The ICU was a place of highs and lows, breakthroughs and frustrations, education and resolve.
I have always been something of a thrasher when I sleep. This is enough of a problem when the most significant consequence of my tossing and turning is a cold wife bereft of her fair share of the blankets. Things are more complicated when buzzers continually go off bringing nurses untangling me from EKG leads clipped to my chest and back, reconnecting IVs (yes, I pulled two out), and putting those evil little sponges back up my nostrils…
And covering my butt.
My room was the best. It was the second private room on the right hand side of the hallway directly across from the nurses station. My bed was closest to the door. Moving deeper into the room was the small family area with a window looking west down Sunset Boulevard where Kerrie stayed with me throughout my entire stay and our kids and visitors could gather. The bath room had no shower, but one can’t have everything.
My preferred position was to lay on my right side. For two reasons. First, that is where Kerrie was. And second, the nearly forty stitches long wound beginning at the back of my neck went straight up the back of my skull and then curled off towards the left side of my head. I was (and still am two weeks later) rather averse to resting on the yet tender wound. So, if you are following along with the geography of my slice of ICU heaven, you will realize that an active sleeper with an open backed hospital gown generally had his ordained derriere pointed directly at… the nurses station. More than once I heard, “Here Mr. Bjerkaas, let’s just cover that up…” And me without my wedding ring on. Oh, the temptation those dear saints must have endured…
I don’t know if I slept that first night. Nausea and pain were the great difficulties for the first ten to twelve hours. Early on the morning of the 17th my surgeon came in.
“Good morning Bob, how are you?”
“I… am… ok…” I breath out as clearly as I can.
“Well, I have to tell you I am so glad to see you here this morning. Last night I had a nightmare that I continued to try to massage that artery into place and lost you on the table. But you are going to be just fine.”
That was the first time I considered my surgery from his perspective. I regarded him through one eye. This man had spent an entire day of his life laboring over my opened skull. Making life and death decisions. Perhaps feeling ambushed by less than accurate intelligence regarding my arterial network. Could that have been my fault? Had I minutely shifted during one of my three MRIs that would have otherwise shown that offending arterial branch? All feelings of disappointment in him evaporated in an instant. Life happens. So does death. This dear man is as subject to the laws of God and gravity as any of us. And he had stayed with me. On his feet. All. Day. Long. Yes, he had needed to make an exceedingly difficult decision regarding the recension of that nerve. Maybe I could wish he had chosen otherwise. But Christ be praised I am alive. And I did not stroke out.
Dear Jesus thank you that you gave me this surgeon who was able to bring me through a difficult surgery.
My surgeon shared with Kerrie and me what had happened once again. And I learned several things. First, and most concerning, I could not move my tongue to the left side of my mouth. But the doctor says I can get that range of motion back.
And I learned something about nerves. It seems that nerves are more like bundles of nerves- they have parts. Not all nerves, or parts of nerves, are exactly the same. Some contribute to motor functions – like moving your tongue. Others are sensory in nature – they communicate things like temperature and pain. My surgeon had labored long in that cold operating room and cut only those parts of the ninth cranial nerve that carry sensory data. Apart from loss of sensation and some range of motion relating to my articulation and swallowing, nothing was paralyzed. Even the nerve connected to the left side of my vocal chords was still there – and functional. I simply couldn’t feel it anymore. 49 years of knowing what it felt like to speak was clipped short. 49 years of knowing what swallowing felt like was gone. I could recover. It would never be the same again. I would need to relearn how to feel normal again.
A speech therapist came in to see me next. I exhaled more questions. Yes, it was true that I would recover a voice. It might more or less be the one I have left behind. And it might need a mechanical assist from time to time. She mentioned injections in the left side of the vocal chords to “puff” them up so that my fully functional right chords could more easily vibrate against them.
I wish I could say this was encouraging. Frankly, I was horrified.
Almighty God, you can raise up a witness for yourself from the very stones of the ground. And the heavens declare your glory. Give me what voice you will. I will make a noise.
Next Up: More Adventures in the ICU: No I will NOT go out this way – WHERE IS THAT SUCTION TUBE!
N.B. Kerrie did not think it wise for me to attach a photo of my posterior… I imagine she is once again correct 🙂