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What It Was Like to Watch My Father Pass Away in the ICU


It was Monday like any other day.

The calls come. First, my cell followed a few seconds later by my husband’s. He has an unfamiliar tone to his voice.

“You need to call your sister.”

I can tell right away when she answers that something is wrong.

“It’s Dad.”

My mind races as I fire off questions at a rapid pace.

My husband enters the bedroom slowly and with caution.

I’m frozen by what I’ve just heard.

We’re a unique family with challenges most families could never understand. I live with Crohn’s disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease) that makes my daily life unpredictable, to say the least, and both our children are autistic, so schedule and routine are a big deal around here. I was about to flip everything upside down.

I call my home health nurse pleading for her to come over right away. “Yes, I know it’s two days early, but I just can’t wait.” I begin to throw random items in a suitcase. Gather my small pharmacy of supplies that keep my body going for the week.

My husband assures me he can handle things and tells me to go.

No one ever imagines heading to see a loved one for the last time.

follows is a week of doctors’ tests… specialists… opinions… second opinions… arguments… tears. Every suggestion brings more questions, more to research, more uncertainty.

The days start to blur together.

You try to keep track of each doctor to speak with. You quickly learn they’re on a schedule all their own. Most figure the notes left behind are enough to satisfy your growing list of questions and concerns.

Dad’s moved again, this time it’s to the ICU. This is an unsettling move. This is a floor where the main objective is to keep people alive. Some people never leave this floor alive.

This becomes the room I hear my father’s voice for the last time.

This is where I watch machines breath for him.

I watch as nurses come in to mange the dozen medications that keep him alive. To silence the alarms that never seem to let up.

The man I once knew is fading. Right in front of my eyes.

It takes a special type of person to work in the ICU.

They’re cornered by family members with desperation in their eyes. They’re tying to track down doctors who don’t give them a quarter of the respect they deserve, all the while providing specialized care. They’re the ultimate multitasking superheroes. They have the biggest impact on how I feel when I hesitantly leave for the night.

The day finally comes when my head tells me it’s time to say goodbye.

But my heart is much harder to convince.

I whisper in his ear: “It’s OK if you have to go, Dad. Go find Mom. You know she’s waiting for you. Tell her I love her and how I think of her still. Don’t forget to tell her I’m married now or about my special little boy.”

Then comes more formalities… more papers to sign. The nurse looks at me warmly. I know that it’s time.

Holding his hand, I feel my tears begin to well. It’s hard to explain all I feel: panic… desperation… a plea it’s not real.

He passes quickly, and then there’s nothing left. It’s hard to explain, but I believe he’d already left.

I sit with him in silence. The world around me keeps moving. Nothing makes sense though.

It was a Monday just like any other.

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Thinkstock photo by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz