What I Thought About in the ICU

I've been looking at a machine like this all week.

I’ve been looking at heart rate machines all week.

Donna had her heart valve replaced on January 21, 2015. As expected (95%), she survived and the operation was successful. She spent four nights in the ICU. Now she is in the step down unit. The next phase is a residential rehab facility, and then home.

The medical staff monitor, poke, stick, and medicate Donna. She is tired and doesn’t believe that this is what a good outcome feels like. Everyone says that she looks great and is doing great. I believe them; she looks good to me.

What do you think about when your partner is in the ICU?

My thoughts were not as deep as I expected. When I look at Donna I feel how much I love her, but I didn’t think about how much I love her while I was there.

I realized I made a mistake waiting by myself while she was in surgery. I’m a quiet person, and I didn’t want to have to chat while I waited. I should have had someone with me just in case something terrible happened. I can’t imagine being alone and getting bad news and then going home by myself. I had offers of company that I rejected. I must learn to accept help.

Some people in the ICU have no family, no friends, no visitors. I am afraid I will end up like that. I know that I am a one man dog, a one femme butch, a one Donna Jamie.

Donna has ten times more friends (real live friends not Facebook friends) than I have.

I hope my presence doesn’t negatively affect Donna’s care. I’m afraid that my butchness and transness might put off some of the staff. She looks normal on her own; I change how people see her. I want them to see what I see.

No matter what the outcome, the perspectives of the patient, the partner, and the doctors are never aligned.

Where are the single stall toilets on this floor? Should I just wander around looking for them or use the women’s and hope no one calls me out? Answer – her floor doesn’t have them, but the cafeteria level does. I find excuses to go there.

Should I tell Donna about the guy who tapped me on the shoulder and said “Buddy, that’s the ladies’ room” or should I just suck it up?

We now have their and her scars on our chests. Mine are horizontal (top surgery) and hers is vertical (open heart surgery). Her scar is going to show when she wears a swimsuit; mine won’t.

What is the right mix of listening, sitting quietly, and reassuring? Who is going to reassure me?

Do the staff think I’m here too much or not enough?

What would I want if Donna and I traded places? We are so different that it doesn’t matter and I can’t use it as a guide. I try to imagine what I would want if I were Donna, but I have never been good at this.

There is a parallel between ABD (all but the dissertation) and being a long-term unmarried couple (ABMC – all but the marriage certificate). A lot of work and very little recognition. I feel that I have to prove my worthiness since I am neither husband nor wife. Except when I introduce myself and explain who I am, the staff ignore me. I think we should get married. Elope. Right now.

I am thankful that Donna is getting good care and is improving daily. I watch the nurses work at keeping Donna alive, and try to keep out of their way. I wish I could crawl into her bed with her. I’m looking forward to her coming home.

25 thoughts on “What I Thought About in the ICU

  1. Mrs Fever

    When you said, “I wish I could crawl into bed with her,” it made me smile.

    My husband had emergency surgery in the summer of 2013. I still had to work while he was in the hospital, but I went there every day, post-surgery, around my work schedule. He spent much of the time sleeping; I spent much of the time thinking the same kinds of thoughts you have been thinking.

    A few days in, he was awake and un-drugged enough to hold a conversation, and he insisted that he was also perfectly capable of holding me.

    So I crawled up into his hospital bed and laid alongside him, careful not to jostle anything.

    We stayed that way for about a half hour, just snuggled up together like we would be if we were at home, rambling about relatively unimportant things, just keeping each other company.

    His IV was set to kick in with pain meds at intervals at that point, and there was also a nurse who came around to check on him. The nurse (male) was startled to find us in bed together (him in his dressing gown under 14 layers of blankets, me in full work regalia, on top of the covers), and he didn’t quite know what to say. Hubby’s narcotics had kicked in right before he nurse’s rounds though, and he looked up at the nurse with a big grin and said something along the lines of, “Look what the kitchen staff brought me for dinner!”

    He doesn’t remember it.

    I doubt the nurse will ever forget. 😉

    I’m glad to hear Donna is doing so well. 🙂 She’ll be home before you know it.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Great story! I am way too bashful to get into bed with her in the hospital, but we did hold hands and kiss, and when she got up to walk we got in a full body hug.
      Interestingly enough they are probably going to discharge her before the weekend, and after talking with the PA, physical therapist, and social worker I think they are going to send her home with me instead of going to rehab (she will get visiting nurses and physical therapy at home). I’m looking forward to having her back.

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  2. Lesboi

    So much food for thought in this post Jamey. I’ve gone through two surgeries with Candace and had good experiences with both hospitals being supportive of our relationship even without the marriage certificate. In one case her family was there to wait with me and the other I chose to be alone. I never gave any thought to what I’d do if there was a bad outcome…maybe because I had her mother on speed dial and knew her wishes well. I totally understand your desire to elope. Maybe you should once she’s well. If nothing else, get your legal stuff in order as a couple if it isn’t already. I’m really glad Donna is healing well, and I continue to send positive energy your way.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I haven’t really had bad experiences, just that staff assume I’m not the key person until I explain otherwise. It is part the queer thing, and part the age difference, and part that we are an odd couple and some people don’t get it until they are hit over the head with it (e.g. we’ve been asked if I’m her nephew…).

      Thanks for the healing energy. She is really doing well and I’m hoping to get her back home soon.

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  3. thatlesbianteacher

    “She looks normal on her own.” I probably read that 10 times. I hate that society has put that thought in your head and it breaks my heart to think of all the BS that kept you from just processing the surgery in a “normal” way. Much love and thoughts your way.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. Donna has total lesbian invisibility without me because she is older (and therefore not considered as a sexual being) and because she is femme in a kind of 60’s earth mother/bohemian style that is not generally associated with lesbians. A butch in the picture changes all that, and occasionally we get the frosty glance or rude comment.
      Overall, the staff at the hospital have been great, and there have only been a couple of bad/awkward blips in our interactions with them. But it does weigh on me.

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  4. accidentallygay

    Much love and thoughts from myself as well.

    Having worked with a lot of medical staff in the past, it is my experience that ICU care is not affected in their performance by social issues. I have seen medical staff in other situations/positions who are cruel, but surgical and ICU personnel are almost always the most professional people I have had to work with. Maybe that is a good side effect with those people usually treating a person like a car in the shop (its about fixing the mechanical problems). It doesn’t mean they approve personally, but generally they can keep it separate.

    I am glad she is healing, and my thoughts are with you.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. The ICU medical staff were very good. There were some miscommunications with administrative staff and they didn’t get me right away when the surgery was over (I had to page the surgeon) and I had to get verified to get into the ICU the first time (although after that they knew who I was and I had unlimited access to Donna).
      She is doing very well and I hope to have her back home soon.

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  5. The Final Rinse

    Well then, time to get married. Hospital experiences are what finally convinced H. and I that we needed to do it.

    Dude, your scars will be showing, because you can now go topless at the beach!
    🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’ve been trying to get her to do it since it became legal in NY. She still thinks marriage is bourgeois decadence, but she might give in after this.
      I’m not sure I’m dudely enough to go topless on a beach (and it might send Donna off the edge again). I’ve been planning on a surf shirt or rash guard or tank kind of thing. I’ve got a couple of good trunks to go with them.

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      1. The Final Rinse

        Some of our friends who used to “sour grapes” about marriage have changed their tune, now that it is really here. Maybe Donna’s view will evolve too.
        I figured that you could use an honorary “dude” after your own surgery. Probably a “bro” would be also be to order. Here it is:
        Hey, bro, take care of yourself.

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  6. SashaQ

    This resonated with me, too – my partner had 10 times as many friends as me, too, but now her friends are my friends, and I’m very lucky to have been so accepted. I was worried about the way I look changing how people saw her, too, but nobody has mentioned anything to me, so I think they just accepted my partner’s awesomeness ♡ and weren’t too surprised by me… 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think the hard part is that some people look at us and can not connect the dots properly. So I am constantly introducing myself as Donna’s partner – although I have been asked if I am her nephew (at least they could tell we were family)!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      They discharged Donna home instead of to rehab because they thought she was well enough to come directly home (we will have visiting nurse and visiting physical therapists). So I get to crawl into bed with her tonight! And we had a home cooked dinner at our own dining table and listened to music together on the couch without any medical staff disturbing us.

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  7. Kris

    So glad Donna is heading home! B is 11 years younger than I am and we often talk about who might leave this earthly shell first – I might be older, but she has many medical problems. We wish to go together, but then some things cannot be planned. Take care.

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  8. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

    Glad to hear Donna’s surgery went well and she is recuperating nicely. I’m sure she’s doing a lot of thinking on her own and who knows, maybe her stance on marriage changed. Hell, if nothing else, point out the tax / survivor benefits of marriage. 😉 Just joking, my gal pal isn’t into the whole marriage thing either. Take care of yourself and Donna. Cheers.

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      1. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

        Haha, just reassure her that you’ll do most of the work. 😉 No seriously, glad she is doing so well. Take care. Cheers.

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  9. UnknownJamie

    I’m just happy she is doing well, I’m happy for your love and commitment, how it carries you both through, and the different strengths you seem to bring to each other. Wishing continuing good fortune with the recovery 🙂

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  10. Pingback: Why I Like Happy Endings | A Boy and Her Dog

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