It’s weird in here…
Today, the wife peeked at a nurse’s note sheet laying next to our son’s bed. She scanned it with increasing urgency as she interpreted numbers that described a raging, long-standing infection that was only beginning to subside. Her concern grew to alarm as she wondered how this had not been mentioned to her by our nurses and doctors, until she looked at the top of the sheet and saw that it was from another patient.
Relief? Not if you’re me. For some weird reason, I don’t think, “wow, I’m glad my son is ok!” Instead, I think, “who is our nurse’s other patient?”
It could be my gloomy cynicism that keeps me from being happy when good news comes. Or it could be some highly developed sense of compassion or prophetic sensitivity (though I seriously doubt this). All I know is that it creates a weird conflict of emotion.
On the afternoon of our son’s surgery, we met with the chief surgeon, who told us how well everything had gone. He mentioned that his team was still closing up the surgical site, said that anesthesia would need some time to work, and nursing would need to get him set up in the CICU. “But you should be able to see him in about an hour and a half or two hours,” he said with a smile.
But on that night, an hour turned to two and then to three, and then I stopped counting. Evening turned to night, and I began to pace the hall. Which was quite crowded, as all of the families had been escorted out of the CICU due to an emergency procedure. All of us were pacing in waves, staring at the floor so that we wouldn’t have to make eye contact yet again. At least one of us knew who was in trouble in the back, but – as is the ethic around here—none of us were talking about it.
I wondered, “is the trouble with my son?”. Had he taken some sudden turn for the worse? Was his heart not working? Was he unable to come out of anesthesia? I tried not to think about it, instead choosing to wonder about who might be getting bad news tonight. Was one of us a dead man walking? If I wished it weren’t my son, was I wishing some ill on one of my companions?
As the night wore on, I felt a kind of silent connection with these other CICU families. We are all in this together, in a very real sense. When one of us suffers, all of us do. We share doctors, nurses, space, and God. All of us wishing, praying, wanting, waiting. All of us knowing the statistics that preside over places like this, and hoping that we end up in the ‘survivor’ category. All of us, jealously wanting the very best for our dear loved one.
So deep was this connection that when one of our family members cracked and inquired on our behalf, we deferred. A nurse came out and apologized for the delay, explaining that another patient was undergoing several sterile emergency procedures, but that they could clear a side path for us to sneak back and see our boy. Tempted though we were, we declined, recognizing that we wouldn’t want someone else to jeopardize the care of our child, so we wouldn’t do the same. Instead, we sat outside and waited another hour.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty for your son being OK,” my friends say, and I don’t. I just feel… conflicted. Does my sense of relief come at the cost of someone else? Do the beds I walk by mean as much—or more—than the one I walk to?