TBI: Billings ICU Saturday Night

 It’s ten o’clock Saturday night, and I just got back from the ICU. At seven, they toss everyone out for shift change and then let us all back in at eight-thirty–no visiting hours are set for family members; a blessing for certain. I finally met Terry’s night shift nurse, Dave, who is a great guy. I am so impressed with the ICU staff at this hospital. They must have cut these guys from some very special cloth. I have no idea how these nurses find the grace and the guts to be with one critical care patient after another, especially when  many of their patients come to die in the intensive care unit.

Sunset on the farm, we caught this sunset leaving Terry's sister's house in Custer City, OK

Terry’s sister Sharon flew in from Custer City, Oklahoma to see for herself how Terry is doing. I have convinced the rest of the family to stay put, although some of them were saddled up and ready to ride. I don’t have the energy to pat heads, comfort people, answer questions or participate in emotional hand wringing right now. I am as focused as a tightrope walker over a shark pool, and having family shaking my rope would make me very cranky. Sharon is the family rock and I got to know her better when we visited the Oklahoma branch of the family last summer.

Terry and Sharon's husband Dale, chewing the fat near Aunt Harriet's old place in Oklahoma

I don’t want to ever, ever live there, it’s hot and flat, but it was such fun to visit and I am grateful to Sharon for being here and reporting back to everyone else in the clan.

Terry is inching forward in tiny increments. He is still not out of the woods and he is not fully conscious. He has been upgraded from critical to serious but stable condition. I have learned in cases of severe blunt trauma to the head it can take a long time for people to come to full consciousness and sometimes they don’t make it all the way back. I had to process that information today and it was pretty hard.

 I guess I had on rose colored glasses and I didn’t understand the big picture. I asked repeatedly to speak to the neurosurgeon. I think having an insignificant wife demand to speak to the diva irritated him because he was hostile and rude when he finally made thirty seconds in his day for me.

Windmills are all over the midwest and the far west. I shot this one in Oklahoma, somehow its perfect because TBI is like having windmills in your head

He didn’t pull any punches and he dumped his opinion on me like an ice water bath. I managed to give myself the satisfaction of not crying until he was gone. It was the first time I have cried since the accident. It was the first time I really understood that Terry might not ever recover. He may not ever even be fully conscious again. I am still coming to grips with the fact that our lives have changed forever and I won’t know for a long time what the future holds. I am determined to take it one day and one blessing at a time.

Today I saw Terry move his feet on command. Dr. Spike (the one I really like) said, “Move your foot”. He tapped the foot and Terry wiggled his toes. Then he said, “Can you move the other foot?”  And Terry did. He asked him to move his hands, and he was able to open and close one of them but the other one is pretty well broken and not very moveable. Terry opened his eyes on command too, I could see it was exhausting for him, but he did it.

Going out to get coffee,  I always see the waiting room  outside the ICU full of a rotating cast of twenty and thirty sobbing members of a patient’s family, and I wonder how anyone can even focus on what needs to get done in the maelstrom of emotion they are generating. They seem to feed off each other’s fear and anxiety. Then that family is gone and another takes it place. I guess I’m selfish, it seems to me if they all fly out here to say good-bye then good-bye is what they’ll get and I am not going to that place.

This afternoon when Sharon was with me, Terry opened his eyes and turned his head to track my voice,  he looked at me for just a moment before he closed his eyes again. He does grab my hand and hold it; he knows I’m there when he swims into consciousness. The poor guy is caught in a slow motion marathon.

Terry had a head CT scan today and it came back normal, thank you God, no more bleeding in his skull.  His fever is down to almost normal and the crud in his right lung is moving out. He coughs and it is silent because there is a tube in this throat. The tube gets filled with the phlegm and awful stuff from his lung, he struggles and gasps for air, and I have to sprint to find a nurse to come in and go through the process of forcing a plunger into the tube and pulling it about two feet back which suctions the nasty stuff out so he can breathe until the next coughing fit. 

 This is the second day of pneumonia and this process is agony to watch.  I have spent the day watching him like a hawk and knowing where all the nurses are so I can find one fast. Hopefully, the stuff he aspirated after surgery will be gone enough for them to take out that breathing tube tomorrow because I can tell he really hates it and it panics him. The big concern is can he support his own airway at this point? Doctor Spike thought today that he could but we’ll know more in the morning. (His name is Dr Peringer but his nickname is Spike–he is a wonderful doc and I am grateful we have him).

I cannot begin to tell express what it feels like knowing there are people all over this country in prayer circles, churches, and just everywhere praying for Terry. The blessings from those prayers feel like a big rock someone tossed in the water a long way away.

Water Heart

I can feel the ripples spreading out around us and holding Terry up. Tonight I went over to the hotel and brought my Ipod and speakers back to the ICU again. I’m going to play some of his favorite music for him and drown out the sounds of the ICU. He was awake for almost 40 seconds this evening, a new record and I am hoping for better tomorrow.

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