Angel in the ICU
Angel in the ICU
A wife is reassured by a heavenly figure watching over her critically injured husband.
I lay awake and kept telling myself to get up when car wheels squealed to an abrupt halt. I bolted from my bed as I heard people screaming, “Call an ambulance.” Stumbling to the phone, I dialed the emergency number. The operator told me help was on the way.
As I made my way downstairs, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the bus go by, the one my husband Chris took each morning to his office in the city.
Chris would be the first one to run in and call an ambulance, I thought. The bus stop was right on the corner, one house from ours.
As my thoughts raced, so did my heart. I went to my front door. My now panicked voice pierced the warm air and brilliant sunlight of a perfect June day.
“Is it a man?” I yelled to the people surrounding a body lying on the side of the road. Without waiting for an answer, “Does he have a mustache?”
“Yes, yes,” a serious face turned toward me.
I ran out to the street. A man lay in a fetal position. I couldn’t see his face, but I recognized his clothes.
“Chris!” I screamed and raced toward him. I cradled him in my arms. Blood ran from his ears and his eyes were closed. I cried. “I’m here. Hold on, honey. You’re going to be okay. Hold on. I need you.”
I have no idea how long I held him, but I looked up to see an ambulance and EMTs. One of them gently asked me to move away and I did.
Chris’s eyes rolled as if he fought for consciousness.
I left him with the EMTs and raced to my neighbor’s house. I asked them to watch my children. When I returned, Chris lay on a gurney and they were lifting him into the ambulance.
“I want to get in. I’m his wife—”
“Sorry, ma’am, but you can’t. The situation is too critical.”
Although he didn’t say so, it seemed obvious to me that they didn’t know if Chris would make it to the hospital alive, and they didn’t need to try to calm a hysterical wife inside the ambulance.
They rushed off to the nearest state trauma hospital. I followed behind inside a separate emergency vehicle.
“Oh, God, no. Please, God, no.” How could this be happening? We were a happy family with three girls, ages two and almost four, and my fourteen-year-old stepdaughter. Chris had a good job that he liked, and I was thrilled to be able to stay home raising our children. My life had seemed so good and normal.
“Oh, God, I’ll do anything. Please let my husband be okay.” With my hands shaking, I cried as I raced toward the hospital. It took nearly a half hour, and I continued to cry out, “Please let him live.”
At the emergency room entrance, several attendants rushed to the aid of the EMTs to get my husband inside the hospital as quickly as possible. I learned later that just as the ambulance pulled in, Chris lost consciousness.
The next several minutes were filled with a flurry of hospital personnel asking me to fill in paperwork. I signed legal waivers so that no one would be held responsible for the outcome of the necessary brain surgery, not even the doctors. They laid out everything that could go wrong, but no one advised or encouraged me.
“Let’s just get through this next step,” the attending physician said when I begged him to give me hope. “We’re going to operate to relieve the pressure on your husband’s brain.”
“And then what?”
“We’ll let you know when he’s in recovery.”
No matter how many times I asked (and in my anxiety it was often), the answers were the same: “No, we don’t know what his condition is now.” “Yes, it’s true that he might not survive.”
I could respond only with a nod and sit quietly and pray. The word had gotten out and our family and friends gathered in the private waiting room. We cried, prayed, and offered words of encouragement to each other.
The morning passed slowly. A doctor or nurse occasionally came into the waiting room. The most information I received was from one nurse, who said, “He’s doing all right. The surgery is progressing.”
Still no promises. I stopped asking, thankful to know that so far Chris was alive.
“Your husband is out of surgery,” a nurse told us. That was the first piece of good news. Chris had survived the surgery. That was all she could tell us.
A doctor stopped in to tell me Chris was in critical but stable condition. He had survived the surgery, but the next few days would tell whether he would live.
A nurse finally led me to the ICU for a five-minute visit. Before I went inside she said, “You’re going to see a lot of bandages.” She must have seen the fear in my eyes because she spoke slowly and with a kindness in her voice. “Your husband is in an induced coma to keep him still in the aftermath of the trauma and surgery. Don’t be afraid to talk to him. He can probably hear you.”
I entered the sterile room, and my husband was unrecognizable because of the swelling, bruised eyes shut tight, and the mummy-like bandages wrapped around his head.
“Hi, honey. It’s me, Elise.”
I touched Chris with trepidation. I didn’t want to disturb his battered body.
The monitors beeped. The multiple intravenous lines ran from various bags and bottles that apparently dripped life back into my husband’s body by way of the arteries near his heart.
I was able to make the five-minute visits several times. When evening came, the doctor advised all of us to go home. They didn’t want us to wear ourselves out. I understood their words, but I didn’t want to go so far away. I felt I needed to be close to the hospital.
I stayed with my sister, who lived about half the distance we did from the hospital. I slept for a few hours only because deep exhaustion took hold of my mind and body. I called the nurse in the ICU within seconds of waking. Chris had made it through the night. I sighed in relief.
Chris was stable, the nurse told me. When I arrived there, he was still in a coma and looked monstrous. They moved him to a private room and I sat at his bedside throughout the day. Chris fidgeted, his legs shifting from side to side. The nurse assured me this was not significant. “It’s likely involuntary,” she said.
I drank Diet Coke and moved food around on a plate in the hospital cafeteria. Back at the room, I greeted immediate family as Chris’ mother, several brothers, and my sisters arrived. Death was still possible, so all of us knew this could be our last visit with Chris.
“I love you,” I said many, many times. Despite my own uncertainty, I added, “You’re going to be okay.”
I told him what happened, so that when he came out of the coma, the knowledge of his accident would already be planted in his mind.
As the day turned into night, I felt I needed to get home to my girls, yet I was afraid to leave Chris—afraid that he might die in the night. I couldn’t do anything for him, but I still felt I needed to be with him as much as possible.
But I had to care for our children. I arrived home to hugs and kisses and one freaked-out teenager. We sat at our dining room table as I ate a little and told the girls that Daddy was away for a short while. I don’t recall what I said, but I was thankful that at least two of them were too young to really understand. I felt numb, but strangely at peace.
That night, I fell into bed right after my call to the ICU. Fear greeted me as I closed my eyes, anticipating haunting images, scary flashbacks of my husband, whose bandages made him appear like the walking dead from a horror movie.
Instead, a sense of calm and stillness flowed over my body. Images of my husband were vivid. I was wide awake and yet I could see Chris lying in his bed. The monitors, the bandages, and the IV lines made up part of the picture, but behind Chris was a large figure with a tall, squarish body.
I couldn’t see the face, but I knew it was an angel from God. He stood there and then he wrapped his arms across Chris’s chest and hands as if to show me he was protecting Chris. Chris appeared to be at rest, tranquil, even comfortable.
Every night and often during the day, that image flooded my mind for several weeks. Daily I received uncanny peace from the being whose message to me was as if he were saying, “I’m watching over Chris. He’s in my hands and he’s going to be okay.”
When Chris finally awoke, he was confused and disoriented, didn’t know who I was at first, couldn’t walk or talk sensibly, couldn’t feed himself, and lived in a rehabilitation facility for six weeks.
I had an absolute certainty that he would recover. I had what I believed was blessed assurance. And so we pressed on, the figure continuing to appear in my thoughts until my husband returned to our home.
The road to recovery was a long one marked by profound pain yet great triumph.
But the peace, hope, and that tall figure were there until I took Chris home. After that the figure disappeared. He had finished his mission and brought deep peace to a troubled wife.
At 22 he made the U.S. Paralympic team, but he triumphed long before that.
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