My father in law was transferred to the critical care unit in Jackson, Michigan three days ago. He was hospitalized for something days before that. His condition deteriorated quickly. There was trouble with his organs. The word “failure” was used. We knew he had fallen and hit his head. Someone mentioned a coma.
At the time we were two hours west of Chicago, five hours from Jackson. My wife and I were away with our son, taking a short break a few days before she would return to work from maternity with David, Maggie, and Eliot.
Our break was interrupted. She talked with her sister who was negotiating airfare from Denver. She called all the siblings and several others with a similar report. We were afraid. We talked with our friends who told us to simply go. See what’s next after you arrive.
The Swansons are lovely, solid friends who responded to our interrupted break by helping us get things together to leave. They repacked the cooler that had just been unpacked the evening before. They asked if we wanted chicken. I grilled it the night prior–turkey links, zucchini and rice too. It was good, but I said no.
Maggie made sandwiches. We were quiet, stepping softly around the house. We didn’t speak about the plans we had or about the small disappointments which took their places. We said nothing about our fears.
We folded the pac-n-play, zipped the bags, and stacked the car. I told David I didn’t know what to expect. They prayed for us. In the middle of the day we said goodbye and found the long road for the next hours.
The last few days turned into one long hospital visit. But there were glimpses of hope. There are glimpses of hope. Siblings who hadn’t seen each other finally did. I saw and felt love happening before me. But our collective breath was held. Tuesday my father in law responded, winking an eye. The color of the world changes when a man who is either heavily sedated, sedated beyond ability to respond, or who is comatose actually responds. You hear the life support machine doing it beeping and slurping and hissing, but it all goes quiet when the man actually responds to words he’s heard.
It was the next day, after the chaplain came in to pray, Wednesday, when he blinked and jerked one minute after “Amen.” I was sitting by his bed, grandma next to me. I could still feel the cold under his skin from when I pressed his swollen hand during the prayer. I told his mother to look. He was responding. His lips moved. He tried to move his arms against the powerful influence of the massive stroke.
When his eye opened, I tried to talk with him. Then his mom stood and bent her 93-year frame over her only child. It was my moment but it wasn’t. So I ran to get his daughters and the son who waited in the family lounge at the time.
The rest of the afternoon Wednesday was filled with rejoicing under the shadow of whatever was next. Most of my father in law’s children were there. The ones we knew wouldn’t come came. The ones whose presence made us revisit, even if silently, long stories rarely told. We were together. In the same room and later, at the same table. We took turns, two at a time, in the critical care unit. He pointed to his children. He tried to speak. There was laughing and crying and picture-taking in the family lounge. Bryce cried and got little sleep.
We know we don’t know what’s next. We know the doctor’s prognosis is sober. This is miraculous, said the doctor, but we don’t know what direction things will go in.
There may be more interruptions. There, likely, will be.
So, question for you: how do you deal with life when it looks like one interruption after another? How have you found your life different when some thing you didn’t expect came, stayed around, and left long after its welcome was worn?