It’s odd to think that only a week ago my mother was severely injured in a freak accident.  She had been run over by a minivan which beat up and broke nearly everything on the left side of her body.  Her first night in the hospital the docs had to “go in” to stop some internal bleeding (when I say some, I mean she was given 12 units of blood — I’m told the body has 14 total) that we learned days later was a little closer to life-threatening than anyone wanted to admit.  Since then, she has endured 3 surgeries to repair her leg, hip, and face.  All surgeries required general anesthesia and were performed with only a day of rest in between.

I open with this grim recount in order to juxtapose properly the unbelievable recovery that is underway (the good news).  I have hardly a sense of time at the moment. I’ve been in the ICU with my mom and family for a week. It feels like I arrived yesterday, yet I would not be shocked if someone told me I’d been here a month.  The days are defined in my memory by medical events: surgeries, tubes, awake days, breathing tests.

It was not until Thursday that I even heard my mother utter a word when the breathing tube was removed for a brief period of time. Before Thursday there were actually few moments when my mom was conscious for more than a few minutes at a time. I remember (I think it was Tuesday-Wednesday-ish) when my mom would wake up from her sedated slumber and open her eyes really wide, almost as if she had just regained sight from a life of blindness. She’d look around the room, curious and confused. Her eyes were glossy and wet with small wells of tears in the corners.  We’d whisper to her and she’d gently look to our voices. It was hard to tell if she could actually see us or not.  She gave us very unfamiliar stares at first, but her eyes quickly warmed and her forehead wrinkled.  It looked like love.  She did not look in pain or discomfort. Her face simply looked like love.  I don’t think she had the energy to raise her arms to hug us (not to mention they were strapped down to keep her from touching the breathing tube), but the look in her eyes said more than any physical contact could communicate.

There is only so much you can say to someone who is in this condition. You know they are not 100%, so it’s not the best time to recount the details of the accident.  They also cannot respond, so it’s an equally terrible time to ask a lot of questions.  All there is to say is “I love you”. Which we did, over and over again.  But, what’s more interesting is what happens when the words stop.  Sometimes she’d stay awake for a few more minutes and we’d just stare at each other. Directly. Eye to eye. Blinking was the only movement either of us made.  We could sit there for what felt like an hour simply staring into each others eyes.

When was the last time you tried that? To look into someone’s eyes for a really long time, comfortably?  I tried to have staring contests when I was a kid, but they would end in giggles seconds later. I think all the other times ended with one person needing to look away or to say something to bridge the inevitable discomfort.  A deep, uninterrupted stare into someone’s eyes is a remarkable experience. Words become unimportant and thoughts become vague. Your sole focus is on their eyes which contain their present and more personal feelings. Feelings that don’t need to be said out loud.

That’s one of the many important lessons I gained this week– it’s important to stare. Not in a rude way, of course, but in an uninhibited, unassuming way. It’s an important, unfiltered means of connecting. We use too many words sometimes. I’m not sure we even posses the right words to express ourselves in every situation. We worry about what others will THINK about what we SAY! Eyes don’t lie. They don’t need to. In fact, most of the time, they can’t.  Have we lost this form of intimacy? Why is it hard sometimes to simply look at the people we love without saying a word? What makes it uncomfortable? Is it because we want to the other person to SAY something?  Will TALKING make the feelings clearer? Maybe. Maybe not.

As the week progressed my mom’s alertness improved. Even the day of her 4th surgery she was really quite alert before and after the procedure. I wrote earlier that she went into the 3rd surgery (pelvis) with a brave face and I think by the 4th she was nearly wheeling herself into the OR. Remarkable, truly remarkable.  Her time awake was sometimes limited in the post-op phases, but when her eyes were open, my mom was more and more “on” each day.

On Xmas, the day after my mom’s last surgery, the recovery really picked up pace.  Gone were the days of drifting in and out of consciousness.  There were no surgeries left to prepare for or recover from. She was alert, alive, and very much herself. She was also armed with a pen.  She had gained enough trust to have her arms unshackled (after the last experience of not being able to breathe without the tube, the docs were fairly convinced she had no interest in pulling it out) and with a pen and paper in her lap we talked, laughed, and cried all afternoon.  If this was not enough evidence, I was FULLY convinced that my mom had regained her senses when she requested her Bumble and Bumble shampoo because she HATED the stuff they were using in the hospital. A manicure was also on the list of requests (though ironically, the manicure was the ONE thing on the left side of her body not damaged). I say this not to make my mom sound vain, but rather human.  When you’ve been run over by a car, operated on 4 times in a week, and not seen even a glimmer of hope of leaving your bed, the LEAST you can have is good hair and nails.

In some ways it was the best Christmas possible. Certainly the best Christmas given the circumstances dealt to us.  There we no songs, no decorations, no parties, no meals, and not any gifts (yet, I am still expecting them). There were no trips to the mall, no waiting in line at the post office, and not a single worry about whether or not we gave “the right git”. . . . Christmas was focused on the most important things we have: love and life.  Fortunately for my family, we got both.  I could not have asked for a richer experience (however, as I said, I never want to do this again). There were certainly some people we encountered this week in the ICU who might not have this experience, which makes me feel fortunate and incredibly sad.

The day AFTER Christmas got even better.  By the time I reached the hospital this morning, my mom’s breathing tube was out and she and Angie were sitting in her room gabbing away.  My mom does sound a bit like an R&B singer who has done perhaps one too many shows (maybe just a bit like Whitney when interviewed by Diane Sawyer), but I’m happy to listen to her all day.  In fact, I think I better be prepared to do so because either the pain killers or the fact that my mom has not spoken for a week has made her quite possibly the chattiest person I have ever met. And, if you know my mom, you know she was ALREADY CHATTY. I’m trying to figure out if she’s releasing all her pent up desire to talk or if during that week of silence I had simply forgot how chatty she is.  Anyway, if you have some questions, EMAIL ME!  Now is a great time to get her to talk about almost anything 🙂

Tomorrow she is moving to acute care. We’ll say good bye to some amazing nurses in the ICU who have seen one more broken person leave in a better state.  I wrote earlier how we’d one day be that family who moved out of the ICU with smiles on their faces. Well, our day has arrived.  The ICU bed next to my mom’s is empty tonight. I just wonder for how long.