August 1, 2007
I pulled off the highway. “I hate hospitals,” I said aloud to myself. Then the top of Mercy Medical Center came into view. “No, I hate this hospital.” As I pulled madly into the parking deck, everything was a blur in my mind. I didn’t remember the hour long drive from college back to my hometown. I didn’t remember the quick conversation my dad and I had. All I remembered was the words he had left on my voicemail. “Hello Jason. This is your dad. They took grandma to the emergency room. She has pneumonia. You need to maybe call home, and I’ll let you know what’s going on.” And here was the hospital.
I rushed into the main building. Instantly I was hit. It was that smell. Death in a mask. They cover up the stench of death and dying with the aroma of air fresheners. Like they’re trying to hide something, thinking no one will notice. The result was unnatural. I plunged forward. McDonald’s on my left and restrooms on my right. Had to get to the ICU.
My dad hadn’t told me she was there specifically, but I felt she was. I hated to lose the time, but I had to stop and ask the receptionist where she was. “Yes, she’s in the ICU. It’s down the hall and… ” I turned. “I know where it is,” giving more snap than I intended.
I walked quickly through the hospital, to the very back. Turning left. Then another. And another. And, finally, another. I had walked this same path so many times before. It had been more than a year since my grandmother had been here last. Two months. Two months they kept her in the ICU. And here we were again. The closer I got, the stronger the smell. This is where our loved ones go. This is where it ends. Death didn’t hide here.
The ICU waiting room. No trap designed by man can compare to her. Certainly no one wants to be there, but few leave who are not forced. There is no sound. No one talks. Those who do quickly silence themselves over the awkwardness of their own voice.
Everyone just stares at the ground. Like the answers to all their problems can be revealed in the designs of the ugly gray carpet. No one hears the silent drone of the television. It only entertains itself. The only acknowledged words are written ones. The Serenity Prayer, framed on the left wall. Those who do not already have it memorized soon will, after reading it a hundred times. A siren from within awakens us all. Code Blue. Who’s it for? No one knows. We all pray it is not our loved one who has set the siren off. What we are really hoping is that it’s someone else. Not her. Someone else. For her to be alright it must be someone else. I sit next to my grandfather. I realize that I have never seen him so silent. He has hardly said anything since I arrived.
Why is this happening again? I kept asking myself this question. Wasn’t she doing better? Didn’t she sound strong the last time I talked to her? We already went through this once. We were all right here, in this very room, going through the exact same thing. Why again? Wasn’t once enough? And then the nurse called us in.
We went through the giant metal doors. It seemed like they were trying to keep something from getting out. We turned the corner, with the nurse in the lead. Here we were inside the ICU. Room Five. Two rooms down from where she’d been last time. The doors were propped open. The curtain was pulled back. I have never experienced two senses so fully at the same time. I heard every word the nurse was saying. “Her pneumonia’s getting worse. She’s sedated now, but we don’t really know how much of that was brought on by the drugs. Her oxygen level is good, but her blood pressure is very low. She’s a very sick girl.” And I saw her. My grandma. Once again tied to the bed. A tube going down her throat. Machines coming at her from every direction. Her hair flat and frizzled. Eyes closed, and very pale. Like a faded newspaper. Arms at her sides. But her chest. It was still moving up and down. Hope.
We watched as the doctors gave her an emergency injection to get her blood pressure up. It was dangerously low. We knew it and were scared. Worse, we could see the doctors knew it and were just as scared. They rushed, doing all sorts of things that I didn’t understand. We were right there. The worst part had come, and we were standing right there. No one ushered us out. No one turned away. We just stood there. Quiet. Helpless. My aunt turned to me and just collapsed in my arms crying. Here was someone twice my age who never showed any indication of needing me, suddenly holding me tight and crying into my shoulder. It was heavy.
We left the hospital. They had my grandfather’s number and would call “if anything happens.” Which meant that he would be alone if the call came. I didn’t want him to be alone. I stayed with him. I got him to bed and went to the living room with the phone at my side. Now I would be the first to know. Before anyone else did, I would be the first. Even worse than that, I’d also have to be the one to call my mother. “The hospital will call you, you’ll call me, and I’ll call Judy.” I didn’t sleep that night. I spent the rest of the time reading the Bible and watching TV on mute. And praying. I did a lot of praying.
No call came. Even though she did not get better right away (no one who goes into the ICU ever does), my grandma eventually came home. Again. What a fighter. She has battled more than I could ever imagine and has lasted longer than anyone thought possible. She is still with us. But one day God will call her home. And I’ll go back to the ICU.
Jason Stevens is a senior from Massillon, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and History.