I haven’t posted on this blog in several weeks because, as some of you know, my life has gone all upside down with my husband’s health crisis.
Since the end of August, we’ve spent forty five days in the ICU as he’s undergone twenty two surgeries. I’ve learned that writing fiction, blog posts, and even journal entries when under such stress is hard, really hard. So instead of beating myself up for failing to post on my “every Tuesday or Thursday” schedule like I have for the past three years, I gave in.
I decided that right now, in the midst of a family health crisis, I can relax on my fairly rigorous writing schedule, and I can also forgive myself and move forward without judging myself. I’m doing what I need to be doing by supporting my family. And my writing, for now, will wait.
For me, surrendering and releasing control is one of the lessons I needed to learn. Over and over, I’ve thought my husband’s health was heading in one direction. I’ve made tentative plans for moving forward. And then, life laughed at me, saying “Ah, you still need to learn. Let go. You’re not in charge. We’re doing something different than you had planned.”
I’d cry (for real) and then move forward, trying to stay in the moment, without making any plans, or writing a single word.
I have, however, spent lots of time observing the hospital and the people. I’m sure somehow, someday, these experiences will find their way into a story.
The hospital we are in has six intensive care units, and we ended up in the trauma unit. This means that all of the emergencies arrived in our unit. Overdoses, multiple motorcycle crashes and the subsequent para and quadriplegia and massive head trauma, car crashes, and even the traumas from Burning Man ended up in rooms in our unit.
It made me want to wear a helmet everywhere I went.
Our bodies are fragile. Life is fragile.
I remember the mother collapsed and sobbing on the floor of the waiting room, a hot windowless room that smells like human grief and sweat, a smell I won’t easily forget. She had to remove her son, a twenty-something young man, from life support. An hour later the surgery board showed the Harvest Team performing surgery, so this young man’s organs could be donated. This was the worst memory.
I remember one morning a large family entering the ICU room next door to my husband’s room. An elderly gentleman carried a guitar. My first thought was unkind. I thought, “Seriously? You’re going to play a guitar in the ICU!?!”
But then they started to sing. They sang hymns for close to an hour, their voices softly permeating our entire corner of the ICU. Those moments were some of the most peaceful the entire time we were there. I was so thankful for the man and his guitar.
I remember late one night, listening as a nurse spoke to a young man who had broken his back and would never walk again. The patient had been difficult and kept pulling at the tubes and lines coming from his body. The nurse kept saying, “This is your new reality. Tears won’t help. You’re going to have to get used to it.” I cried with the patient, tears silently dripping down my face.
I remember the alkaline coated friends of accident victims from Burning Man, camping on the playa for a week and then camping in the ICU waiting room, adding to the grief smell in the windowless room. The doctor shook his head, explaining how they always had wash the feet of Burning Man patients. The “Burners” spend the week walking around barefoot in the alkaline desert, not realizing that it eats at their flesh causing chemical burns on their feet.
Mostly, I remember the people. Some patients had family stay by their sides the entire time they were in the ICU while others had an occasional visitor. But every single patient had someone.
I remember the doctors sitting with me, rubbing their faces with their hands in frustration, trying to figure out the best treatment for my husband. The ICU nurses who work in an incredibly high stress environment but provide the most amazing nurturing care to their patients.
Through all of this trauma and stress, I’ve learned that even though the news shows focus on the sordid, ugly, and evil parts of the world, the reality is quite different. Love is everywhere, even in the darkest moments, people held each other up. They held me up.
I think that this is the message that I want to convey in my stories, and even here on WTW. That life can be tough, brutal even. But we have each other, and that’s enough. It’s really all there is.