I wonder what happened to them, the people we met along the way, the sick, the broken, the injured we came to know on our journeys through hospitals, ICUs and rehab units. I wonder who survived; I wonder who found a way to thrive.
I don’t know that I have ever experienced the same intensity of emotions, good and bad, during our time in hospitals, ICUs and rehab. You experience the joy of survival and the abject fear of the unknown with complete strangers surrounding you. You see others experiencing the same thing and you come to understand you are the stranger watching people in very intimate personal times.
The ICU at Parkland Hospital was a desperate place filled with desperately ill people and desperate people who loved them. At Parkland ICU there were no walls, only curtains separating all of the patients and their visitors.
Because I was there a lot and there was not much privacy I watched a lot of patients and their people come and go. I saw them bring in a young man, about 16 or 17, his mother by his side. He was from a small community north of Dallas and had apparently run his motorcycle into a culvert and suffered major trauma to his body and his brain.
I watched as his mother and father along with friends come and talk to the unconscious young man. The men were all in the National Guard and I assumed they must have had medical training because they were working with the young man, working his legs and his arms talking to the comatose young man, encouraging him to keep functioning. The father was destined to be shipped out for Iraq in about a week, this was 2005.
While I was completely consumed by my own fear and grief I couldn’t help but feel for the poor mother who was dealing with the catastrophic injuries to her son while waiting for her husband, her partner, to be sent to a war zone.
I wonder what happened to the kid.
The Zale-Lipshy ICU was much better. There was a real waiting room and real ICU rooms where you could ignore visiting hours if you were quiet and kept a low profile. I met the mother of a young man who had been a football player from Texas Tech University, my alma mater. The kid had been on scholarship and took a hit the wrong way and broke his neck.
The young man had been paralyzed for years and he and his mom were veterans of ICUs and the illnesses associated with paralysis. Their story gave me a little hope and a lot of fear about the future for Marty and me. I could not see me ever doing what this woman was doing, certainly not with the calm and grace she had.
I know what happened with this young man. He died about three years later.
Marty went to Pate Rehab in Dallas four months after her second stroke. At this rehab the clients lived in apartments and were trucked into the rehab facility daily. Marty and I stayed with two men, Max, who was a fairly young man that had lost use of his left hand and leg due to a stroke and Campbell, a really sweet middle aged bald fellow who had also had a stroke and was prone to crying. Both were confined to wheel chairs but much further along than Marty.
I kept in touch with Campbell’s wife for a while after we left and I know he eventually got to go home. I’m not sure how he progressed after that or if he ever got out of his wheelchair. Max went home and I assumed because he was young had a good chance for recovery. I got word from Campbell’s wife that he passed away not long after he went home.
Then there was the young woman who died in the ICU at Providence Hospital immediately after child birth. She was fairly well known in the community and there were a lot of people around the ICU waiting room following her progress. I don’t know the details; I can’t imagine how devastating it must have been to lose someone on such an amazing occasion.
I wonder how her husband and child are today.
We saw countless people, husbands, old men, coming and sitting with their injured or ill wives night and day. We saw mothers caring for children and caring for aging parents. We saw life, the beginning, the middle and for some, the end, the dirty hard end, the real journey of life.
Life can be, life is, amazing. It can be singing at the top of lungs jumping up and down dancing joyous. I like that part.
It will also be dirty, down in the mud, broken, bloody, misery at times. Real living is both. It helps when you are looking at your journey to remember and you remember the people who have been on the trail with you and have touched you in some way.
I remember all of their faces; I hope they all have found peace.