High-pitched machine sounds. Incessant, robotic beeping. Sometimes I’m on the outside of the curtain and I can’t see what’s happening. Sometimes I’m right next to you and I can’t help because I don’t understand.
The nurses run by, avoiding eye contact. And I know why. I’ve heard the things they have to say. I shared a couch with a woman once. Later I saw her receive the news, watched her collapse in the hall.
So many machines in your room right now. One is breathing for you, it beeps when your respiratory rate drops too low, or gets too high. Then there’s the machine that dispenses your medication…well, most of it. Reminder beeping.
You have an ICP monitor for intracranial pressure. This tells us if the swelling in your brain has elevated. There’s one for body temperature too, and for tube feedings, blood pressure…There’s another monitor for your oxygen saturation level. That’s the scary one. Whenever we enter your room, that’s the first number we look for since that Sunday. The day we almost lost you.
I had taken a walk with a visiting friend. Sometimes, when the weather is nice and you head outside you can catch a glimpse of your old life. The one before this place. We had only just begun to accept that you might make it out of here, you know.
We were walking back inside when we spotted your friends near the exit door, stopping to say hello. I like to talk to them. It feels like I’m talking to you.
Mike comes running from the other hallway. He tells me that something is going on with you, and that I need to come quickly. I try to play it cool, but I can feel my heart start to race. “Okay,” I smile, only increasing my pace a tiny bit. “I’m sure it’ll be okay,” I try to reassure myself. “I’ll make sure to update you guys.” My legs are taking over now, and I’m already ten paces ahead of my husband and dear friend.
I walk into the waiting room and my stomach drops. Dad is cradling Mom, and she won’t look at me. Bobby fills me in. Your ever-unsteady oxygen levels have dropped into the 30’s, and they can’t get them back up. You know when people on medical TV shows speak of “crashing”?
You were crashing.
They told us not to come back. I try to imagine them pounding on your chest, cursing in English accents and perfectly applied lip liner. The one nurse was just caught sleeping with the new doctor in the on-call room. Incredibly dramatic.
But I know what’s really happening. Right now. At this moment. They have lost control, officially. It isn’t up to their machines anymore. Isn’t being kept in check by Mom’s prayers, or my OCD-like counting of the tiles on the way in from the parking garage. It’s up to you now. Would you dare give up?
Glancing at my family just then, it is all too clear what hangs in the balance. Stasia enters…she had been at the Laundromat down the street, washing your clothes when she received this call. Someone brings her up to speed, and she begins to cry. I look around. Nearly everyone is crying now. Was this it? Are you tapping out?
Dad begins to lead everyone in prayer, The Rosary I believe. I remember mouthing the words to The Hail Mary. Many times. I'm not sure I was producing any sound. Everyone was monotone. Words that were said across the dinner table from you hundreds of times, forever etched into the most horrific moments of my life.
Suddenly, I want to be very far away. I’m not sure if this is normal, but I remain there in the corner chair, fixated on the soda machine in the hallway. I see the woman falling. Her back slides down the wall as her knees buckle. There is nothing pulling her back up.
Here comes the nurse…maybe thirty minutes later? I still don’t know how long it was. It might last my entire lifetime. She asks for Mom and Dad only, and they quickly leave. Out the window, Mom suddenly stops, shaking her head. I watch as Dad gently coaxes her the rest of the way, following your nurse out of sight.
We all sit in silence. After a few minutes, Mike says something about how if you had passed, it wouldn’t be taking them this long. I love my husband.
I will never forget my parents’ expressions upon re-entry that day. The tears…thumbs up…all smiles. You had pulled through! From that moment on, we would all enter the waiting room like that. Every time.
Everyone begins to cry, embracing. I’m not sure that I understood true happiness before that moment, or fear for that matter. I listen as they rejoice. I watch the color return to their faces once again. I notice that my fingernails are gone.
I begin to laugh. Uncontrollable, belly-laughter. I’m laughing so hard that I’m shaking and my abs start to hurt. Like a crazy person. I can’t stop. Nothing about this situation comes close to being funny, but I can’t stop. I’m so terrified, elated, confused. I can feel the tears now, and I’m cackling. The loudest sound in the room.
I hear my mother then. “Someone come over here with Nora, please.”