“Waiting”

“Waiting,” by guest writer Art Stump

I sit beside the bed holding her hand as she lies still. A ventilator gives her breath, a monitor silently displays her heartbeat. We’ve been left here alone.

All the commotion and confusion has stopped. The machines have been muted. There’s no more rush to save, no more race to stop time. No more adrenaline. No more reviving.

Just waiting.

I cheer her on even though I don’t know if she can hear me.

“You can do it. You can beat this. We can walk out of here. You’re strong. I love you. The girls love you. We need you. Keep that heart beating. Come on. You can do it.”

I refuse to let her know how hopeless I feel, trapped on this day’s wild ride, powerless to make it stop. It’s quiet in this room but the noise inside my head is piercing. I can’t see. I can’t make out the shapes. Is her heart beating faster? My heart is pounding.

I can’t breathe. I move my head from side to side, then open and close my eyes slowly, then quickly, then close them again as tightly as I can. There’s a blur.

The monitor. She’s okay.

I clutch her hand tighter and send more rallying cries.

“You can do it. Don’t give up. We need you.”

Early this morning she woke me up saying, “I think I need to go to the emergency room.” She had been restless and unsettled all night, coughing in fits, struggling to catch her breath. As she stood there dressed and ready to go, I felt caught in the middle of a half-awake dream. On our way to the hospital, I questioned to myself whether it was necessary. It seemed so routine. We would be home in a few hours and life would go on. Only a small disruption in the weekend.

But then suddenly she seemed to be tumbling downhill like a speeding skier falling off the side of a mountain out of control. All I could do was try to smile, keeping positive and hopeful. Now, thinking back, I realize she knew. And she was scared. I don’t know that I ever got scared. It all happened so fast.

Four statements burst into me like rapid rounds of machine-gun fire.

“You need to prepare yourself for the worst.”

“We’re sending her to another hospital by helicopter.”

“We made it here and she’s stable.”

“She has a 10% chance of surviving.”

These words—spoken by three different doctors over the course of several hours—are cascading into my mind all at once. Time has stopped.

I see the monitor flutter and the line goes straight.

“Come on. Don’t give up. You’re strong. You can do it!”

Numbers are back, the lines are jumping again. She’s okay.

Everything that has happened all day slowly gathers inside me. Words spoken and not spoken. Fears. Doubts. Phone calls. Prayers. Hope. I’m still cheering her on, but I’m watching it all happen. Two minutes play out like two lifetimes.

The monitor stops again.

And then a grenade explodes in my heart, triggering a silent scream of pain. A scream no one will ever hear, yet so loud it will drown out everything around me for a long, long time.

 

My thanks to Art Stump for submitting this moving reflection about the sudden loss of his wife, Lee Ann, to this blog. Art is a friend I met through church, where he plays keyboards in the worship band and hosts a podcast with our pastor. He is a loss prevention manager for a national chain that sells small appliances.

Image: Creative Commons, from Scott Mac Entee

©2019 by Charles Strohmer

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