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If I Could Go Back to the Day I First Saw My Dad in the ICU

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Dad and Me

If I could go back to the day I first saw my dad in the ICU, I would tell myself to breathe.

It’s OK to freak out. Don’t think too far ahead. Think just far enough to have groceries for lunch tomorrow. Today will happen and so will tomorrow. No matter what happens between this tile floor and those fluorescent lights, tomorrow will come. You will survive this. You will.

As crazy as this sounds now, there will be good that comes from this. Your father’s condition may actually bring your family closer together. The terror and sleep deprivation will bring out the honesty between you and your parents. Having to make tough decisions will force you to have conversations you have long avoided. You will not hide behind being nice when there’s no time to shower and you’re spending 14 hours a day at the hospital.

Also, buy an accordion file folder. A big one. You will have tons of papers we will need to keep. Papers describing his condition, copies of bills we can’t pay, descriptions of exercises the physical therapist wants him to do. And actually file the papers. Keep a journal listing all the encounters with all the doctors and the insurance people and the social workers.

In the moment, it will be so easy for you to remember all of the details, but now, nine months later, it’s harder to remember.

You will have lots of conversations with lots of doctors. Record all the conversations with doctors who let you. This was a trick I learned a few weeks in. Use the voice memo app on your phone. That way you can have a record of them for later and you can share the info with Mom when she’s at work.

Catch the doctors every chance you can. Before you leave the hospital at night, ask the nurse what time the attending on duty likes to round. That way you know when you need to get in the next day. If she says they round at 6 a.m., be there at 5:30. If you don’t catch the doctors when they’re rounding, you probably won’t see them all day.

reflectionIf you do, it will not be for a good reason. It probably means Dad is going back into the ICU again. Don’t freak out. OK, freak out if you need to. But know that, no matter how much it hurts to see Dad like that, it will end. It will not be like this forever. And, in the ICU, he’s on so many medicines that he will not remember most of what’s happening anyway. His time there will probably be more traumatic for you than it will be for him.

It will end. Well, not really end. But it will change. He will not be in the hospital forever. One way or another, there will be a day he will leave the hospital.

On that day, you will not be the same woman you were today. On that day, you will be capable of things you cannot even fathom doing today.

You will be stronger and weaker, harder and softer. Things will make you cry that never bothered you before. Things will not faze you that used to stop you in your tracks.

You will be different. You will change. You are not the only one. Everyone changes. Even Dad. Even you.

You will change, but you will not end. And neither will he.

You will survive and you will be happy that you did.

For all of January, The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Originally published: January 22, 2015
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