“Your husband has a fifty percent survival rate. We’re doing all we can.” Two abrupt sentences tilted my world severely. I collapsed into a waiting room chair trying to corral my stampeding thoughts. God, help me, I’m so scared. Moments later, walking mechanically to the pay phone, I heard hushed conversations fluttering behind me in the Intensive Care Unit, (ICU). “Poor thing. Husband’s Room 9. Critical. Bacterial pneumonia. Not sure he’ll make it. Only twenty-seven years old."
Diagnosed with simple pneumonia five days ago, my husband was now fighting for his life with a deadly form of this illness. Countless tubes and monitors invaded his now frail body, monitoring vital organs and delivering medications. A fever of 106 degrees persisted in spite of his ice mattress.
Friends and family showed up quickly. Most offered encouragement and a few offered help with practical things like caring for our dogs. Yet, some people only wearied me further with their loud crying and persistent negativity. Instead of feeling supported and encouraged, their sorrow amplified mine, and threatened to capsize my fragile life raft. I was adrift, already tossed about on a storm of turbulent emotions. I resented being forced into the role of cheerleader for these folks, when my husband was the one who was in the ICU.
I wanted to prohibit a negativity epidemic, so I insisted Ken’s room be hope-filled. I treasured everyone who helped maintain an encouraging atmosphere during our ten days in ICU. Medical professionals now actually recommend creating a positive environment.
However, in a desire to show strength, I overreacted and stifled my emotions. I never cried or voiced fears. The resulting emotional logjam manifested through enduring stomach pain. I didn’t put the two together at the time and my doctor explained to me months later that ignoring strong emotions is unwise.
Here are a couple of suggestions for visiting someone in Critical Care:
- Dial down drama. ICU families need calming words, not negativity.
- Offer practical help like phone calls, fetching food, transportation, pet care, etc.
In my next post, I’ll share how I survived some of the emotional shipwrecks that were yet to come during Ken’s illness. Also, check out my brother-in-law’s story on our website about his experience with a serious illness. He’s an encouragement to anyone facing a grim diagnosis.