Too Close for Comfort in the ICU

Don’t Wait for an ICU Visit

I leaned in close as Pedro struggled to form words around the tubes sprouting out of his nose and mouth. His hands, retained by cotton cuffs, fluttered uselessly at his sides. His left hand stilled and his right hand looked as if it was writing on a tablet of air.

The lymphoma cells froze Pedro's face and prevented him from swallowing.

The lymphoma cells froze Pedro’s face and prevented him from swallowing.

“Can someone PLEASE give me a pen and a piece of paper,” I called out. My voice sounded harsh and desperate in the quiet bustle of the ICU room, and I noticed that Pedro’s heart rate had increased.  I tried again, this time willing my vocal cords to form the words carefully. “I think he wants to say something, but he can’t talk. He wants to write something.”

The ICU nurses looked at each other and shrugged. One dug in her scrubs and produced a black sharpie, and another found a few sheets of blank paper and a clipboard.

“We’ll be back in five minutes,” the first nurse said when she finished untying the restraints. “Don’t let him pull the tubes out.”

“You’ll need to leave when we come back,” the second nurse added. “We have to do our work and family isn’t allowed in the room at that time.”

Would His Scribbles Hold Up in a Court?

A patch covered one of Pedro’s eyes, and the other only opened half way. The lymphoma cells had attached themselves to his facial muscles—freezing them into unresponsiveness.

When I had left for Montana a week ago, he’d been fine. In pain, but ready to start radiation. When I returned, he could no longer clear his throat on his own and had been moved into the ICU.

“It might be a good idea for your daughters to visit.” The doctor’s vague words rang in my head. Death moved closer. I shivered and handed the pen to Pedro and braced the clipboard against the bedrail so he could write.

Each letter wobbled and skidded across the page in thick black lines. When he finished, the pen dropped from his exhausted hand. I turned the clipboard towards me and read his words.

I closed my eyes and thought unthinkable thoughts.  Would this hold up in a court of law as a living will?  We’d never made one–after all, old people need things like that–not healthy people in their thirties.

“I won’t,” I promised, having no idea if I’d be able to keep my word. I squeezed Pedro’s hand and checked the monitors.  His heart rate had dropped back down to normal.

The nurses hurried back into the room, ready to complete their duties and start the propofol drip that would sink Pedro back into a coma until the following day, when they would bring him out of the coma again for a few short minutes of lucidity.

“I love you!” I whispered,  hugging the paper to me as I left the room. I had travel arrangements to make for the girls and my parents (more on the story here).



Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • I love you so… so thankful for the fact that this story goes on! Glad we are neighbors today over at Lisa-Jo’s!
    ~Karrilee~ recently posted…Close to the Surface… Five Minute FridayMy Profile

    • :). I love you, too, neighbor! The story does go on–it’s been 13 years since that time, and God has opened amazing doors. Pedro now has his dream job–a principal of a small, Christian school for native kids.

  • I’m glad you finished the story. It’s beautiful.

    Melinda (from FMF)
    mghollis38 recently posted…FMF: CloseMy Profile

    • Thank you for stopping by, Melinda :). It would have been just too not nice to not finish the story ;).

  • Amazing story. And as a nurse it reminds me of what’s important-family always stays. Always.
    Marcy Hanson recently posted…Five Minute Friday: CloseMy Profile

    • Oh, I’m so glad you’re teaching your students that! I can handle the things the nurses and doctors have to do to my loved one. I understand, I really do, and I tried so hard to be a non-intervening, non-whiney, ‘good’ family member! But sometimes, the stress got to me, and I’m afraid I was a difficult one a time or two!

  • I too am so thankful for the end of this story. Every glimpse into the pain you walked through breaks my heart. I appreciate your words so very much!
    Becky Daye recently posted…Five Minute Friday~ CloseMy Profile

    • I hope that all the pain sharing still feels hopeful–because even through the pain and the rough times, I always held on to hope that God would be in control–even if it meant that the outcome wasn’t what I wanted.

  • Thanks for sharing what must have been a terrifying time, Anita! But also such precious moments that you two could share. Grateful that your man is still with you and doing the job he loves!
    Holly Barrett recently posted…CloseMy Profile

  • You were so courageous! I can’t imagine having someone write those words and trying to remain calm. I’m so glad the story ends beautifully and so glad I will see you and Dad and Sarah and Mormor and Poppy today. 🙂 Yay for family!
    Laura Melchor recently posted…The Grapes of Wrath and Little HouseMy Profile

  • Amy

    I hate that your family had to go through sure a scary time but I am so blessed by you sharing it. You reminded me that what man says maybe does not effect what God says will be.
    Amy recently posted…Close {Five-Minute Friday}My Profile

    • I’m glad that we learned and grew from the experience. God is good. All the time.

  • I had to go read the end of the story before coming back to comment. What a wonderful way God worked in your family’s life!
    Asheritah recently posted…The Surprising Thing God Does When He Closes A DoorMy Profile

  • What, what a story and I am glad you finished even though your 5 minutes were up. I am stopping by from Five Minute Friday and I am glad I did. I love to meet new blog friends.

    I will continue to pray for you.

    Karen recently posted…Five Minute Friday {Close}My Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Karen! It’s great to meet you :).