It was touch and go for the following four weeks, but Ray was buoyed by the very welcomed arrival of our daughter Victoria and my sister Susie. Our daughter soothed me with empowering words and calming strokes. My sister held my hand for hours. Ray tells me that the three of them would retreat from my bedside to cry and to pray and to catch their breaths.
They bunked in to the apartment I’d rented for Ray’s and my planned month in Amsterdam. Heeding the ICU nurses’ advice to take care of their own physical and mental health, Victoria and Susie created outings with Ray, exploring Amsterdam’s iconic canals, splendid parks, diverse restaurants, and many museums.
Victoria pulled us all along, proving her assertion that “I am a grown-up.” Boy, is she ever. From appearing unbidden, to supporting Ray through the weeks of shock, to taking notes and interacting with the medical staff, Victoria is our family hero. [Her ongoing efforts wouldn’t end when she had to return to Florida to begin the final year of her clinical health psychology doctorate: from finances to insurance to getting me into Shands Hospital (where she is an intern), Victoria has not stopped pulling us along.]
Back to the ICU: along with the very supportive staff, Ray, Victoria, and Susie were adopted by a wonderful Turkish family who were watching over the “pater familias “ in the ICU. The mother insisted that Ray share in the dinner they had brought; daughter Yasmin connected easily with Victoria; and we all now have a home in Amsterdam.
A wave of support flooded us from family and friends in Florida, Minnesota, South Dakota, New York, Oregon, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Norway. And elsewhere. The power of prayer reached us from across the globe.
With the initial bleed staunched, the ICU staff kept my body going as the physical challenges multiplied. I was in dialysis when my kidneys were in trouble. My brain became encephalopathic, but neurology determined that I had no permanent impairment. Pulmonary blood clots necessitated other interventions. It was a grim game of medical whack-a-mole. Along the way, the doctors diagnosed me as having Segmental Arterial Mediolysis, an extremely rare disease affecting the walls of my arteries. Consider me now in the evolving case histories.
The nursing staff gave me a journal of notes they wrote to me during my 43 days in the ICU. Here are some entries:
“You lost a lot of muscle strength in the last 3 weeks, but you are working hard to get that back. Keep up the good work!” Rose
“I can see you’re getting better and working hard for it. Keep up the good work and I hope you’ll be home soon.” Kelly
“Your husband and daughter are here every day; they remain strong. You remain positive, that’s your strength. Keep on going and you’ll get back home as soon as possible.” Emma
“It’s amazing how positive you’ve stayed during all the ups and downs you face. You are very motivated to exercise. By now you have come out of your bed twice today and you’ve bicycled in bed. Keep on going and always stay positive!” Yasmine
By the time I was ready to leave the ICU, I had lost 30 pounds and more than half my strength: it’s called “ICU Acquired Weakness.” It was time to graduate to the 7th floor Gastroenterology Unit, where a new team of doctors, nurses, Physiotherapists, and nutritionists would engage me in the challenge of regaining myself. I hated leaving the one-on-one nurse-patient ratio of the ICU, but I knew I was ready.