Monday, December 31, 2012

Return to the ICU

It has been an awfully long time since I last sat down and pounded on these keys. I don't know why I stopped writing. I just know that it stopped feeling good. As 2012 draws to a close and 2013 is rung in, I am sitting here with very mixed feelings. Not because of the passage of time, but because of the upwelling of emotions that came up today.

This morning Nancy and I went to visit a friend of ours in the ICU at the hospital. Jeff suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage ten days ago. Jeff was given very poor chances for survival, much less recovery. I was standing by his bedside ten days ago. I was there six hours after he was admitted to the ICU after putting a shunt into his skull to help drain the spinal fluid building up. I stood there, helpless as his wife's pleading eyes begged for sign that he might make it. I sat with her that day and today. Both times, it was awful and painful. Today was different.

Today Jeff recognized Nancy and I. He squeezed my hand with both his left and right hands. He moved his legs without being asked. He was able to focus his eyes, and roll them in answer to questions I asked. He expressed annoyance, frustration, joy, compassion, fear.... all in the short span we were in his room. Knowing that he is still "in there" is a huge relief. We didn't know that when I was there ten days ago.

I have followed his progress daily through communications via facebook with his wife and family. I am always reluctant to offer my views from my experience in the ICU. No one really wants to hear what it was like in the coma. And with good reason.

I was in the room next door to Jeff.

I still have a hard time walking past room 11 in the ICU.
The cacophony of bells, alarms and beeping machines don't help. That ICU Syndrome goes away, eventually, but hearing those sounds, and breathing in that antiseptic air, takes me right back.

The difference is that this time, I am standing beside the bed. I am holding Jeff's hand. I am there for his loving wife. I am not the one being pulled in and out of consciousness.

I asked my friend Lee, what my purpose was in being at Jeff's bedside. I felt like I was powerless to do anything. If anything, I felt in the way and useless. Lee's comment was that I was there to bear witness. I didn't really understand what he meant by that expression. The more he explained, I came to realize that someone had to be there to make it real. In part because this sort of scenario is impossible. Jeff is a young man. He can't have a stroke! He has a family. He doesn't have any other comorbidities.

The more I thought about the idea of being a witness to this experience, I came to think of another aspect... that of being there to stand watch. Similar, but different. Doctors and nurses are there to keep the body alive. Family members are there to try to understand their grief and confusion. I stood watch over Jeff... letting him know I was there for him. Whatever he needed, I would be there. Not that I could fix anything, or magically change things. But my intent, was to be there. To be present in that moment. Not to bring my past to bear, but to offer Jeff a person he could reach out to, knowing that I have been on his side of the bed. No judgement, no criticism. Just understanding. To help him accept that he had survived, and that with time, he could recover, and regain his life.

As I left his bedside I let him know how impressed I was with his progress. I told him how much he would enjoy getting his Passy-Muir either tomorrow or the next day. How he would be able to talk to the nurses and ask questions... and he would be able to tell folks to stop annoying him. He rolled his eyes and smiled. I shared that after that happened, the next step was semi-solid foods... and that butterscotch pudding never tasted better than after you've passed the "swallow test" and have downed the blue dyed applesauce. I explained that from here on out, things would move fast. He was healing now. Each day would have new things, progress. I told him that the fear would pass soon. That soon he would be able to move on his own and that the physical recovery would begin in earnest. And then I held his hand tightly and told him that we would be back soon. He returned the squeeze and it was obvious that he understood.

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