Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life (Excerpt #68)

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1960s era fighter pilot – Image by Militariarg.com

Author’s note: The following passage is the beginning from How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.  This is the 68th excerpt in the blog series.

The text in italics indicates that the passage was from a vivid dream caused by a phenomenon doctors call ICU Psychosis. To learn more about what causes The Dreams, go to Excerpt #53 (https://esereport.com/2016/06/29/summer-in-the-waiting-room-how-faith-family-and-friends-saved-my-life-excerpt-53/)

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For the first few hours without the tube, I continued to make progress. Doctors were monitoring me closely as Sandra felt the weight of the decision taking a toll. She was excited, nervous, and scared all at once. The question on everyone’s mind was “can he handle it?” Sandra feared that the sudden removal of the tube would cause me to panic, thus impacting my ability to breathe without the security of the device.

As the evening wore on, I started to struggle with each breath. I had a confused look on my face and Sandra couldn’t tell if I was worried or scared. The hollow eyes in my thin face looked out into the distance trying to understand what was happening. Sandra couldn’t even fathom what was going on in my head. She rhetorically asked me in her journal, “What do you remember? What questions do you have? How do you feel? Did I make the right choices for you?”

Just before midnight, phlegm began building up in my lungs. I was too weak to cough out the gooey substance. Nurses tried to remove the phlegm with a suction device without success. I was gasping for air as oxygen levels declined. Doctors and respiratory therapists worked to stabilize my breathing before deciding to reconnect me to the BIPAP machine, the helmet-like device that forces air into the lungs through the mouth.

Sandra was afraid and second-guessed her decision to remove the tube. She turned to her faith for answers. God had taken us this far, she reasoned. Whatever was happening at the moment was His will. As I stabilized and fell into an uneasy sleep, she read Psalm 91:4-5,

“God will cover me with his wings. I will be safe in his care. His faithfulness will protect and defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night of sudden attacks during the day.”

She decided to recommit to God and whispered to me, “We can’t be afraid Babe. We have to trust that God has you in His care. Please don’t get discouraged. Fight!”

***

            I was in the cockpit of a 1960s era Air Force fighter jet feeling weak and incessantly coughing from what was probably my lungs’ adjustment to the thin air at high altitudes. I wore a white fighter pilot helmet and black oxygen mask from the same era. I was so weak from coughing that I found a small couch in the cockpit where I could lay down and rest. Folding myself into a fetal position, I felt helpless as the cough intensified and I struggled to catch my breath. I could hear voices cheering me on to no avail. The air was too thin. I was too weak. I lost consciousness as the jet roared through the sky.

***

Removing the tube wasn’t working. When my regular critical care doctor returned to work on Monday morning, he was surprised to see that I was no longer intubated. I was struggling to breathe with the clear oxygen mask covering my nose and mouth. After reviewing my file for the weekend, he realized that Sandra had elected to forgo the tracheotomy. Meeting with the Sandra in the room, the doctor again recommended the procedure.

Sandra was furious. She interrogated the doctor asking why he hadn’t consulted with the pulmonologist on duty during the weekend. Hurling accusations that the doctors and the hospital were experimenting with my life, she released all of the pent up emotions that had been simmering inside of her for almost two months. The critical care doctor patiently listened and allowed Sandra to express her anger, fears, and frustrations.

I remember hearing and seeing Sandra’s tirade. For the first time since doctors induced me into a coma, real and overwhelming emotion washed over me. I felt the need to intervene and protect Sandra. I understood their conversation and wanted to weigh in as I thought that would relieve Sandra of the pressure to make a decision.

When we made eye contact, I tried talking to her completely oblivious of the fact that my strained vocal chords had rendered me mute. Once I realized that, I wanted to tell her to bring me a laptop so I could write down my opinion. I agreed with the tracheotomy option. I was insistent that Sandra bring a laptop to me. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t move my arms, hands, and fingers.

Reading my lips, Sandra finally understood what I was trying to say. She frustratingly waved me off and said, “NO!” When I persisted, she angrily pointed out that I was paralyzed and that I couldn’t use a computer. She burst into tears and ran out of the room. I don’t remember anything after that.

My road to recovery had experienced yet another bump. Meanwhile, I continued to drift in and out of consciousness, Sandra continued to grapple with the hour to hour decisions that weighed heavily on her, and the waiting room continued to pray and support her and the girls.

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Next Wednesday: Back to square 1. Doctors reinsert the breathing tube into my throat. 

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