The snow fell on Philadelphia as I walked from the subway station to the hospital this morning. It was seriously cold but it invigorated me. Arriving at the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) I found all quiet and calm. Both Mark and Ben had had a better night’s sleep than the night before. Ben was in a chair, having already had his chest tube removed. Through the day, as he rested or watched tv Mark and I sat quietly by. It was surprisingly low key, nothing like our previous experience in hospital. And, mind you, I’m not complaining. The approaching menace of the surgery is passed. We made it through with flying colors (I imagine Ben would be of a different opinion).
This is all good. I’d much rather sit quietly in Ben’s hospital room than outside the OR worrying about what’s happening. As we sit patiently allowing him to recover from the injury inflicted on him yesterday (all in the name of a straight spine) things are quiet and calm and drama-free.
At the moment (5:30 pm), Ben sleeps in his bed, hooked up to all manner of tube and machine. One tube has blood in it and I tentatively asked his nurse, Ephraim, what that was for. It’s a drainage tube coming from one of his surgical sites, keeping the fluid pressure down in that area. Or something like that. [My understanding of all things medical is limited and sometimes the information I get starts to overwhelm me. So I nod (as long as it seems like just a case of TMI—too much information) and allow it to wash over me. I tend to faint in hospitals so I monitor internally and closely my reactions to the words, sounds, and sights here. I make sure I’m not starting to feel the blood rush away from my head in a panic. Unfortunately, having had way too much time in the hospital with poor old Ben, I’m getting very good at managing this and so far…not to jinx myself or anything…so good.]
Ben has several IVs, a blood pressure cuff, and monitors for his heart, oxygen, etc. I honestly don’t know what it’s all for. I take in the quiet beeps and buzzes, watch the screens posting numbers; 90, 17, 95, 114/61, and I knit and write. Mark reads or watches the tv. Ben sleeps. Now and then someone official comes in to adjust something or take a reading. It's startlingly peaceful.
This PICU is so nice. We are cocooned in our room, large glass doors and a curtain separating us from the typical hubbub of a busy PICU. This PICU is not busy at all, however, the product of a very controlled surgical program at Shriners. The nurses are lovely, every one. And Ben has two! Haven’t met one I didn’t like. They are gentle and firm, confident but not bossy. They all are so friendly, calling a cab for me last night (that never arrived!) or urging Ben to take a deeper breath or blow out harder with his lung exercisers, chatting with me about horses and donkeys or helping him to move from bed to chair.
Slowly, my boy emerges. You would not have recognized Ben for most of the day. It wasn’t the tubes and the compression stockings or the hospital gown. It was his personality. For the most part, he’s not speaking and rarely letting out a smile. He’s turned down offers of read alouds, YouTube, and Discovery Channel in favor of silently watching Sesame Street, PBS kiddie shows, Sponge Bob, or the Olympics. These shows require less from him and must be more soothing. But as time passes things improve. Every hour there is some sign of progress, a giggle or a small smile. He had his urinary catheter removed a couple hours ago and later walked down the hall. Those are BIG deals.
It’s understandable. The pain, the morphine, a low grade fever add up to some serious malaise. We expect him to feel lousy for a few days. But the folks here still expect us to go home near the end of the week. It’s only Tuesday and that’s entirely possible.
Mark and I are doing fine, thanks for asking! (I’m not kidding…many people have mentioned the importance of caring for ourselves. We are, don’t you worry.) It helps that he’s getting terrific care. And it helps that each night I’m able to get back to a stress-free environment to sleep in. Mark has an amazing capacity to get sleep in the most challenging situations. The beeps and noise of the PICU tend not to get in the way of his zzzz’s. I imagine he’ll get still more tonight.
Now the clouds have broken and there’s an evening’s lavender sky showing through. I probably won’t stay late tonight, the trouble getting cabs is getting to me, and I enjoyed taking the subway (aren’t I the big city girl now?). We hope tomorrow will bring us a stronger, happier Ben. Keep the prayers and blessings coming.