It's quiet here, save for the soft sfffft sound of the ventilator. It's Sunday night, after dinner, and I'm sitting in my dad's ICU room in the dark. The weather channel is playing in the background because Dad loves weather as much as a meteorologist does. We're hoping he'll listen and hear familiar things as he goes in and out of sleep.
He has begun to waken and his eyes search the area right around his pillow until he locks onto the eyes of his family. He hasn't been responding to the staff, but the last time he had pneumonia, he did the same thing. For his family, he opens his eyes and shakes his head--slightly. All the vital signs are stable and for now, we're content just to watch and wait and offer him reassurance and comfort when he looks for us.
As I sit here, I think of how many life and death experiences our family has known within these hospital walls. Tears of sadness and tears of joy have all been shed in this place. Fifty-two years ago yesterday, I made my debut in the world in this building and as I watch over Dad for a time tonight, I think back to what a day it must have been for him and Mom that snowy January Thursday. My sister was just a baby, too...thirteen months old...so Mom was worried about her and anxious to get home. Dad has always loved his kids and enjoyed every minute he spent with them, so I imagine that day years ago was a happy moment for him. I have him to thank for my name as Mom allowed him to to name me. (She gave my sister her name.). He chose to name me after his mom and my mom.
But not all of our memories here have been happy ones. I said goodbye to my son's father in these walls...my dad was with my husband, in fact, when he took his last breath. I had called Dad to spell me for a time so I could take my little boy home, get him a clean set of clothes, and drop him off with my mom before heading back to the hospital for the night. For whatever reason, while I was gone, Jim slipped home to Heaven When the hospital tracked me down at my mom's house, I just didn't think I could face what awaited me at the hospital, but Dad stayed with me and helped me do the things I had to do. I remember how tightly he held my hand as he walked me to the elevator on the Cancer floor for the last time. I had a feeling that if he could have taken my grief and pain away from me, he would have. To spare him, I tried my best not to cry, but the burden of sorrow was nearly too much to carry. I remember feeling very weak and faint...almost like a balloon that could easily float through the ceiling of that tormenting place. I dare say that if I could have floated away from the pain that night, I would have...Dad right beside me. But what rooted us to the earth then and now, was love of my son...love of family...and a dim, though honestly weak, faith that God could somehow get me through this horrible moment in time.
So now it's my turn to sit by him and scramble from my chair to his bedside when he struggles with the straps that hold his hands to his side, or when he wakes and becomes aware of the tubes in his throat. His eyes slowly open and he has even smiled at us through his medical miseries, and I try to stroke away the fear while whispering, "It's going to be OK...you're getting stronger every day...don't worry." He grasps my fingers when I hold his hand as I lean over his bed, and there is a little relaxing of his eyebrows as he watches me silently. We have the same gray/blue eyes...and we're familiar to each other.
Hospital vigils are often not fun, and having the blessings of modern medicine can bring with it fears and relief, but being there for one another through all of them is the constant that ties these events together. Through it all, we go on and we keep holding hands, and stroking foreheads, and offering love and comfort...and living our lives, as much as possible, in and out of these familiar, yet impersonal, hospital walls.