They See Me in the ICU

This is the ninth in a series of articles about my recent trip to the emergency room, my intestinal surgery, and my recovery afterwards. Here is an index to all of the articles in this series.

First a brief apology for the fact that I haven’t posted a new installment in over a month. One of the problems I’ve always had with my writing is I have a tendency to spend more time writing about my life than actually living it. I can spend half a day writing one of these installments. Anyway I’m back at it and here’s the next part of the story…

As we last left our hero, he had just been weaned off of the respirator and was back on his old familiar CPAP machine in St. Vincent Hospital ICU.

Even though I was breathing fairly well, I could tell there was still some congestion in my lungs. From time to time a respiratory therapist would come and give me breathing treatments where I would inhale some sort of mist. I had had this kind of treatment before in the hospital when I had pneumonia. For the first few times they did it, I would put the tube in my mouth and breathe the vapors. However a few days later one of the therapist found a way to hook the nebulizer into my CPAP tube which was much more comfortable. The only problem with that was when I eventually got home I could still smell the vapors in the tubing. We had to give the big hose a thorough cleaning.

I had some nice conversations with a female resident doctor and a male intern who were stationed in the ICU and checked up on me periodically. They were curious about my disability and I told them it was Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. The intern had done a rotation in pediatrics and he had heard of SMA. SMA Type I is quite severe and obvious in newborns. Many of them only last a short time (days or weeks) before the weak muscles caused them fatal complications. Since they were in a talkative mood I really laid on the medical speak to impress them with how much I knew about genetics and SMA.

At some point during my stay in the ICU they installed something called an “IV central line”. It’s a large bore intravenous line with three branches on it so they can hook up multiple IV bags and give me injections as necessary. They can also use it to draw blood. Prior to that I just had a small diameter IV stuck in the back of my left hand. They have a choice of putting it in your chest up near your shoulder or in your leg in the groin area. They did mine in the groin. I was really happy to have the better line because the small diameter lines in my hand tend to collapse after a couple of days.

No sooner did they install the line but a nurse comes in and says I have to give you a shot. For some reason it has to go into your muscle area so she couldn’t use the new line. It was some sort of medication to prevent blood clots in your legs. Considering there was a strong possibility I was going to be in bed for a couple of months, I didn’t complain about that kind of shot.

At one point they drew some blood and sent it to the lab. For some reason it showed my blood sugar was way out of line. I don’t recall ever having my blood sugar tested before so I don’t know if mine is usually okay or not. Anyway the end result was they had to give me a shot of insulin which of course had to go into the muscle as well and could not use my fancy new central IV lines. They continued to test my blood sugar several times a day for the next few days by sticking a finger and using a meter. It was well within normal every other time except that first test from the lab. After couple of days I finally talked them out of further testing.

In addition to my Mom and Dad visiting me there, I also had a visit from two priests. Of course yesterday when I really wanted to see a priest none were available. Msgr. Fred Easton is a longtime friend who lives at St. Gabriel’s rectory and spends most of his time working downtown of the archdiocese. He is the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese and is in charge of the Marriage Tribunal. He also celebrates Mass at St. Rose in Franklin and at a church in Edinburg Indiana. He had not heard about my illness but once he did find out he came right over to visit. In fact over the seven days I was there he dropped by twice. He told me lots of long stories about his world travels. His next trip would be to Rome in October for the canonization of Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin. Considering there have only been about eight or nine Americans canonized as Saints is a real honor to have someone from Indiana be the next one. She was the founder of the Sisters of Providence convent in St. Mary of the Woods Indiana near Terre Haute. Msgr. Easton had been privileged to prepare some of the documents that were sent to Rome to verify what of the miracles attributed to her that put her over-the-top to become a Saint. I told him a big long story of my own about how important Mother Guerin was to me and how I asked for her intercession in my prayers one time and they were answered bigger and better than I ever expected them to be. It’s a little bit too personal of a story to recount here.

The other priestly visitor I had was my pastor Father Larry Crawford who brought his anointing oils with him and gave me a somewhat belated Anointing of the Sick Sacrament. It was a very good experience for me.

I spent most of the afternoon just lying there relaxing and catching some naps. I spent some time reflecting on the previous 24 hours and how blessed I felt. I also thought back to Judy’s visit and that somehow I had the presence of mind to claim her as family so that she could stay and visit with me. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have done such a thing normally but considering that I was barely conscious at all and on nothing but instinct would be able to lie to get her in was really amazing to me.

At St. Vincent Hospital the shift changes at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. and so from about 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. they ask that no one visits you in the ICU because all the nurses are busy doing reports for the next shift. However at about five minutes till 6 Judy came in to visit on her way home from work. Of course she was elated to see me off of the vent and doing so well.

We talked about the day before and she told me her side of the story. Apparently Anne had gotten my phone message very briefly after I left it and she had called Judy immediately. They had not gotten word to Father Paul because he was away fishing. Judy said she came to the hospital after work and didn’t know where to find me so she just sat in the surgery waiting room which is right off the main lobby of St. Vincent Hospital. Everyone who comes and goes to the main elevators walks right by that room. She figured she would see someone and sure enough my sisters Carol and Karen walked by. They told her where to find me. When she had come in the ICU the nurse had asked her are you family or friend. Judy said she told the nurse “You should let him answer.” And that is when I was frantically mouthing the word “Family! Family!” I told her I couldn’t believe I had done that when I was practically unconscious. That was a pretty cool thing even for me. She agreed. She told me she just stood at the side of the bed and as the doctors and nurses would talk I would briefly open my eyes. When they were quiet I would doze off. At one point the nurse said to her “Okay I threw the mother out so you had long enough.” It was at that point I mouthed “I love you” to her and she went on her way.

I told her the whole story of the previous day and the funny stuff about trying to communicate with the nurses who couldn’t spell “bed flat”. I told her how I had had Mom send out e-mails to people who we wouldn’t be calling. Mom had e-mailed my friend Pamela in West Virginia and my friend Buz in Michigan. Mom had said Buz replied apologetically saying he couldn’t come down to visit me because he was busy with a memorial service for his son Nathan who had just died of cancer a couple of weeks before. I told Judy I really flipped out when I heard that. When I had Mom e-mail him the last thing I wanted to do was having distracted from what he needed to be doing regarding Nathan. Judy and I both talked about how hard it would have for him to lose me as well. Of course losing me as a friend in no way compares to losing a son but losing your son and a close friend in short order would have been even worse.

About 10 minutes after 6 a nurse wandered in and I told her “I know it’s after 6 p.m. and visitors aren’t supposed to be here but I really need to visit with her.” The nurse pulled the curtain in front of the glass doors so no one would see Judy and then she left. Judy and I continued to talk to about 6:30. It really did a lot for me to be able to relive it all with her.

When visiting hours resumed at about 8 p.m. Mom and Dad returned from supper and visited with me awhile. Then they left for the evening. I’ve been fortunate not to have much pain but whenever I had some they would give me a shot of morphine. They must not have been giving me very much. I’ve heard other people in the hospital talk about how wonderful morphine is that I barely noticed any effects. It did of course relieve the pain and it really helped me sleep for two but it wasn’t like I felt like I was getting any big high out of it.

In my next installment I visit three rooms in one afternoon and have a reunion with a respiratory therapist I’d never known I had.

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