Chapter 2, page 3: ICU Red

I stepped onto the elliptical for the first time in the seven days that I had been in  Atlanta.  So far this week had not looked anything like what I had expected. But then again, I don't really know what I had expected.

Six days ago Dad underwent a triple bypass. Just shy of two days ago we had brought him home from the hospital. 

Before leaving Baltimore I knew that he would be undergoing surgery. I just hadn't known how exhausting the process would be. 

Monday was Dad's actual surgery. Mom, Grammy and I spent the vast majority of the day in the ICU Red waiting room. Everyone in the room had a loved one undergoing cardiac surgery of some sorts. We waited on pins and needles for word from the operating room. Every two hours or so the assistant would come sit with us for a brief update. Thankfully every update was short: still going well.  Four family friends spent a long time in the waiting room along with us. 

We were finishing lunch when the assistant, Lee Lee, called Mom; the surgeon was ready to consult with us post-surgery. We threw our trays onto the conveyor belt and dashed through the labyrinth that is Piedmont Hospital. The news was good and bad at the same time. While the raw material so to speak had been terrible, the surgeon was able to successfully complete 2 bypasses. He had done a third but had not been as pleased. The surgeon was everything we could have hoped for: a tough, no-nonsense, brilliant man. That was tempered with a great degree of patience for all of our questions. 

After the consult we waited around some more. It seemed that we were looking down the barrel of a week of waiting around. Eventually we were allowed into ICU Red to see Dad. 

I teared up the instant I saw him. It wasn't my father lying in the bed but a cold, grey fish that looked like my father. The only movement was created by the ventilator expanding his lungs. This was not my father. It looked like him, but it wasn't. I stared at his feet as I listened to Mom and his nurse, Amanda, discussing what was to come.

"His foot just wiggled." I had seen Dad's toes twitch; it was the first movement he had made of his own accord. 

"He may be waking up but people sometimes do that of their own accord. It's a side-effect of the anesthesia along with the shivering," Amanda explained. I scowled and continued to stare at his feet. I know he had moved. 

"It just moved again!" This time I was 100% positive that this was not the after effect of anesthesia. Amanda asked him to wiggle his toes. He did. Moments later, Dad woke up. His eyes rolled and his hands jerked upward. Thankfully he was restrained and unable to remove his breathing tube.  Amanda quickly talked him back down and he was soon calm again. Seconds later, he was unconscious. 

It would be another two hours until we were allowed to seem him again according to ICU rules. After leaving the ICU I fled to the interfaith chapel for a few moments of peace. When I saw Dad again, he looked a little less like a dead fish. We had a longer break following that visit so we journeyed to Beni Hana for dinner.

If there was an award for total lack of enthusiasm at a hibachi restaurant, we would have won it. We stared blankly in different directions. Not a one of us responded to the chef's fried rice heart or onion volcano. No we were certainly not ideal dinner guests. 

At 8:30 we were allowed back into ICU Red to see Dad one last time until 9 AM Tuesday. He was more coherent. I was just happy he had something that resembled color in his skin again. We met the night nurse, John. 

By the time I left the hospital with Grammy I was spent. Completely, totally spent. I went the wrong way on 285 despite having lived in Atlanta for 12+ years. Eventually we arrived home where we all proceeded to sit around and stare at each other. We should have gone straight to bed. I was tired enough to crawl into bed clothes and all yet we failed to actually get in bed.  Eventually, exhaustion won out and everyone went to separate rooms to sleep. 

I sat in bed reading my Bible when I heard Mom running up the stairs. She called for me to come into the room where Grammy was staying. I dropped my Bible and ran into the other room. 

"John got Dad's breathing tube back!! He's going to call back and let us talk to Dad!" We huddled around the landline phone once it finally rang. Dad sounded groggy, his throat all scratchy. No matter how bad he sounded, it was wonderful to hear his voice again. He was only able to talk for a minute but that minute was more than long enough. 

Now we could sleep soundly. 

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