21 days in ICU: a journey on sacred ground – Day 5 in ICU

The first night mom was in ICU she was in a “state of delirium.” She could answer questions like “do you know where you are?” and “What is your name?” But She didn’t understand why she was in ICU, didn’t understand they had used the paddles on her chest 3 times in attempt to regulate her heart beat, didn’t understand why I wouldn’t help her get out of there and didn’t understand why she had to have all that shit on her- all the IVs, the blood pressure cuff, the tube in her nose. She hated that shit on her and was constantly trying to pull it all out.

She was still in so much pain from the constipation and was being treated with very small doses of morphine which made her very drowsy (and also contributed to the constipation). When she wasn’t sleeping she was either yelling or crying out in pain,

“Oh help me!” “Please, please help me!”

Or she was plotting her escape. A CNA was by her bedside 24hours a day because she would try to pull out her IVs and get out of bed. Mind you, her left ankle was still recovering and she was to be “non weight baring.” She was crafty and even described as “spry” by the nurses and CNAs. She’d developed a plan where she’d request a bedpan which the nurses were very excited to accommodate because we all knew if she could just poop she’d feel so much better. Except that mom didn’t really need poop. Her plot was to request a bed pan and then when the CNA and nurse would assist her to get on the bedpan she would wrap her hands around their arms and try to use them as leverage to lift herself up and then angle herself toward the bedside. An attempt to somehow, using only her arm strength, propel herself over the rail of the bed and then…..run? It’s hard to say what mom’s master plan was but it was clear that she was determined to get the fuck out of there.

At times the pain was so intense she’d cry out things like

“let me die quick….oh god…..oh god…..this isn’t me……let me go…..”

Even though my mom was so frustrated and unclear on what was happening she remained her sweet self. Every nurse or hospital staff that came into contact with my mom commented on what a sweet person she was. I remember one of the times she asked me to help get her out of there. I said,

“Mom, if I thought that was best, I’d be the first one to help you bust out of here.”

She replied with an abrupt

“Oh fuck you,” then quickly recanted with

“No, you’re sweet.”

I’m not sure she knew who I was at that time, but she knew who she was.

There were times when mom was “awake” but more peaceful. She’d hold her left hand up with her palm facing her and using her right hand, she’d poke at her palm with her pointer finger, as though she was feeling the texture of her palm, taking in the firmness and intricacy of each line. I thought maybe she was in a morphine haze and was perhaps “tripping” out on how her own hand felt. Or maybe the lines on her hand were moving? I said quietly to her,

“That’s a trip huh mom?”

She smirked and quietly responded,


Then a few moments later she said,

“You know what, I think my phone is dead,”

and she carefully tucked her “phone” in her bed beside her.

She’d pull her “phone” out now and again – poking at it with her right pointer finger. It seemed to bring her peace and comfort. I reflected on the comfort her palm/phone provided her. What was she typing? Who was she texting?

Mom became more and more sick over the next two days. Within 48 hours she was sleeping most of the time. No more strength to yell or cry or try to escape. Other complications had arisen- her heart rate and blood pressure were irregular. She was retaining so much fluid she was almost unrecognizable, an infection had been confirmed and she was now on a ventilator to support her breathing.

My mom laid there, eyes closed, unable to rouse, with her belly more distended every day and her skin stretched so tight from fluid that it was tearing in small sections all over her body. Like little paper cuts everywhere – and so, she “seeped.”

Meanwhile, she was still so constipated. They tried everything to relieve her. They pushed laxatives and mineral oil directly into her belly, they gave IV medications and so many enemas. Nothing worked. They did scans of her belly that showed nothing but blockage. They did scans of her head too because the delirium was extreme and they were concerned that perhaps she had experienced a stroke. Scans showed nothing.

Finally, after 5 days in ICU they did a second scan of her abdomen, this time using a dye that would create contrasted imaging. The contrast illuminated new information and now it was clear: mom had two perforations in her colon.

Emergency Surgery.