I don’t believe in my family being in the hospital alone.
What that meant in the spring of 2011, was that Presbyterian Matthews Intensive Care Unit room number four became my home for seventeen days and nights. I’m an only child and my dad was a widower.
During the days, I watched every bag that was hung, answered every question that was asked, and offered every observation that I made to the doctors—of whom there were many. For seventeen nights I dozed on the six-foot long green vinyl bench in Daddy’s room. Nurses, whom I knew by name and personality and kindnesses, came and went as I read in a hospital chair or snoozed on my makeshift bed.
I learned things I didn’t know. Things like my dad’s blood type, that I could trust my friends to keep me in Starbucks and lunches, and that dead bodies are accompanied by a uniformed policeman to the morgue.
The sounds within the walls of our ICU room varied. The IV machines constantly dripped, clicked, hummed, and eventually set off an alarm as the bags they controlled reached empty. The ventilator kept a constant meditative rhythm, doing the work of breathing for my father. The sound of a hospital bed bumping out of its room and rolling past our door could mean one of several things. When escorted by family voices it meant the patient was improved and moving to the step down unit, when attended by hurried feet and tight voices it meant tests had been ordered STAT—meaning immediately—and when accompanied by joking nurses and a transport employee it was business as usual on an improving patient.
Frequently seated just outside the wall of windows in our room, was my favorite doctor, the intensivist, who was the ultimate authority in coordinating the care of the ICU patients. He often sang as he processed the night’s happenings—seated front and center at the ICU’s command center. It reminded me of Star Trek and Captain Kirk.
But unlike Star Trek, the dangers the voyagers of the ICU faced were real. And despite the captain’s best efforts, not everyone survived.