wet as I stroked it. A nurse joined us to check his life-supporting tubes.
A week later in the evening, several of Ramon’s relatives greeted me in the waiting room. Two young women arose to introduce themselves. I realized one was Katrina, Ramon’s ex-wife.
A couple of years earlier Belinda and I had ordered end tables and paid Ramon in full. One day we inquired about delivery after a couple of months had passed. In a low voice he explained, “My wife and I divorced. I apologize but this has caused me much pain,” at which point he started to cry. Belinda hugged him, “Ramon, I’m so sorry for you. We understand. There’s no rush.”
Katrina, the mother of their two children, greeted me. “I’m happy you came tonight, Jeremiah” About five years younger than Ramon, she dressed nicely and looked pretty with long brown hair.
“Thank you, Katrina. And it’s nice to see you. How’s Ramon?”
“Better, thank God. The doctor said he’ll come home soon,” she replied with a smile. “Ramon’ll be glad you’re here.”
Just as my time with Ramon ended, Katrina had put on a gown to join us. “Mi amor, how are you?” she said while holding his hand, no longer bound. Ramon fixed his eyes on her as he whispered a greeting.
Just like old times, I thought. Happy with Ramon’s progress, I said my goodbyes.
Several days later, I returned in the afternoon. Critical Care directed me to the fifth floor. Excited with this new development, I exited the elevator and saw a group of men seated in front of windows which overlooked sun-drenched hospital grounds.
I searched for Ramon’s bed in a room with half a dozen patients. A man interrupted his visitor and greeted me. He pointed to a vacant bed. “Yes, this is Ramon’s. He’s in the lobby with visitors.
It gave me joy to see my friend dressed in a bathrobe and smiling in an easy chair. He laughed at my confusion, “Jeremiah, you found me!”
“Yes, Ramon. I didn’t know it was you. What a change for the better. So good to see you up and about, Ramon,” I said. We shook hands and he introduced me to his friends.
“Thank you, Jeremiah. I still have to go for physical therapy. And get back my strength.” His friends and I nodded in agreement.
When Ramon had completed PT and put on weight, he looked like his old self. I’d visit him at his shop where he wore a mask against the sawdust. A year had passed when I had business in the shop. Ramon confided, “Jeremiah, I remember you coming to see me in the hospital.”
“No kidding, Ramon! You know, I was very worried about you,” I told him.
“Well, I’m doing fine, now, my friend. Look how good I look.” he laughed, giving me a vigorous hug.
Ramon’s miraculous recovery has given Belinda and myself a greater appreciation for Hospital Regional’s public health mission. Ramon’s life is testament to its skilled care.