After our exciting adventure to find St. Elizabeth’s, my father was admitted to the Critical Care Unit (CCU). In the CCU, the ratio of nurses to patients is much higher than on a medical ward and constant monitoring is the norm. Having Dad in a bed in the CCU was both comforting and distressing. His suspected (and subsequently confirmed) ailment was a progressive syndrome that, unchecked, could shut down critical systems, so close scrutiny was in order, but from his curtained cubicle I could hear someone imploring, “Wake up, dad, please, you have to wake up.”
When my father was wheeled off for a test at 10:30am the next morning, I was ushered out of his cubicle and into the waiting room for families of CCU patients. The room was large, with chairs and loveseats ringing the perimeter. High on one wall was an over-sized, flat-screen television. The volume was up, but the only other occupant of the room was engrossed in her iPhone.
“Do you mind?” I asked as I walked over and reached up to turn the volume down.
She looked up briefly and responded listlessly, “No.”
In silence we shared the room, until her three siblings came in and began to confer about their father’s situation. Champion eavesdropper that I am, I was actually trying not to listen, but it was difficult to tune out their conversation. I surmised that their father had been brought in with difficulty breathing and was now in a coma. I regretted, for their sake, that I had turned off the TV.
Later that day, finding myself alone again with the original woman, I asked for advice on parking at St. E’s. We started to talk and share our stories. Then I began to suffer a version of “survivor’s guilt.” I had been assured that my father would make a complete recovery, and my new friend was being told that her father’s prognosis was uncertain at best.
The next day, the siblings were distraught. They had had a tough morning with a nurse who had been brusque and discouraging about their father.
“Don’t lose hope,” I said. “There are plenty of things that medical science hasn’t figured out yet. He could wake up any time. They just don’t know.” I spoke with as much authority as I could muster given that I didn’t have a clue what science had or had not figured out. I just wanted them to feel better.
I went on, “I’ve heard that doctors don’t really know if a person in a coma can hear. I think you should assume he can; play his favorite music for him, talk to him. Tell him what’s going on in your lives, share memories of special times with him. If he can hear, maybe it will help coax him back, and if he can’t, you might feel better for having shared with him how much he’s meant to you and how much you love him.”
I fought to keep my voice from breaking while I was talking to them, surprised by the force of my emotion. I was directing my comments to the siblings, but I was talking to myself.
Not long after that conversation, while I was in my father’s cubicle, I heard the sisters talking to their father. They were telling him stories and playing Frank Sinatra music. I know it helped them. I hope it helped him.