A strange paradox: one man fights hard to stay alive, the other fights hard to not live. I have witnessed both in the past two weeks. After these two weeks, I find that I am much more interested in the story of the man who wants to live; and believe that he will experience life's colors and sounds more vibrantly than he did just three weeks ago. And much more than the man who wants to die could ever imagine.
Two weeks ago, I was sitting in ICU in Bend, watching a ventilator breathe for my Dad. The doctors didn't know what was wrong with his lungs, and were desperately trying everything they could think of to help Jim survive. And nothing was working.
We had arrived in Bend two days prior, before he had been placed on the ventilator, and spoken with him briefly. He couldn't talk, because he was on a CPAP machine that was helping him breathe, but he could nod and laugh. Things didn't seem so dire, yet....
That day, as we wandered through the hospital gift shop, I saw a stuffed bunny. My Dad had given my a stuffed bunny just before my first bone graft surgery, when I was 18. He somehow knew that I was more scared than I usually was before surgery, and brought the bunny to comfort me in Pre Op. I looked at the bunny in the gift shop, and considered getting it for Jim. I thought, "this is silly", and passed on getting it for him.
He was on the ventilator later that evening. Without a bunny to comfort him.
And he was on a ventilator the next day. The doctors were perplexed, and were trying to be optimistic and realists at the same time. We weren't sure if he would come off the ventilator. Ever. But Jim had different ideas, and pulled out the tube himself. My husband, Will, was the first to go visit him, and called me from the hospital. "Get the bunny," he told me.
I showed up at the ICU later that morning, bunny in hand. I didn't think that Jim would think much of it, but I explained to him how much the bunny he gave me had helped, so I was hoping this one would help him. He smiled through his CPAP mask, grabbed it, and hugged it to his chest. I felt a sense of peace and terror at the same time. This might be the last time he sees the bunny... Ever.
Each time I visited Jim in the ICU, I would hold his hand tightly, and tell him that I was there with him. I whispered in his ear that he was doing a great job fighting, and to keep on until the doctors figured out what the hell was wrong with his lungs. Each day that passed, I didn't have a better answer for him. "Keep fighting," I offered. "They're going to figure it out." I was reassuring myself as much as I was letting him know what was going on while he silently fought. I would squeeze his hand each time I departed, secretly worried that it would be the last time.
The diagnosis came quickly after the lung biopsy: Organizing Pneumonia. Rare. Dangerous. And easily treatable. The morning after they gave us the diagnosis, I leaned in, and told him, "You did it! They've figured it out! Just keep fighting until the medicine works.... you're going to make it!" After 10 days of waiting to figure out what was killing him, we now needed to wait to see if the one treatment would work.
The morning of Day 11, I walked into the ICU and saw Jim. Awake. Bunny in hand.
Jim and the bunny have been moved from the ICU, and the road to recovery has begun. Will and I have come back home, and have tried to reassemble our life back to what it was when we left it 12 days earlier. I know that Jim has a lot of hard and frustrating work ahead of him to get back to where he was before this happened. I just hope that he can take a peaceful moment sometimes, and know that I am there to comfort him, via stuffed bunny.