Six Months On (Episode 10) — Make It Count
You don’t go to a hospital to rest. There is a constant stream of people coming into the room poking and prodding you with needles and such, asking questions, changing out this or that or checking on the incessant beeping that goes on. When you are sedated it’s not noticeable but if you are a devoted loved one who refuses to leave the patient’s side there is a limit to how much you can take. As late December turned to early January and I seemed to be on a very slow but positive trajectory, Susan wisely chose to start spending a few nights at home in our own bed then calling to check on me first thing in the morning before making her way to the hospital. Each morning it was the same thing,
“He’s fine. No change.”
On the morning of January 4th she expected to hear those same words. She wasn’t prepared for what she was told.
“You extubated him! What does that even mean?”
“It means we took the tube out.”
“Why would you do that?”
“We wanted to give him a chance to see if he could breathe on his own?”
And so began the mad dash to get ready and rush to the hospital. Mary was back in school and getting Betsy out of bed and out the door in the morning requires a government permit and three verified, documented miracles. There was a threat of icy weather but it wasn’t suppose to happen until that night (if at all) so the roads should be clear. Twenty minutes is all it would take to get there then another 10 minutes to get from the parking lot to the ICU.
Traffic was light as it was just past rush hour. The drive to UAMS is one that Susan had made daily for years since she started working there. I don’t think I am assuming too much by saying that she was never as anxious to get there as she was that day. The kindness of others gave her parking passes for the deck that was closer to the ICU than her normal assigned lot for work. Once she arrived it was a quick trip up to the 4th floor and into the long hallway that lead straight to my room. She could see ahead that the door was open and about 10 people were in the room milling about, making sure that all was well with the patient. Beyond those people she got a glimpse of the what she had waited to see for over 2 weeks. Her sleeping giant was awake and though he was on supplemental oxygen, it was his lungs doing most of the work rather than a machine. As she approached he saw her coming. He saw the smile on her face and uttered the words he had been wanting to say for who knows how long.
“I thought you had a plan to get me out of here.”
I’m not much of a drinker. I’m not opposed to it. I enjoy fruitier drinks more than anything. Sangria, Margaritas, Daiquiris, etc. I’d love to like wines more than I do but most of them taste too alcohol-ly to me and I can’t stand the taste of beer. I’ve never done recreational drugs and I’ve never smoked anything in my life. But when you’re in the hospital and in the state I was in they tend to load you up on stuff so that: a) you get better and b) you don’t feel pain.
One drug can be enough to take care of you but when you have a situation like mine and you have a few pounds on you they tend to pile it on. Combine enough of them over a long enough period of time and you tend to lose touch with reality or better yet, you start to invent your your own reality. (But that’s a story for another time.)
When they extubated me they took me off of sedation completely and since there was no tube running down to my lungs, pain killers were no longer needed either. My memories that had stopped 17 days ago begin again at this point. They are vague at first but they are there. It’s odd because even though I’m told I was awake and responsive for a few days before that, it’s as though I was waking up from a long night of sleep walking.
To say that I was as excited to see my wife as she was to see me is not exactly true of that moment. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t seen her in over two weeks. In fact I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen her or anyone. I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. I just knew that I felt physically better than I had felt in really long time. When Susan told me that I had been in the hospital and on a ventilator for the past 17 days I thought, “No way.”. To be honest I didn’t really know what a ventilator was so I didn’t see the severity of it all. When it was explained to me after a little while it began to sink in and I became really glad to see her. When the Betsy and Mary arrived around lunch time I lost it. I remember the four of us sitting together as it should always be and at that moment I decided to feel every emotion that was coming my way, to embrace it, to participate in it and to see it through to the end.
When they decided it was time for me to rest I stopped the three of them and pushed through everything I was feeling in that moment to tell say, “We have to make this count.”