Life in a Hospital Mirror

I spent many nights at the hospital. I rarely left the room. It was not that I could not, rather it was just easier to stay where I was. To go anywhere required walking down long hallways. I was too tired most of the time to take that walk. I slept in a recliner that turned into a bed. It might sound uncomfortable. At first it was. But the choice between being with my husband or going home and leaving him alone was an easy one, I wanted to stay with him. I tried to avoid the mirror unless I left the room, then I would make sure my hair was combed. No more, no less.

As time went on, my need for sleeping in his room changed. I am not a morning person. We live 30 miles from the hospital. With the hospital being a university hospital, that meant there were teams of doctors that saw my husband. Starting with Fellows from each team coming in around 5 a.m. If I were to know what was happening to my husband, I needed to be there early. Each time he would be admitted, I planned on staying the first night to see the doctors, the second night was because I was too tired to drive home. This tiredness sometimes lasted and I would stay three or four nights, as I tried driving home tired twice and it was not an experience I wanted to repeat. Driving tired must be similar to driving drunk. You do not see well, your reflexes are off, you want to close your eyes. So I chose not to drive, rather to spend as many nights as needed till I was safe to drive home.

The nurses all got to know me. I could easily walk to the linen closet while my husband was being brought from the emergency room to his hospital room. I would grab a pillow that was wrapped in plastic, sheets for the chair, pillowcase, blanket, wash cloths, just about anything I would think I could need. No one questioned me at any time when taking anything out of supply closets. There were no medications in the closets, just supplies. I had become part of the hospital world. It had become my home away from home.

When I talked of the hospital, I always referred to it as our hospital, as though I somehow belonged there, fit in. In a way I did. I would sometimes go to the ICU (which is now called CCU) and sit with family members who were not allowed back with their loved ones for periods of time. It was a routine I knew, though the “no visitors” rarely was put in place with me, I was always allowed to stay there as long as I was quiet. I would try to reassure the family that their loved ones were in good hands. I would try to tell them the ins and outs of being at the hospital, tips for parking, etc. The first time I did this was after a doctor suggested I do it. My husband was not in ICU at the time, rather a step-down room (a regular room, where his next step would be to go home). The doctor felt I had been through a lot and I might be able to help others. He knew me well, he knew my helping others would help me. He was right. It felt good to talk with others, hear their worries, try to give them hope. I continued doing this when I was up to it. I knew all to well the worry of not knowing what was happening, the only thing I knew, that many did not, was while my husband was first in ICU, I knew the doctors. I knew how much they cared for their patients. I knew they were among our countries best doctors. So while I had worried, I also knew he was in good hands. While sitting with others, I found many had never seen a doctor affiliated with the hospital, nor had they ever been to a hospital, yet alone such a large one as this. My husband was usually on the cardiac floor, so it would make sense that many of their loved ones had suffered heart attacks or something else serious with their heart. I never told anyone their loved one would recover, only that they were in good hands and never give up. It was the only truth I could give them.

At the hospital I had a place I went that I called my happy place. I am sure to the people on that floor it was not a happy place. But for me, it was. It was on the top floor, looking out at the beautiful helicopters, the ones that bring life. I watched as organs were being transported to give others a chance to live, while knowing someone was in pain in the hospital about their loved ones death. I also watched as the sick were brought in. That part was not happy, rather I knew whomever was being transported was very ill but were going to be in good hands. They stood a good chance. The skyline was pretty and peaceful. But it was the helicopters that brought me joy. I watched as they went up, I watched as they landed. It was for me a peaceful, comforting place to be. Even when my husband was not in the hospital, if he were at the clinics attached to the hospital, we would sometimes take the long walk to the hospital and elevator up to the roof. There were many peaceful places in this hospital, in the lobby there were fountains, a piano for anyone who wanted to play, at one point there was a harpist that played. Walking in from the outdoors there was a sense of peace.

But my peace was on the top floor. It was there, when everything seemed overwhelming I would leave the room, take the elevator up, sit and look out at all around me. If I felt I was losing patience, I went to the roof. I began to carry my camera with me. I had always taken pictures. Bringing the camera was not initially meant for me to take pictures. The camera had photos on it of maybe a cut or scrape my husband had gotten. It was a way to show the doctors how things had progressed. It was on the roof I decided to start taking pictures again. Never of anyone. If I saw the pilot and nurses carrying the transplant cooler, no pictures were taken. If there was a patient, no pictures. I started taking pictures throughout the whole hospital. My husband was not allowed to leave his room. This was a way to bring pictures of  food in the cafeteria, which was surprisingly better than many restaurants. He would tell me what he wanted from the restaurant for my next trip down. Show him what was going on in the atrium. The long hallways. When I would show someone my photos they were always amazed no one was in any. How did I manage to get pictures without capturing a visitor or patient? I know I would wait till no one was around to snap the photos. But still, it was a busy place. I guess I was just lucky. I would never have taken a photo of anyone. It would be a violation of their privacy at possibly the worst time. I would not want someone to take my picture while I was anywhere in the hospital, so I made sure not to take others.

As time went on, I started sleeping there more often. Not knowing that my husband was getting closer to death. It was my need for sleep. When he was home, I was the only one that cared for him. It was very hard, I would become exhausted, sleep deprived and always worrying. In the hospital, I knew the nurses would care for him. I could get a good night sleep. As well as a good day of sleep. One time my husband was admitted, I slept almost 24 hours. We laughed about it when I commented that the cleaning staff had left a card asking if the room was clean, I had not heard anyone in the room. My husband informed me they cleaned around me, being careful not to wake me. It was the best sleep I had in ages. The chair that had once been uncomfortable became the most comfortable place to sleep.

Now almost 6 months since he died, I have trouble sleeping. I am always tempted to get in the car, drive to the hospital, go to the cardiac unit, find an empty room and curl up in the recliner to sleep. I am sure if I did this everyone there would surely think I was crazy, though some might understand. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who has found a good nights sleep in the hospital and is tempted to do the same. I have not done it, nor will I. For now, on sleepless nights, I go out to the couch and curl up to sleep. Most nights it works and I get a little sleep.