My second Sunday at CVPH. I was officially ensconced on the nursing room floor; the hospital administration had guaranteed the room for me for the length of Mitchell’s stay in the ICU. But, I was not comfortable, I thought, as I looked around the sterile room. There was no trace of me or my family anywhere. The closet and dresser held what few clothes I had accumulated. The mid-summer weekend attire I had brought with me did not work in the air-conditioned hospital. On their visit, my in-laws had brought me a few things from home; my sister had donated some of her clothes, but they were mostly polyester and I could not, would not wear them. I had run into K-Mart to buy some sweatpants and long-sleeve tops and some extra underwear.
I will burn every one of these things when this is over, I thought as I pulled on white briefs and a plain white bra. Likewise for the generic sweats and t-shirt. No underwire bras and hipsters, no cute casual clothes at K-Mart.
In my tiny bathroom, I surveyed my paltry collection of cosmetics. A little mascara on my pale brown eyelashes and some lip gloss was all I was capable of most mornings. I did manage my contact lenses though. It was the 80’s so my hair was cut into the longish, requisite bob and finished with an auburn rinse. And, of course, the poodle perm. It was an easy hairstyle most of the time. Wash and air-dry then fluff out the curls with a wire pick. The perm and the hair color were still in good shape. It was the best I could do at 6:00 a.m. after four or five hours of sleep.
I gathered my notebook and pen, my tiny prayer book and a paperback novel before I headed down to the ICU. Every morning it was the same as I waited for the elevator. The sounds of the hospital waking up: aides pushing carts of meds and foods, nurses checking on patients, doctors beginning rounds, the dinging of the elevator as it went from floor to floor. And the announcements: Code Red, CCU. Dr. So-and-so to ER – Stat! Code Blue, ICU.
Code Blue, ICU. My blood would run cold, my heart would hammer and my stomach would clench in a nauseating spasm. I lived in dread of those words. And I heard them at least once a day.
But not that morning. That morning I wandered into the ICU to quiet. Or as quiet as the ICU ever was. On Sunday, there were no scheduled surgeries, no visits from therapists and not many from the doctors. But, like every morning, my steps slowed as I turned the corner and got my first view of Mitch’s cubicle. The curtains were open. I paused, as I always did, at the edge of the nurse’s station, to straighten my shoulders, to take a deep breath, to plaster a smile on my face that would not ever betray the shock and sorrow I felt every time I saw what had become of my husband.
My big, strong, handsome, laughing husband. How could this bloated body belong to him? How could that unruly, black curly hair be confined within a halo of stainless steel? How could his laughter, his sly mocking jokes, his gentle words, his probing questions, be reduced to a whisper that was barely a sigh? How could his presence which was the center of my universe be confined by three walls and a curtain, strapped to a rotating bed, tied to cords and tubing?
“Good morning, Mitch.”
His beautiful whiskey brown eyes opened at the sound of my voice. He smiled.
I approached him, leaving my things on the chair next to his bed. As I bent to kiss his cheek, he whispered “Good morning, honey,” and kissed my cheek. A good start to the day.
And it was to be a busy day. Andy, Mitchell’s friend from his boyhood on Long Island, and the Best Man at our wedding, had made the long drive from New York City to visit him. I could tell by the look on his face how sad and shocked he was. But, they joked as easily with each other as they had the last time we were all together at Andy’s big house in Brooklyn. Andy let us know that his cousin, Valerie, was married to a neurologist at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady. It was near to our home in Clifton Park. Valerie’s husband worked for the big-time neurologist at Ellis and was trying to convince him to take Mitchell’s case. Though not a Regional Trauma Center like AMC, Ellis was only 20 minutes from home and had an excellent rehabilitation center, Sunny View, attached to it. It might work.
While Andy was visiting with Mitch, I ran down to the cafeteria for some lunch and then made some phone calls from the booths in the Lobby. As I was returning to the ICU, I ran into a vaguely familiar man.
“Hello, you’re Mitch Hallow’s wife, aren’t you?
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m Courtney Hall. I’m a lawyer in Saratoga, that’s how I know Mitch.”
“It is good to meet you. Can I help you?”
“Well, we are all worried about him so I thought I would come up and see how he was doing and deliver the Sunday papers to him. I don’t think they get the Albany papers up here.”
“I don’t think he is really up to visitors today.” Mitch was so strict about anyone seeing him that I did not think he would want a lawyer he did business with to witness his current state.
“No, no, I certainly understand, I just wanted to let him know that we were thinking about him. Anything we can do to help, please let me know.” He handed me his card and the newspapers.
When I delivered the papers and told him about the encounter, Mitch smiled, really smiled.
Then he said, “It is a good day.” He paused before he whispered, “My arms are tingling again today.”
I grasped his hand in joy. His eyes opened wide, an astonished look crossed his face.
“I can feel that.”
“I can feel you squeezing my right hand!”
Oh, my God. My heart stood still as tears coursed down my cheeks.
It was a good day.
Later that night, I wrote to Mitchell who had been, and still was, the greatest love of my life:
It’s been quite a week. You’ve done great things!
Monday – You felt tingling in your hands.
Tuesday – You felt tingling up to your elbows.
Wednesday – Tracheostomy and you were in great spirits.
Thursday – Pacemaker.
Friday – Tingling in both hands.
Saturday – Your neck hurt.
Sunday – More tingling and you felt it when I squeezed your hand. My heart was in my throat, I was so happy!
Andy visited today and Courtney Hall brought you a Sunday paper from Albany. And there were a few calls – Janet, Carl, Mary, Margot, Judy, Mary. Everyone wants you to be better. I love you and I want you to be better, too.
I am lonely without you.