Saturday, January 15, 2005

Life in the PICU - part 4

One of the most interesting parts of Life in the PICU is the people. (Are the people? No, is.) Doctors, nurses, technicians, patients, and the other families. Oh, the other families.

Only two "visitors" are allowed in the PICU room at a time, and that includes the parents. Most families are greater than two, and so there are always people in the waiting room outside the PICU. At some point while Paul and I were first in the room with Ellie, my mom scored us some sleeping chairs in the family waiting room, made friends with some of our neighbors, and secured a promise of better digs (in a corner alcove!) once the family "next door" headed on home.

It took me a little longer to tune in to the other parents, but eventually I became interested in them and began to learn their stories and routines. Some were sloppy, and some liked to stay up all night talking and then sleep during the day. Since we were in shared space and I am a light sleeper, I found this particularly annoying.

The family waiting room looks a lot like a large, oddly shaped waiting room (surprise! bet you were expecting a simile) full of teal chairs. The chairs fold out into "single beds" at night, and we were each provided with a sheet and a thin blanket. Lockers could be rented for security. Space everywhere was tight. The doctors and nurses asked us how far away we lived and when I explained that we lived in the metro area, they seemed surprised that we didn't go home at night. How could I check on my baby at least every hour, if not sit by her bedside all night, from 20 miles away? Perhaps I should have felt guilty about taking up unnecessary space, but I didn't. And I don't. Leaving the hospital was simply not an option, and there were no families without beds. Most of us were shift-sleeping anyway. My parents slept at our house.

One family next to us came from Kansas City. Mom and Dad were there, along with Grandma (younger than my mom for sure!), auntie, and "big" sister (who was a toddler herself). They'd been at the hospital for about 2 weeks and no one was sure exactly what was wrong with their baby's heart. Can you imagine never leaving the hospital for 2 whole weeks? Living inside a hospital makes living inside a mall look like cheerful realism. There was a room at the Ronald McDonald house, but they didn't want to be that far away. Eventually, dad had to return to work and grandma and big sister went along with him. Mom and her sister were left alone. The sister had a pair of scrubs that she wore to every meal to get the staff discount in the cafeteria. Can you imagine having no money and having to live in a hospital? Ugh. After a week, I was so sick of grilled cheese and stale salad bar, I thought I might never eat again.

A young family across the aisle were there because some surgeon (not Ellie's!) had messed up a procedure. It seemed a universal theme - when it came to matters of the heart only Dr. H. could be trusted to get it right. One man had flown in a donated corporate jet with his son - and a donor heart !! - from the west coast so that Dr. H. could perform a heart transplant.

The family in the coveted alcove next to Paul and me were visiting from northern Missouri because their teenage daughter had viral meningitis. They were all set to go home (and give us their alcove!) several times, and each time the girl had a set-back. They were still there when we left.

It's so strange to me that for a week we sat with these people, slept with these people, cried near these people, and shared so many experiences together . . . and now I have no idea what's happened to their children. I don't even know their names.

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