Inside the window, she battles COVID. One long day at a time.
That last phone conversation with my husband. Now I remember! Me coughing and hacking, as he suggested an emergency room visit because I might have coronavirus. Independent me—of course I said no. Until that next day, when I started sucking air like I was breathing through a coffee stir stick. Only then did I drive myself to the hospital. Did I call him when I was admitted?! Everything is such a blur now. What November day was that? How many days have I been here? The news reports describe that COVID-19 progresses from breathing problems to ventilator, and then to death. I am so scared. And tired . . .
Inside the window, she confronts COVID. Alone in her thoughts.
The nurse pointed to my husband, standing outside my ICU (intensive care unit) window. With the sun behind him, I recognized his profile. My personal strong man. I so wish I could see his face. Before this breathing tube kept me from speaking, I remember how he yelled at me from outside the window. I barely heard him through my Darth-Vader-sounding oxygen mask. He yacked on and on about memories of our honeymoon, family trips, and our special trip to California last year. How embarrassing: he was outside practically shouting about our personal life while people walked up the hospital sidewalk! Like they want to hear our litany of family vacations. But he confidently reminds me of our memories and keeps his promise to be there for me. This coronavirus thing, why can’t they let him inside to visit me?!
Inside the window, she faces an unknown battle against COVID. Outside the window, he stands in his COVID vigil of love.
There he is at the ICU window again. My man. The one who thrilled me on that day so long ago when my friend and I hitchhiked in the city. Me, the small-town girl who planned to see the world. Him, the sun-bleached dude with the big smile. I can’t remember what I said when the guys picked us up, but I gave my usual smart-mouthed comment. The good-looking one didn’t shrink back from my sharp tongue, but was impressed with my humor and took it as a challenge. Like a comedy routine, we bantered back and forth: his heckling to my irreverence, his gentle mocking to my biting sarcasm. How I love his sense of humor! He still won’t stoop to my snarkiness, but he makes me laugh every time. Our secret to forty-plus years of marriage.
Inside the window, nostalgia comforts her in the struggle against COVID. Outside the window, he stands in his COVID vigil of love.
I am tired and scared. The low whoosh of air flowing and the muffled pump sounds of the ventilator can be soothing, but I startle awake every time it alarms. Someone in head-to-toe blue paper with a clear windshield for eyes comes in to check the alarms. The same generic outfit, but this time it’s the nurse with the high ponytail bump. The tube in my throat keeps me from talking, but not from terror. She gently brushes my arm as she silences the alarm, telling me that she just updated my husband on the phone. Then she hands me the letter board. Of course, I could spell out my million questions, one stupid letter at a time, but that would take all day. How do I get this tube out of my throat? Will I ever breathe on my own again, or will I die connected to this ventilator?
Inside the window, she battles COVID. One ventilator alarm at a time.
There is my husband, outside the window again. What?! Where am I? Oh yeah. Still in the hospital, in the town where I worked, three hours from our home in the city. Still on this ventilator that keeps me alive. Every time they give me a trial to breathe on my own, I panic and can’t continue. Then they medicate me so the ventilator can do my work of breathing. The tall nurse gives me updates, not that I understand it all, but he explains more of what “the team” is doing and why. But no one answers the big questions: will I get better? Do they explain this to my husband?! Will coronavirus kill me? I’m tired. I ache. I need to sleep . . .
Inside the window, she drifts in and out, fighting for breath against COVID. Outside the window, he stands in his COVID vigil of love.
I have to remember . . . through this mental fog . . . past the alarms . . . about the people in blue. Wasn’t that him I saw, dressed head-to-toe in blue paper garb? Or was that a dream? The window was dark, so he wouldn’t be outside. How could he be inside this ICU at night?! Is it only in my hopes and dreams? But I remember his voice, his outline, his presence. So real.
The next day, my “morning numbers” were surprisingly good; the team disconnected me from the ventilator for hours in a breathing trial. Some days later, they pulled the tube out and gave me an oxygen mask. For the first time in months, I talked with my husband on the phone. (Oh, how we used to take our daily phone conversations for granted! Never again.)
I used all my energy to speak, one breathy word at a time.
“I . . . am . . . so . . . glad . . . to . . . be . . . alive.”