The morning after, some good signs.
I woke early on Friday morning, and after shaking the cobwebs out of my brain, and half hoping the nightmare scene I had witnessed the night before, was just that, got busy getting ready for another day at the hospital. Of course, I knew it wasn’t, but I could still wish that it was.
Back at the hospital before eight, I went directly to the Intensive Care Unit. I found Joanie sleeping, and the ventilator gone. I took that as a good sign. I asked the nurse how she was doing, and was told she was doing well, and they might be able to move her out of ICU later in the day. I took that as another good sign. Initially they had expected her to be in ICU for two to three days.
The ICU didn’t seem to me to be as chaotic as it had been the night before, and I think that was partly because I had settled down myself, and partly because it wasn’t. My focus was back on what we do next, and what part I might play in helping her through this recovery.
She had obviously been in much pain the night before, and still was this morning. In her hand was the morphine pump, the device that is connected to an IV bag that contained the relief giving drug. I was to observe later, that she would pump it even when nothing would come out. I don’t think she knew right away that it was programmed to only release a prescribed dose over a specified period of time, no matter how many times you press the button, but when you’re in pain it doesn’t make any difference, you push it anyway.
I hadn’t been there to long when she opened her eyes and looked at me. It was a much different look than I had seen the night before. It was obvious she was heavily medicated, and our conversation was short. I think it was enough for her to know that I was there, and would be close by, and she drifted off to sleep again. I went for coffee and a smoke, and began thinking about her recovery, and how long that was going to take. I couldn’t help but think it was going to take longer than the optimistic estimate of two weeks we had been given. I would turn out to be right.
As I have been in the process of constructing this narrative, I thought a couple of other points of view would help in understanding what I had seen that night when they brought Joanie up to ICU from the recovery room. So, I contacted two people who saw her the next day, and asked them to recall what they saw when they came to visit Joanie.
About mid morning, Barb Olson, a long time friend from Bismarck came to the hospital. Barb was the former First Lady of North Dakota, when her husband Al was governor. Barb had known Joanie much longer than I had, and was a close friend. I met her in the lobby, and sort of tried to give her a picture of what she might see, and we went up to the ICU. I warned her this would not be Joanie as she was used to seeing, and it might be that she wouldn’t remember seeing her.
When we got to Joanie’s bed, she opened her eyes, and recognizing Barb, she made an attempt to smile, but it was a weak one. We weren’t there very long when she close her eyes again, and Barb and I left. Barb was stunned at what she had seen, and recently I asked if she remembered what she thought after that visit to the ICU.
This is what Barb told me:
“I know I was nervous when you said I should go in to see her even though she was deeply sedated. I didn’t know what to expect after hearing how radical her surgery was and also how long it took. I remember that she had tubes coming out of everywhere. She was so swollen and so still. I think I just told her I loved her and was so glad she was so sedated because I couldn’t imagine how painful her body must be after all they did.
My other recollection was your positive outlook. It was going to be curative and so now it was just getting Joanie through the recovery of this surgery. The worst was over.”
Later that day, another friend from Bismarck, Cathy Rydell, one of Joanie’s closest friends, who was in town for a meeting came up to see her.
This is what Cathy had to say about that day in ICU:
“What I remember most is her face. Joanie had always had the face of an angel. Bright eyes, expressive smile, cheerful glow…it was a face full of sunshine. There was no smile like a Joanie smile. I walked into the room and the woman in the bed was unrecognizable to me. Her face was gray and unexpressive. Her eyes were blank and her body looked so frail. My heart sank. I knew she had been through hell with such a radical surgery but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw (even though Bob had tried to prepare me). I held her hand and told her I loved her. She attempted a smile and said a few words. I left the room, broke down, and started praying that the Joanie I knew and loved would be back soon. After seeing her Bob sat with me in the lobby and told me about the surgery, the anticipated recovery and the challenges ahead. I think I heard about 10% of what he said. I do remember that I was amazed at his knowledge and his determination to find out all he could about her illness.”
I remember thinking that after seeing Joanie in ICU, they had an idea of the magnitude of the surgery she had gone through, and how slow the recovery might be.
Her brother Dick arrived from San Francisco, got a chance to see her. I think it gave her a lift to see that he was there, but she was still groggy and in and out of being awake and not able to talk much. Dick and I went for a bite to eat, and I filled him in as best I could on what had transpired. I think seeing her helped him understand better what she had been through, and what was in store for her. Then, back at the hospital, about seven, they brought Joanie back up to her room on 7C.
She had been in ICU for less than 24 hours. I took that to be a good sign.