On this Thanksgiving my dad has been in the ICU at Baptist Hospital for 16 days. Our life is wrapped around that right now, the majority of out time spent either in the Coronary Intensive Care Unit (CICU), working, or preparing for our next shift. My siblings and I have a running IM full of reports on our dad….and our mom, whose battle is probably even tougher than dad’s right now since he spends at least part of his day drugged.
Our time at the CICU is mostly spent in the waiting room. They don’t make the CICU patient rooms very comfortable for long family stays. There is one chair in there, far away from the bed. The nurses work almost non-stop, and if you are in there too long you feel like you may be getting in their way.
The CICU waiting room isn’t very comfortable either. You aren’t supposed to move the furniture, a sign says, because it inconveniences the housekeeping staff. We ignore that. They are not amused that some people (OK…me) take that sign lightly. Those who have been there a while do try to move things back around 8, when they arrive to throw us out to clean for 30 minutes.
The chairs are hard, and mostly attached in sets of three. Having slept in one the first night I was there, well the first night that dad wasn’t in surgery so I felt I could sleep, I can assure you that even I who can sleep almost anywhere was quite aware of the discomfort.
But we learned from the family who has been there five days longer than we have been (today marked three full weeks for them….their father/dad just came in for back surgery and was supposed to be home in five days) and as time went by we grabbed a corner….with precious outlets so we can charge our devices…and have made it our home away from home. My brother Scott took a cue from our CICU friends and bought a cot. I have slept in that about as much as my own bed lately. My sister Dana brought a bag of snacks and quarters and a travel Scrabble board. Other friends and family have added to the snack stash.
You bond quickly in the CICU. We listen to each other’s stories….some of us getting updates once or twice a day. We look for those who don’t camp out like we do, but spent time there during their surgeries, because we want to have updates on their loved ones. For the most part, there is an incredible sense of kindness and caring. We’re all in a battle and our prayers and thoughts are not only of our own people, but of these sweet people we are meeting along the way.
And then there was last night. Thanksgiving Eve. A lady was there that looked vaguely familiar, but as I talked to one of the daughters in this family we now feel is our family, she was within earshot so I tried to include her in the conversation. She would not engage. My CICU friend had tried to turn down the TV a few minutes before and the lady had gotten very huffy about it. She hadn’t been looking at it or seemed to have been engaged with it at all. She didn’t give a reason….just seemed very upset with my friend for turning the sound down. My friend tried to compensate and turned the sound back up and handed the remote to the lady. That didn’t make her happy either.
I set up my cot for the night and a lady and her son who are also in our little CICU round-the-clock waiting room family came in. The son was setting up his mother’s cot for the night (they bought one for her after she used ours one night when my non-sleeping brother was spending the night and my mom had watched her falling asleep in a chair with her head on her son’s shoulder and offered up our cot for the night.) Their “family camp” is in front of the TV set, so (once again) since no one appeared to be watching she started to turn it off. The grouchy one (once again) began to voice her displeasure. The son saw a place near me that would work and quietly moved his mother’s cot over there. We exchanged a look of raised eyebrows about this grouchy woman. His sweet mom kept trying to engage with the lady. She finally made some headway and listened to her story.
I was far enough away that I could not hear the conversation. Eventually the TV sound was quieted and the TV left on. I got up in the middle of the night to check on dad when all were asleep, and turned it off. The grumpy one did not awake….amazing since she was sleeping upright in one of the uncomfortable chairs.
But this morning, Thanksgiving, as everyone in the waiting room arose (around 6 a.m.) and I came back after looking in on my dad (who had an uneventful night….thank goodness), the lady was in the waiting room by herself. I tried to engage her in conversation again and this time it worked. We started talking. All of a sudden it dawned on me who she was. This was Larry’s sister-in-law. Larry, the sweet man our family had also gotten to know sitting in that waiting room. He had come in the Sunday after our Tuesday. His wife had heart surgery. This sister-in-law was with him that day. I bonded with Larry when his wife was in surgery that day. Our whole family did. He lived in Newton, not far from us. His wife was in surgery far longer than the five hours that was anticipated. When I left that night she was still in surgery. When I came back on that Tuesday, they were keeping her sedated because they had been unable to close because of the swelling. Then she underwent another five-hour surgery to close. Every time I have seen him since, the same story. His wife had still not woken up after the surgery.
Today marks what….12 days? Twelve days since the grouchy one has gotten to talk to her sister. Twelve days of worrying whether she will ever talk to her again. As sick as my dad has been, we have been able to talk with him every day. That’s hard in itself, when he is on a vent and can’t talk back….but we can say words of encouragement and words of love. I can tell him what is going on and attempt to let him in on what is happening around him at a time he feels very much out of control. I can feel the pain and frustration and while I can’t take it away, he can see in our eyes that we know how hard this all is for him, but we need him to fight to come home. We recognize it is a privilege to even be able to communicate with him….and for that we are most thankful.
My feelings changed about the grouchy one, who feels so much is out of her control. She loves her sister….that was so evident as I talked with her. She loves her brother-in-law…though I suspect she may be the type that shows it more by acts of service that she performs with a bit of a martyr-like air, than saying the words. As I talked with her I found that she always is in service to her family….she told Larry she could stay at the hospital until Monday, as long as she was home to pick up her granddaughter at school. He had a difficult time staying at the hospital….and this is something like 23 hospital stays for his wife at Baptist over the years. The grouchy one allows him to stay home and watch over their little dog. I suspect she takes very little time for herself. That’s how she loves. Even when it is very uncomfortable and inconvenient for her. She puts herself out there for other people. She is a servant. Even if sometimes a grouchy one.
Happy Thanksgiving to those who work at all kinds of jobs today, whether you do them with thanksgiving or not. The amazing staff at Baptist Hospital and at hospitals all around the country. The policemen I saw this morning and that I know that are working all over the place, with their firefighter and EMS brothers and sisters. My friend Joanie deployed in Kuwait. The lady at Hardee’s that cheerfully handed me my biscuit and when I thanked her for working on Thanksgiving she said she was not missing out on anything but the cooking! The folks at the Dollar Store that allowed me to pick up the soap my mom wanted (and allowed me to avoid trying to do it tomorrow in Black Friday Madness!) The people at BiLo who worked so I could finally get groceries, after not having either the time or energy to do it these past few weeks. You may be horrified I took advantage of these places being open today….but I am thankful they were. They met my needs of the day and I am grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours….those with picture perfect Thanksgivings and those who are giving thanks through tears or family feuds or less than ideal circumstances. A special wish for peace for the grouchy ones. I hope you are noticed today for all that you are and you are able to be thankful.
Life is not always wrapped with a bow. It’s complicated. But when we are thankful for what we have, and are not distracted by what we don’t have, we open ourselves up for joy to grow. God has given us great gifts. Even in the CICU. Let us be thankful. If you find you are one of the grouchy ones, it’s OK. Sometimes your load is heavy and you hold onto it too tightly. Release those hands a bit. Look for those who will share it. Remember all of the things in life that God has brought you through and to. Inhale and breathe life. That’s when thanksgiving happens.