I stood in the ICU at my mom’s bedside, thinking, “Don’t cry, not now.” I told myself I’d cry later on when I was alone. I didn’t want to disrupt what was already chaos around me by becoming hysterical. I wanted to think clearly about what was going on. And I knew once I started crying, I would not be able to stop.
So I kept swallowing deeply, trying not to cry. My mom was lying in the hospital bed, hooked up to multiple devices. Her eyes were closed tight; she seemed to be in a deep sleep. I had the feeling that she was many miles away from me, but I was standing only inches from her side.
My mom had fallen and within 48 hours a brain injury had erupted deep inside her head that required emergency neurosurgery. Now post-surgery, she was in what the nurses and doctors refer to as a nonresponsive state. Her condition was unclear and her status considered unstable.
The neurosurgical ICU at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston is shaped in an arc, with each patient in a small alcove of her own. Each patient has her own nurse who stays within a few feet of the assigned patient at all times. That day an assortment of doctors, specialists, and family members streamed through the arched pathway, disappearing into the separate alcoves. A sense of urgency hung in the air. It occurred to me that each alcove had not only a patient but also a family and an event that had taken place. Everyone in the ICU has a story, a drama unfolding, and a family ...