I knew I’d stay there. In that ICU. I had no idea when I started out the how’s or the where’s or the when’s. I simply knew that if I had to, I’d sleep on the floor.
I wasn’t going to leave.
So I sat back in a corner chair that was supposed to recline but was broken. And when I thought I should lay back and rest (stay out of the way), I pulled up a straight back chair, placed it as a stool, and propped my feet onto it. Tried to find a position in that broken down non-recliner that felt somewhat painless. Though I could not feel a thing. My comfort didn’t matter. Not one bit.
I watched. And listened. Not sleeping…never. Like a hawk on the highest pine…I was on alert.
Yes, I watched. But there’s got to be another word here….surveyed….no, patrolled! Yes, I patrolled. With silent vigilance. Became the Watchman.
As nurses, aides, respiratory therapists, and it seemed like to me a hundred others came in and out during those first few days and nights. Non stop.
It’s funny how if you really want to…you really need to…you can become pretty acclimated to unfamiliar surroundings. Meld yourself into the setting like you’ve always been there and you come to know it like the back of your hand. Become part of something because you know you need to in able to survive.
As I watched, I learned. Nurses worked twelve-hour shifts, each one assigned only two or three patients to care for during that time. I saw a routine and found a rhythm. Certain times when the temperature was recorded, or blood drawn, or x-rays taken, or medicine administered. I learned names and knew voices and asked questions, and found a small notepad way, deep in the recesses of my purse with a pen to take notes. Detailed notes. Scribbled on tiny spaces were vital sign numbers, terms I was not familiar with, and questions….so many questions to be asked.
Because every morning about 11:00 the doctor and his team would make his or her rounds.
This became my most looked forward to and most valuable time of day.
Prior to those rounds, a different doctor would come in early each morning, take a quick assessment, and make an introduction. The very first day, a tired looking young woman talked to the nurse, jotted down a few notations, and turned to shake my hand. Dr. So and So, she said. Long, curly, unruly hair tied up in a haphazard bun, bare faced, with dark circles under her eyes. I remember thinking to myself…
“What?! Is she TWELVE?”
She seemed so young, how could she ever know enough?
Baylor Scott and White is a teaching hospital. I didn’t quite understand what that meant upon arrival, but I was soon to find out. Every morning, as the doctor on duty made rounds, several students and residents would circle around their admired teacher and discuss the patient at hand. All with clipboards or notes in hand, sweaters or white lab coats over scrubs, none of them with a hair in place. All of them looking sleep deprived and weary. Yet in their way, vigilant, too…eager, so eager to learn. All of them hung on every single word of the doctor/professor/chief. Most with furrowed brows, serious faces. Learning and gleaning life and death things.
I’d anticipate each morning as they stood outside my son’s room, have a U-shaped conference about what they read in a chart, or images they would see on a rolling computer screen, answer a few questions shot at them, and then make their way in to see us. No less than the doctor and give or take six students standing elbow to elbow filled the room. At first, it was hard and uncomfortable for me. Sitting there as they all crowded around. Talking medical-ese. Foreign language. Hard to understand. Hard to hear information.
It felt as if my son was a class project. I was the project board. My son was being examined. We were both being assessed. And I was so afraid to find out if we would pass or fail.
They were so very kind, but matter of fact those first few visits. At the end of the exam, the attending physician looked at me with a vague smile and told me the current plan of action and asked if I had any questions. I am sure (no, I know) I looked like a doomed deer in headlights. Clueless. I did have questions. Tons of them. But nothing would come to my overwhelmed mind.
I thanked them. Yes, thank you very much. I appreciate your attention. I cannot think of any questions just now…but I promise, when I do, I will ask you. Thank you. Thank you.
Heads nodded, my hand shaken a few times…blur, blur, blur. They filtered out the door, heads down, murmur, murmur, yes, yes. On to the next patient. Just like that.
At about day three…I stood ready and waiting. Something kicked in and I felt more prepared…more confident. More than this…I was hungry for knowledge. I needed to know. I wanted to be part. I wanted more. From them. From me. For my son.
Tiny notepad in hand…I started to take even more detailed notes. This time, when they looked toward me, I asked them. Questions.
You said this term…what does that mean? Can you spell that, please? His temperature is this…why? You have him on this medication…tell me what for? Dozens of questions, it seemed. Each answer brought up another query…then another. AND lastly with shoulders squared, standing as tall as my body would allow…can you tell me (with a deep, deep inhale)…what can I expect?
I found that this intrigued them…made them take interest. Instead of walking away…they sat with me. Looked me straight in the eye. Answered my questions. At first, cautiously, like teaching a 4 year old to read…but watching me…reading me. I would write down their answers. Which spurred more questions. I asked and asked until I felt drained out.
Unfortunately, Momma…we cannot tell you what to expect. One day at a time. Patience. Patience. The real answers are in the waiting.
They would leave then, placing hands on my shoulder, squeezing my hand a little, smiling at me…calling me by name. Something was happening and I was feeling heard. Cared for. Noted.
I now felt like a fellow student. From that point…that was exactly what I would be. Nothing less.
Just as the Attending was about to leave the room, he turned to stand beside me…gently, he held my elbow and told me that I was doing no one any good if I didn’t take care of myself. Had I eaten? No. Was I sleeping? No. Had I gotten out of that room for some fresh air? No.
Shortly after, standing in front of a mirror…washing my hands, I looked up into the image before me. I had not showered. I had not washed my hair (though I did think to brush my teeth). I was haphazard…not a hair in place. White exhaustion all over my face…dark circles under my eyes.
As I rinsed my hands, I noticed the sleeves at the wrists of my favorite white hoodie were ringed around the edges with black, smudged to the elbows…from leaning on counters and smeared with pencil and ink…remnants of my so many questions. I had not even changed my clothes. Not even thought of it. For three full days.
I realized that now, I would be there for a while. It was time to take another course of action. I needed to gird myself up. Take better care.
Study hard. Pay close, close attention. Hang on every word.
It was time to learn.
Like life depended on it.