Note: This is the fifth installment in the Breath of Heaven series. If you’re new here, Welcome! If you’d like to start with the first installment please click here.
“We need to sleep in a real bed,” Travis exclaims. I wrestle with the decision to leave Greg’s side.
“No one is dying tonight, Mom,” Evanne assures me.
“There are several doctors and nurses watching every move or … not move,” she adds sending a sarcastic ripple of quiet laughter through our huddle.
“Okay, okay. I do need a bed and a shower,” I concede.
I’m ushered toward the elevator before I can reverse my decision.
“First, we’re getting real food,” Travis announces.
“Oscars is a sports bar that’s close,” nurse Chris, chimes in. “Their burgers and wings are great. They have alcohol!”
We explode in a pantomime cheer.
Oscars is a lively sports bar hosting a lively Saturday evening crowd. I cringe at the distraction of the music; the din of the crowd. On other occasions, I’d be excited to experience a new venue, but I’m just too exhausted to appreciate it.
Finding a table to accommodate our 11-person party takes some maneuvering. I’m seated at the head of a long, elevated table. I scale the bar chair. Simple conversations discussing menu options help to displace my troubled thoughts. Our cheery waitress approaches with a notebook in hand inquiring our drink orders.
Travis tucks his arm behind my back ordering me a Jameson & ginger ale. He knows me well. Meka takes Remy to the restroom for a diaper change while Evanne and Lisa giggle at an inside joke. Donna and Dennis discuss menu options. Juli, Kylie, and Kevin consider sharing entrees.
Perusing the menu I’m silently blessing each person here. I just can’t shake the fear that the elusive ‘something’ will happen to Greg while I’m enjoying my Jameson & ginger ale. I push it down.
Pulling me out of my reverie, Kevin asks me, “What’s on your bucket list?”
I hesitate. Kevin asks again with a smile, “Your bucket list? You and Greg have one, right?”
Emphasizing my best doomsday attitude, I respond, “My list is blank at the moment.”
Not missing a beat, Kevin volleys, “Okay, but what was on it yesterday?”
Sensing my reluctance, he adds, “Greg’s a strong guy. This is just a temporary glitch. He’s going to come out of this.”
I take a long draw from my glass rolling the alcohol over my tongue while I roll his question through my throbbing head. I haven’t had time to look at our lives beyond this moment. I expect our lives will be irreversibly changed, whatever that involves. I predict nothing will ever be the same. Kevin’s practical, realistic, compassionate question brings me to the realization that this story isn’t over.
“A month in Tuscany!” I exclaim triumphantly.
“That’s great! Let’s do it!” Kevin lobs back. We touch our glasses in a clink to seal the plan and as our eyes meet, I feel Kevin’s confidence tiptoe into my soul.
Hugs, kisses, goodbyes, and promises of phone call updates wrap up our dinner. We head over to the hotel to let Remy burn up some energy jumping on the beds. A hospital is a hard place for a toddler. I let myself get lost in the antics. We explode in manic laughter as Remy meticulously places Meka’s shoes in the small hotel refrigerator.
Travis, Meka, and Remy retreat to their side of the suite. Evanne and I share a pullout bed. I’m grateful for the bed even though it is uncomfortable.
“Should I call the hospital?” I ask no one in particular.
I receive a resounding, “No!” from my children.
I surrender. Sleep comes quickly aided by exhaustion, dinner, and a couple of Jameson’s.
I awake with a start after what seems mere minutes. Worried, sweaty, and crying I’m disoriented in the darkness. Once I gather myself, my resolve to get back to the hospital is overwhelming.
Stepping gingerly into the stark shower stall, I let the warm water run over my body. I ease the faucet toward hot. Wanting to linger in the steaming water, I push the urge away in favor of hurrying.
The shower helps renew my energy. The sleep helped clear my head. I apply a touch of makeup though no mascara in expectation of more spontaneous crying. I dress stealthily in the dark.
Stepping into my shoes, Evanne whispers through the dark, “Where do you think you’re going and why aren’t you waiting for me?”
“Geez! You scared the crap outta me!” I yell-whisper back.
We stifle hysterical giggles.
“I can’t stay away any longer. I need to get back to your dad,” I explain.
“Wait for me. I’ll shower fast,” she says jumping out of bed.
I agree and spend time praying to stay occupied.
Outside, the weather has a bit of an autumn chill although it promises to be another unusually warm September day. Spotting a Starbucks on the way to the hospital, Evanne and I look at each other and nod. It’s a treat rather than a habit since there surprisingly isn’t one in our little town. It must be one of the few places in America without the iconic coffee shop.
I let Evanne order. Her newest favorite is a Dirty Chai – chai green tea with a shot of espresso. I take mine with coconut milk. I appreciate the energy the espresso provides.
I confide in Evanne. “I don’t think I’ll be able to tolerate the crowd again today.”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. No one needs an event planner today. You do you, Mom.” We giggle again.
Finally, back with Greg, the stress of being away from him changes to the stress of the unknown. Shelly says, “You look rested!”
I’m not sure if that’s a compliment but I respond with a simple, “Thank you.”
“We’ve begun to reverse the hypothermic process. There was a bit of confusion as to the timeline – when he was scheduled to wake up and when the sedation would wear off and when it all started. Three this afternoon is now our target time,” Shelly explains.
“I’m glad we have something to look forward to.”
“There are no guarantees he’ll wake up. Probably won’t wake up right at three. Don’t get your hopes up. We’ll most likely have to start the process all over. Not many people wake up after this first round,” Shelly cautions.
I want to roll my eyes. I understand. I know – no guarantees. Do they believe he isn’t going to wake up?
After almost two hours of ‘what if’s’ and ‘you never knows,’ I’m drained. Evanne and I attend mass in the pretty little hospital chapel. I don’t feel much but I trust God is there. I look at the seven other people attending mass with us. What are their stories? I see our story isn’t unique.
Travis calls from the hotel, “Come to church with me and Meka. It starts at 10:30.”
“Sounds awesome! I’ll meet you there.” I explain to the family where I’m going. Evanne opts to stay behind. I drive the short distance to the megachurch. It’s a whole new experience for this Catholic girl. I love it. Having attended several times before there is a comfort in the concert-like music and the welcoming ministry the organization exudes.
I find Travis and Meka. We hug little Remy goodbye as he joins the other toddlers in the nursery. During the service, I cry along with the songs. I raise my hands. I bow my head. I let the moment heal me. After the service, prayer warriors are offered for special requests.
Travis takes my hand, “Come on, Mom. I want you to meet Brian.”
Brian is a young prayer warrior about Travis’s age. We exchange introductions. Travis tells Brian the Cliff Notes version of Greg’s situation.
“Can you pray with us for my Dad, Brian?” Travis asks.
“Definitely! Let’s gather in close and ask God for healing,” Brian says in a cheery tone.
Meka and I step closer to Brian. Travis wraps us all in a giant hug with his long arms. Brian begins, “Heavenly Father, bless this family … “
I can’t hold back my sobs. My heart is breaking while it’s being lifted to heaven. Brian completes his prayer, hugs each of us bidding us well.
Returning to the hospital I’m overjoyed to see Greg’s brother, John and his wife, Cindy waiting for me. We have a friendship plus a family connection that spans the miles and time when we’re apart. Their comfort and encouragement bring an overwhelming sense of peace. Their sense of humor eases my pain.
More friends and family arrive. I let the activity distract me. We are banished from visiting Greg. The number of visitors is too high. I understand our family and friends need to see him, but I’m stressing over the visitor rule.
Nurse Chris enters the chaotic waiting area announcing with authority, “For the rest of the day the only people allowed to visit Greg are Mary, Travis, and Evanne. This is about Greg getting well. We are done with the revolving door. Thank you for supporting Mary and Greg.” She turns on her heal, winks at me and heads back to the Critical Care Unit. Done.
As the afternoon wanes there is a sense of expectation. By 2:50 pm I’m ready to jump out of my skin. My heart is pounding. I want to vomit. I pull Evanne aside, “I’m checking on your dad. Do you want to join me?”
“What a question, yes!”
We motion to Travis as we nonchalantly saunter to the edge of the waiting area. He moves toward us.
Chris is on her computer.
“Hey Chris, are you ready for Greg to jump out of bed in a few minutes?” I ask with snark in my voice.
“You wish!” Chris retorts without missing a beat. “Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t wake up!”
“Don’t be surprised if he does!” I say laughing.
The easy exchange warms me. We understand the humor along with the gravity. No offense is taken.
The four of us joke a bit. Her sense of humor fits perfectly with our sarcastic family.
“It’s 3:01,” I announce.
“Get down there and take a look but don’t get your hopes up!” Chris cautions again turning back to her screen.
His one-on-one nurse is Diane, a woman in her mid-60s. She projects a skillful but nonchalant attitude. We enter through the curtain at the foot of Greg’s bed. Diane is to the right straighten paper towels, arranging medications, checking machine connections.
Her back is to us and Greg.
I’m surprised to see Greg stirring. He is more than stirring. His eyes are closed but his feet and legs are moving.
I say, “Does Greg need to be restrained?”
Without turning around Diane retorts, “No, because he’s not going to wake up right at 3 pm. It takes a long time for this medication to wear off.”
I begin to explain but Greg hears my voice and immediately springs to life. He’s reaching for his intubation tube in a motion like he is going to rip it out of his throat.
In unison, Travis, Evanne and I lunge for his arm. He is incredibly strong.
“Diane! He’s awake!” I holler which makes Greg react in a panic. We are trying to hold his right arm.
Incredulous, she turns to look at me.
The look of shock on her face, Diane leaps for Greg’s left arm as he’s switching to it to pull his tube out. Holding his forearm with both hands and all her strength, she leans forward for leverage. The four of us are in an impossible struggle with Greg, the Incredible Hulk.
Greg is rhythmically lifting Diane off her feet in a horrifying comical response to his fear.
She urgently asks, “Can you reach my cell phone?”
We turn in unison to look for it. Her phone is on the patient tray table behind us. Evanne, being the closest, reaches back, grabs it, hands it to Travis who passes the phone over Greg’s body.
Diane lays her full weight over Greg’s arm maneuvering to call Chris. “We need restraints for Greg, NOW!”
There is a quick exchange. I hear a chuckle from Chris through the phone. “Yes. The heavy ones. He’s agitated.” Diane says dropping the phone on to the bed.
We hear Chris’s footfalls as she sprints toward us. Greg is moaning. Or trying to talk? His eyes are open, then shut. Tears are streaming down his face. We are sobbing. Calling his name.
Chris and Diane work hard to tackle each arm. Travis uses his strength to help the women secure first his left, then his right arm. Chris advises, “Mary, tell him where he is and that he’s okay.”
I’m sobbing, laughing, hysterical, terrified.
Travis and Evanne are crying, “Dad! Dad! It’s ok! We’re here!”
Chris took over. In a loud voice, she shouts, “Greg! Calm down. You are at St. Anthony’s hospital. You are safe. Your family is here!”
Every bell, buzzer, alarm in the room is screeching. Chris and Diane are rushing to check vitals, to call for assistance. To get Greg under control.
His eyes are completely open now. The look of terror in his eyes breaks my heart. I try to hold his face so he can look at me. He’s thrashing. I don’t know what he knows. He is yelling through his trachea tube, “Help me! Help me! Oh God, help me!” It’s frightening. Travis is holding Greg’s shoulders to the bed with all his strength.
Then, Chris realizes each time I call his name Greg freaks out.
In the panic and joy and craziness, Chris shouts, “Mary you gotta get outta here!”
“What! I’m not leaving!”
“You need to go! He’s trying to get to you. We must calm him down!”
Travis hollers, “Mom go, now!”
Greg’s eyes are pleading. Though his hands are secured he’s still flailing.
“Mom! Go!” Travis pleads as I step through the curtain.
I stand frozen. Listening to the wrestling, the shouting on the other side. Tears streaming. Joy, fear, triumph mingle together. White light and silver sparkles explode in my head.
“Thank You, God!” I exclaim over and over a million times.
He’s awake! He’s awake! He’s awake!