The first words Hook spoke to me when I saw him in ICU were, “I guess I made it.” As I rubbed his little, bald head, I whispered, “Of course you did.” That was the last lucid conversation Hook had with me until this afternoon.
Yesterday, the nurses were kind enough to allow me to spend the night and I’ll stay again tonight. Kelly Scott relieved me from watchful wife duty from 8-10pm while I rushed home, ate, showered, and returned to the hospital. But I was in denial about the reality of getting a full night’s rest in an intensive care unit. The ICU sounds loud because of the way noise travels down the long ICU corridor. Then there are the hourly checks of vitals and tubes and around the clock patient monitoring which means that sometimes in the middle of the night, the light in the room has to be turned on which feels like megawatts to the eyeballs. The ICU is also not the most comfortable of places so the night nurse made sure a comfortable lounge chair that folds out was brought into Hook’s room so I could stretch out long instead of being bunched up like a pretzel in a regular hospital chair.
Hook’s Nursing Staff
Hook’s day nurse is Michael and his night nurse is Stephanie. Michael changed careers a few years ago and went from managing restaurants to managing people’s health. He’s great about updating me on what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and constantly asking Hook how he feels. Michael seems to enjoy hearing about Hook’s wasp work and he wants details on how many times Hook has been stung, the names of the -hooki bugs, and how he chose entomology as a career. I think Michael asks Hook questions as much out of curiosity as he does to make sure Hook understands what’s going on around him. Nurse Michael was recently stung by a wasp and discovered he’s allergic to them. What are the odds that someone deathly afraid of wasps is caring for someone so intrigued with them?
Nurse Stephanie is just as engaging and she’s firm with Hook which I like. It was Stephanie who had to introduce Hook to this breathing contraption that measures how well his lungs are expanding (and by default, keeping them fluid free), a task made difficult for Hook because it forces him to use his lower abdominal muscles (ouch!). Allan is not hooked up to the plastic lung monster rather he randomly decides when to blow into it. But it’s Stephanie who stays on top of him with reminders, “Are you blowing? You have to blow. I know it hurts so I’m going to give you a system to use that will make it easier.” When Stephanie’s not here, I still leverage her by saying, “Stephanie said you have to do it.” This way it doesn’t seem like it’s just me torturing Hook.
I’ve learned over the years to trust nurses as much as you would doctors, sometimes even more. Nurses are the ones who experience the hour-by-hour progress or decline of a patient in a way doctors aren’t able to. But it’s still our surgeon who has the final say as to whether Hook stays in ICU, and for now, although Hook is progressing better than expected, the surgeon wants him to remain for at least one more night in intensive care.
Staying Out of Pain for Now
Hook understands what’s happening around him and he can respond to questions when asked, he just doesn’t always remember once he falls into a new round of sleep. So I’m prepared to spend the night again as I do my best not to pester my husband. If I don’t hear him talk every few hours, I’ll be tempted to wake him to ask if he’s thirsty or to ask if he needs anything or perhaps to hold a mirror under his nose to make sure he’s still breathing.
Closet hysteria is my specialty and as much as I respect and appreciate nurses, I realize they’re only human and they can’t possibly be as tightly wired to the pain of a loved one like a family member can. And even though Hook is able to self-medicate via his finger clicker, I’m familiar enough with hospitals to know that eventually his finger clicker isn’t going to be enough, and real pain is going to hit. I only hope that when that happens, either Michael or Stephanie will be in the room. I’d feel bad if I had a Terms of Endearment moment with the staff.
Reporting live from ICU Room #7 at St. David’s Hospital in Austin, Texas.