Saying Goodbye to the ICU

By my third day in the ICU I was probably about as comfortable there as one could be.  I knew all of the nurses, the various doctors who would come through at least twice a day to check my vitals and shine their flashlights in my eyes now called me Bob instead of Mr. Bjerkaas.

I know that I was still pretty heavily medicated, but do not know what effect the drugs were having on my thinking.  Somewhere in my mind it registered that I hadn’t been to the bathroom in days.  This couldn’t be good.  I buzzed the nurse.

“I  am  not  going  to   the   bathroom.”

“No Bob, everything is fine.  You are on a catheter and you can just go the bathroom whenever you need to.”

I must have looked more puzzled than normal.  The nurse held up a large container of what was definitely not apple juice.  The hose feeding the top of the container was presumably connected to me.

“You have been passing water regularly.  When you feel that you need to go, just go.”

There are some things about being a patient that are so very humbling.  I found myself feeling completely ridiculous, like Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – relieving himself right at the table…  It sure was nice to have that catheter removed later in the day.  It was a very strange thought to me that this was the fourth day since I reported for surgery.

For four days nurses had helped me – a perfect stranger – perform the most mundane and private functions with such grace and dignity.  They had been attentive to my pain.  They had helped me find my suction tube when I was in a late night panic – which, I should note, occurred several times a night.  They never scolded my constant entanglement in the dratted EKG leads.  God bless nurses everywhere.  Down the hall an older man was yelling at his nurse.  She walked briskly past my open doorway – crying.

The family came to visit in the afternoon.  Cubby wasn’t there because his job at Dunkin’ Donuts required his expertise.   For the first time, everyone could crowd into the room – Mom and Dad, Kerrie, and Maggie, Timmy, and Nat were all together with me for the better part of an hour.

The worst part about having the feeding tube removed was that now I had to take some of my meds orally.  And you would not believe the number of meds I was on.  I could not swallow pills or tablets, so the nurses would crush the tablets and empty the pill capsules out in small cups of applesauce.  They would stir the meds in – creating a nasty greenish brown colored sauce, and then I would swallow tiny amounts of this incredibly bitter concoction until my meds were done.  At least that is how most nurses did it.

There was one male nurse on the floor.  Ian came in to give me my meds in the late afternoon on Saturday.  He crushed up and poured out the medicine on top of a little pile of applesauce in a clear plastic cup and fed me a spoonful.  “Aaaaack…”  It had not been stirred at all.  Kerrie tells me that I said, quite audibly, “Dear   Lord   that    was   terrible….”  I have never tasted anything so repulsive.  And I have attended Sons of Norway Lutefisk dinners.

Poor Ian was at a loss and the brother started laughing.  I protested, “Are    you   laughing   at   me?”

Ian apologized, “I am so sorry, I am a terrible nurse!”  It was all too funny for me.  I felt the deep Bjerkaas chuckle coming on and…. I wheezed.

Who knew that you need your vocal chords to laugh?  Well, the wheeze was a good enough proxy.  So while Ian and Kerrie laughed, I just wheezed away.

Tyler and Lindsey came to visit.  Tyler is one of my elders at Church in the Canyon and is a tremendously gifted young man – one day he will be teaching apologetics and philosophy in Oxford.  He is one of the men who will be preaching and ministering at Church in the Canyon in my absence.  Tyler and Lindsey read Psalm 27.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.

Later that day Ian came back.

“We are moving you to the Neurological Care Unit.”

The bed was reconfigured.  Somehow the metal tree with the bags, wires, and gadgets hanging from it was attached to the head of the bed.  Kerrie’s few belongings were stowed by my feet, I was told to keep my hands and feet in the bed, and Ian DROVE the bed down the hall.

And when I say drove, I really mean it.  We were moving so quickly that my scabbed up, iodine encrusted, forty-plus stitches and staples full, filthy hair was actually flapping in the velocity induced breeze!

By the time we got to my new room, I was grinning like a school kid. “That   was   the  most   fun    I    have   had   all   week!”  I rasped to Ian.

“Just remember it was the terrible nurse!”  Ian smiled.

Heck of a guy that Ian.

Unfamiliar nurses were coming in to see me.  They switched me into a new bed.  As a first order of business I had a nurse show me where this new bed had a suction tube like the last one.  A new doctor who was making her rounds gave me a now routine checkup.

This room was better than the last.  It had a shower in the bathroom that Kerrie could use.  And my hospital bed’s railing had gaps in it so that when I lay on my right side I could reach my hand through the rail and hold Kerrie’s hand.  And, if she were in the right position, I could even see her lovely face.

Thank you God for my first OK day.


Tomorrow’s Tale:  Can I go home yet?

N.B.  The hospital bed pictured is the same make as my ICU bed – a Stryker.  I don’t know if it is the same model.  But boy could that bed get down the hallway.  Kerrie had to trot to keep up with it when Ian got it going.

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3 Responses to Saying Goodbye to the ICU

  1. Jon Taylor says:

    Bob, I just finished reading your last post. You are a gifted writer. Beautiful retellings of a terrible experience. Thank you for the effort required in putting your thoughts in pixels.
    Praying for a tangible sense of the Lord’s peace in your mind and heart on His day.

  2. Ruth VanReken says:

    HI, took me awhile to figure out these eamils from an unknown sender were actually your posts…so sorry. We have been praying for you but not fully knowing how desperately you needed prayer…and still do. Glad you are out of ICU and will now follow more ‘on time’ your story. As others have said, your writing is amazing and you may have a whole new career in the publishing field as well as your other places. Your voice cannot be silenced you and your family

    • Bob Bjerkaas says:

      Thank you so much for your encouragement and prayers! I am finding the writing to be a very healing therapy and a constant reminder that God has been with me and Kerrie every day. These last three days (real time, not blog time) I have made some wonderful progress with my voice! Swallowing is still difficult and awkward, but we are encouraged.

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