Sunday, September 03, 2006

Time Warp

It's been five days since Mom's surgery, and I have spent more time in the ICU waiting room than anywhere else during that time. It's amazing how time seems to stop once you step through the doors that lead to the waiting area shared by the three intensive care units at the hospital. Although life keeps going on the outside, I feel I'm in a time warp when those doors shut behind me.

The world of critical care is one in which people who in the ordinary course of life would probably never cross paths are suddenly thrust together day after day, suspended in time, waiting for their loved ones to turn the corner, so to speak.

Several minutes before visiting hours begin, family members begin lining up down a long hallway. A receptionist who I am convinced is a retired flight attendant rattles off instructions in the exact manner you would be told where to stow your bags over your head and where you can locate your oxygen mask in the event of a flight emergency. And when she is finished with her please-use-a-nickle-sized-amount-of-hand-sanitizer-to-protect-your-patient spiel, the red door sign is turned over to the green side marked "All Units Open" and the cattle herd begins.

For anyone who has never maintained an ICU vigil, it's impossible to describe the palpable expectation, particularly early in the morning, as family members anxious for some sign of improvement hasten to see their loved ones.

I waited this morning in line behind three older women, all visiting their husbands. One of them, Marie, told me earlier in the week that her husband had been in ICU for 63 days ... this time. Between his four visits for heart-related problems, he has spent more time in the hospital this year than out. "We're thinking about getting well," she said cheerfully. "I just hope we're thinking about getting well today!" As the door to the units opened and the three ladies prepared to part company, one of them called to another, "Maybe today will be the day!"

Maybe today ...

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