The cot was much more comfortable than the benches, floor, and recliners of the intensive care wing’s waiting room, but if I thought that I was going to get any more sleep, I was mistaken. The constant beeps and dings from different machines created the soundtrack for my half-asleep dreams. A nurse came in every half hour and woke Mike up to check his vitals. I learned throughout this stay that Mike’s heartbeat was just a fraction too low and the monitor didn’t like it, setting off an alarm often, just to alert us to what we already knew. We were reassured every time that it was actually, contrary to what the machines said, not a cause for alarm. In his case, it generally indicated athletic and healthy. I laid most of the night just waiting, trying to guess what the next thing- had I been sleeping- was going to be that would have woken me up.
I spent a lot of the night staring into other people’s windows. The large windows we had looked out over a courtyard that was entirely wrapped by the building in almost a hexagonal shape. There was no complete darkness in a single room. Whether they had lights off or not, there was still an arsenal of multi-colored specks of illumination from all the machines that followed a patient around. In the intensive care unit room, when most had already left and I was staying as late as I could, it was much the same, except the shape that encased the courtyard was more rectangle, and admittedly it was more exciting. My glimpses into the windows of the ICU were more like watching a fast-paced, muted version of ER. People rushing mobile beds around, flipping an unconscious person on their side, back down, to their other side, opening cabinets and grabbing unrecognizable tools and getting to work on whatever was in need of being worked on. While now the only thing with any potential for excitement was a room completely lit up with a woman standing dead center, texting somebody. I assumed she worked there, judging from her attire, and general indifferent posture. She looked almost bored, like I might, had I been working at the restaurant and had nobody to wait on. She kept push, push, pushing rapidly with her thumbs on the cell phone until whatever she had to say was said and she tucked the phone back into a pocket. I went about concocting an elaborate life for her, dreaming in an awake state.
“Becki, are you awake?” Mike whispered interrupting my night daydream.
“Yeah.” I whispered in response. “Do you need something? Water?”
“No,” he shifted his body in the bed. “I was just wondering.” He paused. “You should sleep.”
“I know.” I flip so I’m not facing the window anymore. “I should sleep.” I repeat in an attempt to convince myself.
I have been told that sleeping in the same bed as me is the same as sleeping in bed with a grizzly bear. I fall asleep fast and hard, as if by instinct, but when I began to rise, I move around with a strength that is unlikely to come from my small body. Apparently, I could move the mattress right off of the frame. Flopping around as if I’m actually fighting to stay asleep, to not wake up. The irony is that I actually hate sleep. I feel that it interferes with things that I want to do. I feel like it is a waste of time. And yet, I sleep wonderfully and deeply, dreaming all the while. Maybe it is just that. Maybe I just want to dream.
Eventually the morning beat down on my face ray after ray from the windows. It was a beautifully sunny day. The kind of day where it is hard not to be in a good mood, no matter the situations one faces. I drifted off into some sort of sleep throughout the night, in increments that were separated by the nurses coming to check Michael’s vitals. Mike’s pancakes were delivered by a young kid, probably about nineteen. Mike’s parents were arriving from their hotel room, rested and freshly showered. Mike’s doctor walked in, and stood proudly with his hands on his hips.
“Well, we’ve got a few visits for you today from the trauma team and the occupational therapist, and then Mike,” he smiled and looked around at all of us in the room. “We’re working on letting you go today.”
“Today?!” I squeaked out in disbelief. It was Tuesday.
Mike’s mother clapped her hands together and clasped them tightly in one another. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” She beamed down on Michael. Mike made no reaction. He sat, his face blank just the same as if the doctor had come in and announced good morning, the earth is a sphere. I watched his face for some hint of relief. Nothing. He went about lifting each square cut piece of buttermilk pancake into his mouth, not phased.
At this point, a million different things were being ordered of me. Watch for this. Watch for that. Watch for all of these other things, too. Follow him and make sure he shuts off stove burners, blows out candles, closes front doors. Don’t let him out of your sight. Help him shower. Help him ties his shoes. Help him do everything. No work. No driving. No drinking. Absolutely no skating. Do not let him get over excited. No over stimulation. If the TV is on, shut off everything else. If the phone is ringing, answer it as soon as possible. Above all, make sure you are there every second, observing, helping, supporting. This can be a very trying time for the person who is taking care of the head trauma victim. If you feel fatigued, upset, stressed out, or in any way overwhelmed, contact someone else to give you a break. Many times there can be a breakdown. Watch yourself as well as him.
I was not worried about my performance as babysitter/nurse Becki, not one bit. For some reason, the whole experience had awakened this mothering instinct within me that I hadn’t been entirely aware of prior. I knew I wasn’t in any danger of emotional breakdowns or anything of the like. It was uncharacteristic of me in general to have such moments. Work was slow so getting any shifts I had off wouldn’t be an issue. All of my other projects could wait. I was ready and willing.
The trauma team that came was the most unlikely pair. A tall, lanky man with blonde, crisp hair and a sunken in face towered over a little short, plump guy with jet black hair and thin, twisted mustache to rival that of Salvador Dali. The tall one was pale enough to see through to his insides. The short one was dark enough to question if he spent most of his days in a tanning bed. When they spoke, two opposing accents escaped their mouths and wrestled in the air over which was the strongest. They both said “nice, nice” an awful lot.
“Ah, one vast sing,” the tall one said as he instructed Mike to lift both his legs at the same time. “Nice, nice.”
“Nice, nice,” said the short one in agreement.
“Yes, nice, nice,” the tall one said once again. “I sink our job is done. Best vishes!”
The cartoonish pair exited. We waited for the occupational therapist.
I glanced over at Mike. He wheeled the table that was holding the remainder of his breakfast over his lap away and looked back at me. He was frustrated, maybe more so than I had ever seen him before.
Mike has always been a very busy guy. Since I’ve been dating him, he almost always works two jobs (paints all day and then cooks all night), rarely getting days off, and when he’s not on the clock, he’s working on the house he owns or the cars he drives. He’s constantly working. I on the other hand, can sit on the couch, reading and screwing every other thing I should be doing. Mike can not do that, and for that reason, I knew that him being unable to tend to work, projects, and general upkeep of life himself was going to be one of the toughest issues that we faced over the next few weeks. To add to this, Mike is not a huge fan of being taking care of. He would much prefer to be the caregiver and honestly, he does a good job at it. He wants to be the one that cooks dinner. He wants to be the one that fixes my car. He wants to be the one that supports. In this sense, he is one of the most admirable men I have ever met, let alone dated.
But as I watched him, his hands to his head and his face squeezed tight to think and stave off the constant pain that his head gave him, I knew that eventually these same great qualities were going to be the problem.
“You okay?” I asked him, knowing the answer. He pulled his hands away from his forehead and looked at me, forcing a tight smile.
“It’s all there. I can feel it. I know how to do these thing. I know the answers to their silly questions. I just can’t…” He let his voice trail off. “What about the dog? Did you get her taken care of? I can’t believe I didn’t think of that. I have to call my boss.” He put his hands back to his head.
“It’s all taken care of, Mike.” I paused and watched him. “Jodi has been going every morning and night to feed the dog and let her out. Yesterday, they went and ran around the yard a bit. Jodi loves her all ready.” I smiled at him. “Your boss knows. Everyone that needs to know is aware and more concerned with you recovering than anything else. I took care of what I could.” He didn’t say anything, just furrowed his brow deeper.
Once the occupational therapist finally came, the same tedious instructions were given to Mike (move this, answer that) and the same repetitive instructions were given to me again (watch this, do that). I witnessed Mike struggle and get frustrated and then start again, determined. I began just smiling and nodding as I heard the same things over and over, while Mike’s mother took notes.
He was cleared by the trauma team (nice, nice) and the occupational therapist as well, as long as somebody who knew his routine could be by his side at all times. I was the best qualified. After a few more hours of waiting for them to actually act on his discharge, he was guided into a wheelchair, and I went to bring my car around to the main entrance.
It wasn’t until the car door shut us both into my junk Subaru, that home became a real destination. I took a deep breath and gave my best effort to drive away my anxiety that unknown roads gave me and he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, requesting that I not turn the radio on.
And so I drove us in silence.