Read an Excerpt
The Mournful Beat of Unforeseen Drums
July 23, 1993
The dream is always the same.
Jonathan and I are eight years old again, happy, laughing, running down a sidewalk in our quiet New Jersey neighborhood. The summer sun is bright and warm on our backs as we run to nowhere in particular. Just to be able to run seems good enough. I run behind Jonathan in tandem with his steps, as though the movement of my feet depends on his.
We race across a neighbor's lawn and cut into a narrow alleyway between two houses. We are still laughing childishly as the cold, dark recess seems to swallow us up, sweeping us toward the other side. As we near the end of the alleyway, the sunlight becomes even brighter and warmer than before. Somehow, I am now ahead of my brother as I rush into the light, arms raised and waving wildly, yelling, 'Heeeere weee gooo! Heeeere weee gooo!'
I run into a large field I know well. It is dotted with small, grassy knolls and scattered with beautiful sunflowers. But I can no longer hear Jonathan running behind me. I turn around to urge him on faster.
Jonathan is running to catch up, but he is no longer an eight-year-old boy. He is thirty-three years old, as when I last saw him, and his body is frail with pain and illness. His eyes and face are sunken and discolored, pasty and ashen in tone. His clothes hang loosely around his wilted limbs. With a tired arm, Jonathan motions me to run ahead, and I dash behind one of the grassy hills. I lay flat behind the small hill, frightened by my brother's sudden transformation. Cautiously, I peer around it.
Jonathan is gone. I am alone in the field.
Sherman Oaks Medical Center
Sherman Oaks, California
On July 23, 1993, I awoke once again from that dream. I had fallen asleep in the small dark hospital library. I was alone in the room, breathing in the musty smell of the worn leather couch where I had slept. A ray of obnoxiously bright fluorescent light intruded through the doorway and cut the serenity of the darkness. I feared that my life would change forever when I left this room, and I did not want to leave.
Knowing I could not stay, though, I walked out of that calm cocoon and into a torrent of frenzied activity. Nurses and doctors breezed by, seemingly oblivious to my presence as I made my way down the hallway to the intensive care unit.
From the crowded nurse's station, Jonathan's physician, Dr. Gottlieb, looked up at me. He nodded and smiled weakly, but in his eyes was a sadness and sympathy that had not been there before. With his head, he motioned to me in the direction of Jonathan's room. I anxiously quickened my pace.
I was horrified by what I saw when I entered his room. In the dim early morning light of the intensive care unit, Jonathan lay in bed, eyes closed. A large plastic tube snaked out from a unit near his bed to a clear mask on his face. As the unit hissed in time with his shallow respirations, it forced concentrated oxygen into his weakened lungs. A heart monitor above his head showed his irregular heartbeat. Two steel intravenous poles on either side of him were so laden with clear and colored bags and bottles of medication that they resembled decorated Christmas trees. It was an ominous sign.
For a moment I just watched him, my heart heavy and quickly sinking. His skin, pinker and more vibrant just yesterday, was now a waxy, ashen yellow. It seemed to just drape over his face and arms. His eye sockets were dark and sunken. Jonathan opened his eyes and slowly scanned over to me.
He spoke in a voice that was barely audible. 'Hi, Scott. You look pretty tired. Did you stay here all night?'
'Yeah, I slept in the library,' I answered. 'It just got too late to go home, that's all.' I smiled at him, lying, knowing I never would have left. I'm sure he knew that.
'Always the diehard,' he said, barely able to draw a smile.
I asked, 'Did you sleep at all last night?'
'A little bit. The sleeping pill helped, but all this machine noise didn't.'
'Yeah, I'll bet it didn't. You always did wake up at the drop of a pin.'
Jonathan laughed for a moment. Then he began to cough violently for a few long seconds. His bedside blood oxygen monitor suddenly showed a precipitous drop in his oxygen levels: 90 . . . 89 . . . 88 . . . 87 . . . 86 . . . Less and less oxygen was being delivered to his blood. His lungs were barely doing their job.
I was about to run out and get the nurse when he stopped coughing. The monitor numbers began to inch back up as Jonathan took some deep breaths through the mask.
'Hate when that happens,' he said with a faint smile.
I knew that must have frightened him, but I also knew he would be the last to show his fear to anyone, including me. Stonewall Jonathan!
I decided against my better judgment to leave the hospital for a while to shower and rest at my mother's house nearby. I needed to clear my head and briefly relax from the stress of the situation. Jonathan's condition seemed stable for now, I thought, and he would probably continue to improve as he had in past hospital visits. Despite what I had seen, I left actually feeling somewhat hopeful.
I arrived at my mother's house in Northridge twenty minutes later. She and my stepfather, Bob, had remained at the hospital, so the house was quiet. As I walked upstairs to the bathroom, the phone rang. I ran into the master bedroom to answer it, fearing the call.
Pat, a close friend of our family, was calling from the hospital. Her voice was unsteady. 'You have to come back right now! Jonathan's taken a turn for the worse!' My frantic drive to the hospital was a horrible mix of blazing speed, anxiety, and an impending fear that this would become the worst day of my life. That sense of doom grew stronger as I weaved in and out of street traffic and rocketed into the hospital parking lot.
Shortly I was back in Jonathan's room. My mother and Bob, my stepfather; my father and his wife, Diane; and two close family friends, Pat and Sandie, all stood in a circle around my brother's bed. I went to Jonathan's side. His eyes were closed. His breathing was rapid and irregular. Each breath was labored. His nurse came in somberly and silently injected more Valium into his IV and turned up his morphine pump to sedate him. I knew at that moment my twin brother was dying.
But when the mournful beat of unforeseen drums
Crashes upon this beauty of songs,
Then the painful rhythm of this merciless beat
Threatens to crush all poetry
Love once thought to be strong.
Jonathan's body began to relax and his breathing quieted. The pained, furrowed expression on his face began to smooth out and take on a more peaceful countenance. I held his hand, whispering, 'It's okay, Jon, we're all here. Just go to sleep now,' still feeling the strength of one of his fingers pressing my palm. I believe he was acknowledging that he understood. Then Jonathan took a short, gasping breath. It was his last.
I don't remember how long I cried from that moment on, but it seemed like an hour. At that moment, I not only felt the heart-wrenching pain of losing my twin brother, but of losing a part of myself too. Part of my identity since childhood was 'us' as identical twins, one flesh and blood, one unique bond. At that moment, I never felt as close to my own fragile mortality as I did to his.
Jonathan and I were both in the comforting company of our loved ones. But I was alone in the field again.
Memory of Autumn
Remember the days of moments past
That fade from memory like withered grass,
The simple pleasuresonce a smile, now a sigh,
Those childhood questions that found no reply,
The corner drugstore in the late afternoon,
That old Victrola playing somber, faded tunes.
Remember the sunrise, now see how it sets,
That sun shined brightly to dim all regrets,
Those birds that once sang to children each day,
That laughterthat sunit was destined to stay,
The young never cried and the old never sinned.
But the memory of autumn is caught by the wind.
Ah, how one remembers the days that fell like rain,
The morn' that brought the sunshine
the eve that witnessed pain.
Ages that time has lost from sight, some hold with their mind.
Yet though life seems to keep most well, many hearts are blind.
For love is blocked by virgin hearts, and value marred by time.
Rising from our tired swings, we move across the porch,
The dark sky holds our anguishwe no longer bear the torch,
Indeed we laugh for all the days a tear could not detain.
And one who laughs resolves the truth
Then sadly weeps again.
For the memory of autumn is caught quickly by the wind.
Remember the days of moments past.
They bloom like roses
Then break like glass.
Jonathan Elliot Davis
©2008.Scott M. Davis, M.D., Addiction Medicine Physician, The Betty Ford Center, Afterword by Nancy Waite O'Brien, Ph.D.,. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Living Jonathan's Life. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street , Deerfield Beach , FL 33442.