TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2010 11:17 AM, CDT
Right Choice #3
Johannesburg Four-Way Hospital’s ICU is cold. And then it is hot. Sweat runs down my face but the nurse confirms in broken English that it is not a fever, but the hospital’s furnace causing my chills. In the eerie gray light, sounds filter through as if from a horror movie. Across the open gymnasium a woman yells with delirium. “Noooooo,” she wails. ”Don’t touch me.” Though her shrieks don’t sound English. Diagonally across, a bed seems to vibrate from the loud snores an old man is emitting. Beside me a woman, trapped in two full leg casts, wheezes slightly.
My mental haze shadows the rounded features of the matronly woman standing post at the foot of my bed. A large draft table holds what must be my medical charts. She looks to my charts, my face, then off to another patient. It is too dark to see her face, but I feel her warmth, and the warmth soothes me back to sleep in spite of the cacophony of night noises.
It is bright the next thing I know. Metallic sounds of medical equipment ring out yet I feel surrounded by love and compassion. Morning has come to the ICU. Phillip is standing there next to me, along with my colleagues. My son touches my shoulder. He looks far too worried, and far to mature for a teenager.
“We brought your suitcases, Mom, but they say you aren’t allowed to have them here at the hospital.” Cobwebs, my mind is full of cobwebs. “I don’t think I should leave you here all alone, Mom.” Breathe. I must breathe and be calm.
I have a choice to make. It is an important choice. And once I make my decision, the outcome is impossible to change. Phillip and the rest of the group are to head off to Kruger National Park that very morning. Thirty-nine students have packed up their belongings and loaded the bus, ready to leave for a Kruger National Park Safari. My belongings had been packed up as well. Now Phillip needed to know – should he stay with me in Johannesburgh, or join the group on safari.
“Go on safari, Phil.” I remember saying this confidently, boldly even. Though I didn’t feel that confidence in my heart. I would be alone in this hospital, alone with the scary night noises and the hot and cold furnace. No personal belongings were allowed in ICU – barely a phone call, there was no connection to the outside world that I could control. And yet, there was nothing that Phil could do for me – even if he stayed. Even if he wanted to, the ICU rules didn’t allow it. And so I smiled bravely and told him to enjoy his time in the bush.
Our eyes locked as he walked out of the cavernous ICU. His warm eyes stayed in my focus as the nurses came to draw more blood, to give me medicine that would provide relief from the fear and pain that shot through my body. It was hard to choose to stay alone. Harder than I let on to anyone. But it was the right choice.