Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

A reflection on the letters ICU

You have heaps to write about. A new bike, travel plans, a trip to the Apple Store, the reasons you favour red shoes over all others. Yes, I know, important topics. They will one day be explored. But this week has been given over to a three letter acronym – ICU.

Your journey began last Friday when your daughter was scheduled for spinal surgery. It would be a big operation you were told and, as with all surgery, there were associated risks. You brace in the preceding weeks, light candles, journal about your hopes and fears, ask trusted friends to hold you in prayer, then you set off for the hospital ready to watch and wait.

The surgery will take two hours the surgeon tells you on admission. Please make sure your mobile phone is switched on. He will call when she is in recovery. You head down to the cafe. Marvel that a hospital canteen can be so unhealthy. The staff in their uniforms ploughing through great mounds of chips. You write a blog, check your Twitter feed. Two hours passes. You check your phone. No missed calls. The same half an hour later. After three and a half hours, you head to the hospital reception.

'Is my daughter in recovery yet?'

'No, they tell you. Still in surgery.'

You wander the hospital corridors. All those safely journaled fears come bubbling to the surface. At four hours, you find yourself in the hospital chapel staring into the stained-glass face of Jesus. Once you would have raged against the the possibility that things might be going wrong. You'd prayed. Why didn't God do what you'd asked? Years down the track and at a different place in your faith journey you know bad things happen to good people all the time. Today, one of them might be happening to your daughter.

In the filtered light of the chapel windows, the call comes. The surgeon says your daughter has lost a lot of blood during surgery. Four litres. You wonder how much blood a body needs. They have managed to collect and transfuse the blood but your daughter will need a night in ICU. The procedure has gone well the surgeon tells you, his voice gentle. This is nothing to worry about.

You try not to worry sitting in the ICU waiting room. And when you see your daughter wheeled past in a tangle of cables, monitors and and oxygen lines. You try not to worry later on when you are allowed to visit her. You look around the ward at people suspended between trauma and recovery. Most of are old, their bodies twisted by illness and time. You wonder how your daughter has ended up in such a place.

You learn a great deal in ICU. As one night turns into three, you realise so much can go wrong. Kidneys don't take kindly to blood loss. When they fail, there is nothing the doctors can do to start them again, only manage the symptoms and wait for the body to remember its lines. You pray. Though, you scarcely know where to begin. Though, once or twice you do inform the Almighty that you don't much like the way things are unfolding. Yet, for all your disappointment you know ICU is a privelege, the possibility of such care beyond the reach of over half the world's population. As three nights turns into four, you consider the likelihood of missing your grandson's first birthday celebrations in Brisbane over the weekend.

Then, on day five it happens. The creatinine levels start dropping. The nausea and dizziness ease. You notice your daughter is smiling again. You wait, trusting this is the tide turn. That all those assurances the doctors gave you were in anticipation of this moment. You are not disappointed. Your daughter is wheeled up to the orthopedic ward. She is walking, eating, her kidneys are filtering. Leaving the hospital after visiting hours that night you walk past the hospital chapel. It is in darkness now. Only a single candle to mark its purpose. As you stand in the flickering candlelight, you know Jesus is there even when you can't see his face.



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  1. Oh, Liz, what a dreadful, worrying, painful time for all of you. Your post is beautifully described and keenly felt. Sending you loving hugs, and your daughter all good wishes for a speedy stroll on the road to recovery. No backwards glance to ICU, beyond gratitude. xx C

  2. So sorry to hear you and your family went through this. I too am intimately acquainted with ICU wards – for myself, my sister, and then my eldest son in the NICU ward. They are not places you ever want to be, because they mean terrible things have happened, but like you, good things happened in the end and all is well. I am so glad to hear you had a good result and that your daughter is on the mend and all your prayers and hopes were answered. My best wishes and hopes were with you through this difficult time, and they are still there. Take care of yourself and your family.

    • Funny enough I thought of you, Leisl. I thought, what must it be like to have a baby in here. The staff were amazing, though. So helpful with their time and explanations.

      • The staff are always exceptional in those units, Liz. They were such an amazing support to Mark and I through that difficult time, and I know when it was me in the 1 on 1 support unit when I was so sick after having Jacob, that they were a great support to my family and to me, in doing all that they could to make the situation as postive as it could be.

        • Phoebe was in ICU when she broke her back initially. But that was in Switzerland and we weren’t there at the time. It must be hard for staff dealing with families in crisis all the time.

  3. Sue jenkins

    Oh Liz.
    What a time.
    And to think you came and gave the Welsh class on Tuesday night….

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