Finally it’s time to clock out of this ICU. No break for 12 hours, we beg to go to the bathroom just for a nano-second, in between not skipping a beat to hang life-saving IV drips, assisting with central line insertions and arterial lines, and intubations of the sickest. We pretty much just go door to door literally saving lives. Code blues, and chest compressions and emergent intubations and rapid response team screams out overhead, as we are responsible for that too, and by the time it’s 0815… not 0715…. we are exhausted and haggard and starving.
We clock out and walk to the cafeteria in our
semi-comatose state. We are starving.
And there he is. Again. That old man at a table in the corner of the cafeteria. He always has a sweater on, eating breakfast and looking at the morning newspaper.
We know who he is and we’ve tried to say “hi” or “good morning” but he never looks up.
He wears a gold wedding ring.
We respect his quiet space.
He’s been there for awhile.
He is that man that lost his wife in ICU. The love of his life.
He’d slowly shuffle into ICU, with that sweater and sometimes a bow tie. He would come every day and hold his wife’s hand. And read a verse from the Bible to her. She was non-responsive. She was 82 years old. He is older. She never moves. On the ventilator, inspiratory, expiratory, the EKG monitor shows a slowing rhythm. His dear wife Ethel, is slowing down. Per his wish, he begged us and the physicians to give them both more time.
When we saw him coming, the tissues came out. It was heartbreaking.
When he did talk to us, he told us they were high school sweethearts. They met at the
Valentine school dance. Her long brunette hair. Her rosy cheeks and her eyes that sparkled.
She was the love of his life.
He went off to war to fight for his America. World War II. When he came home, he twirled her around and around and said he’d never let her go. On one knee he asked her to marry him. To live with him forever. For Ethel to be his forever. With the little money he had, he was able to buy her a small diamond. She showed it off like it was 5 carats, it was barely a 1/2 carat. But she was happy and proud and in love.
They bought their first home and proceeded with five children. All sent to college. All had jobs. She was the best wife. The best mother. And the best grand-mother.
Their children knew what they had to do growing up: Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church, Sunday school, homework, cheerleading and football and proms and first dates and beach trips and marriages and grand babies.
They led a good life. They had celebrated many anniversaries and their love grew and grew.
Ethel developed abdominal pain. She had been quite healthy… but with CT scans and PET scans and ultrasounds, pancreatic cancer was discovered. The prognosis was poor. The doctors advised Mr. Bill to let his wife die peacefully. But he couldn’t. And day in and day out, every day without fail, he’d shuffle in to our ICU.
We knew the truth and so did he.
And on that fateful day, it all came to a halt. He watched the erratic rhythm on the EKG monitor. He watched us do compressions, fast and hard. He insisted on her being a full code because she couldn’t die on him.
She died 3 weeks ago.
And every early morning we walk down to the cafeteria, and there he is. Sitting in the corner with his newspaper and breakfast…. without looking up.
Maybe he’s not ready to say goodbye to his wife.
We want to hug him, hold his hand, talk to him, but we respectfully keep our distance.
He’ll know when it’s time to say goodbye.
Until then, he’ll shuffle in and out of that cafeteria. Waiting.