Hands and voices everywhere. Quietly – “Let’s lift, two, and three…” The left side of my body was being swabbed with something wet. Not cold or warm, just wet. “Mr. Bjerkaas? Mr. Bjerkaas? Can you hear me?” Unhhh…
“Let’s turn him over now and replace the bottom sheet all at once…” Something smelled like iodine. Someone placed a large mildly adhesive patch to my lower back. What was that? “Mr. Bjerkaas I am going to ask you some questions now. Can you open your eyes?” A bright light. First my left eye, then the right. “Squeeze my hands. Try to push my hands away from you. Wiggle your toes. Good…” Soon the exam stops and the nurse lets me know that I am doing fine and that my wife will be in to see me shortly.
As I lay waiting I am aware that I am connected to more tubes and wires than I could account for. But thank you dear Jesus – I was not intubated. That meant that it was still the 16th of August. My surgeon had speculated with me that should the surgery go too late they might let me see Kerrie and the kids and then put me back to sleep and remove the breathing tube on the morning of the 17th.
Kerrie came in and held my hand. Kissing my forehead. Asking how I felt. I couldn’t reply. My voice wouldn’t work. I tried to breath out some words but a strangled whisper was the best I could do. The kids come in one at a time. We squeeze hands, I know I am loved. The kids will all be returning with Dad and Mom to stay at the house tonight. Kerrie will stay with me here in my private ICU room. What had her day been like I wondered?
The waiting room was large but packed. Everybody who was at the hospital for any surgery was waiting for their patient’s procedure to be completed in that one room. Kerrie and the kids camped out in one corner. Several people visited. The first people to arrive were Sammy and his mother Allison. Sammy just graduated from Oak Park High School this past May – a senior Captain on the Lacrosse team and one of the hardest working kids I have ever known. Then came John and Theresa from church. Sammy and Allison had to leave, but not before Sammy’s dad Mark arrived – he would stay until the very end. Kathleen and Judy from church came next and would stay for several hours. After school Chrissy and her four Robinson boys sat with the family for a couple of hours. All of my families were represented. Kerrie’s parents, the lacrosse team, my church, the neighborhood… I am so glad that Kerrie and the kids had some company.
The kids slept, read, and played some games. The adults chatted, prayed, and watched the boards where the surgeon’s names were lit up in order to let the waiting families see where the surgeon was at any given time. I was one of the first patients in. My surgeon’s name went blue on the boards – he was in the Operating Room. Other surgeons’ names turned yellow – they were moving into post-anesthesia care. Then they turned another post care color and families could visit. My surgeon’s name stayed blue. Six hours was our perfect time for the procedure. That would be going in, taking care of business, and getting out. The waiting room was nearly empty when, ten and a half hours later, my surgeon came out to speak with the family.
He invited Kerrie and her parents to visit with him in a small room and explained everything he did to try to move the artery away from the glossopharyngeal nerve. Unfortunately, it could not be done. The MRIs had not shown that at the very place that my abnormally enlarged vertebral artery impinged upon the nerve and caused such excruciating pain, there was another artery branching off that fed the spinal cord. Moving the enlarged artery was causing twisting in one or the other arteries which would then become kinked, which could lead either to paralysis or stroke. After consultations mid procedure, it was determined that the microvascular decompression of the nerve could not be done. The nerve would need to be cut.
It was 6:30 p.m. Kerrie was told I was doing fine and that she could see me in an hour. Mark, John and Theresa pray with my family. An email is sent out to family and friends giving an update. Soon it is just family. At 8:00 p.m. Kerrie is told I am being taken in for a CAT Scan. The family moves to the waiting room for the fifth floor ICU.
It isn’t until 10:00 p.m. that the kids squeeze their dad’s hand and head home to Oak Park.
What now Lord? That five percent chance that turned into ten, and then twenty… The nerve was cut. All of this registered with me as I lay there with more wires and hoses than a Rube Goldberg contraption. I had missed the break and landed on the wrong side of the statistical line. Thank you Lord that I am alive and have not had a stroke. But that nerve… I speak for a living. I am a gospel preacher. I am a lacrosse coach. I am and have been Uncle Bobby B to hundreds of kids… I whisper sweet nothings in my wife’s ears and sing her eighties music. I am Dad. I need my voice.
To Be Continued: Adventures in the ICU – The Bare-Ass Pastor on Floor Five
N.B. The picture was taken by my wife on the evening of the 16th, my first night in the ICU!