The news from around the world can be overwhelming these days. What we often miss are the stories happening nearby that are not impactful enough for the public to learn about. Nonetheless these private tragedies indelibly touch the lives of the families, neighbors and friends of those who know about them. Such was a situation that I stumbled upon as my husband was recovering in the Cardiac ICU at Methodist Hospital in Houston.
I spent my days with him, often sitting quietly in the background while medical specialists of all sorts hovered over him. He tended to drift off into short moments of sleep when the entourage of doctors and nurses was not poking and prodding and asking questions. I had plenty of time to consider the magnitude of what was happening and to pray for his return to health and for my own strength in caring for him. Those days were a time of quiet contemplation, anxiety, and hope while inner voices, or IVs as a friend calls them, randomly either encouraged or challenged me.
One evening I was feeling a bit overwhelmed when those of us visiting loved ones in the Cardiac ICU were asked to leave for a time while the shift change of nurses and aides took place. I wandered the halls of the enormous hospital for a time and eventually ended up sitting in a quiet corner of a family waiting room just outside the ICU.
I was reading and solving word puzzles on my phone when members of a fairly large family began to arrive and discuss the condition of their own loved one who was also in the Cardiac ICU. I realized almost immediately how dire the man’s situation was and I physically felt the anxiety of his mother and siblings who were discussing what their next moves needed to be. I felt funny listening to such a private conversation but leaving the room would have required to me to excuse myself as I walked past each person in the now very crowded room. I instead sat like a Sphinx trying not do move or look up or make a sound.
Before long the siblings had left to talk in the hallway because their numbers had become too large to cram together in the room. The mother stayed behind leaving me alone with her. As I nervously sat trying to decide what to do, I quietly told the woman that I was sorry that her son was so sick. That’s when she opened her heart to me in a flood of information that was so dire that I could hardly breathe.
Two years before when Covid was devastating the world she had been among the older people receiving the first vaccines. Her son, however, was only forty one so his eligibility for the jab would not come for many months. Nobody worried about him because he was young and healthy and would no doubt make it even if he caught the virus. To everyone’s surprise he got sick and things went terribly wrong almost from the beginning. Covid ravaged his body and he was soon being ventilated in a hospital in San Antonio where it was found that his lungs were so badly damaged that he would need a transplant to survive.
The man was placed on a Life Flight helicopter and sent to Methodist Hospital in Houston when it was learned that they had a twenty eight year old donor who had died. The woman’s son immediately underwent the transplant surgery and received a new heart as well when the doctors realized that his own heart had been as badly damaged by Covid as his lungs had been.
According to the young man’s mother it was a beautiful miracle and the next two years were incredibly happy for the entire family. Even with cautionary warnings from the doctors everyone believed that they would enjoy a long life with their son and brother. Sadly he became quite ill once again several weeks ago, not with Covid, but with signs of some kind of infection that was affecting both his lungs and his heart. He returned to Methodist Hospital once again where attempts to return him to health resumed. After forty days he lay in the Cardiac ICU hooked up to a ventilator while his body was rejecting the transplanted lungs and heart. His kidneys were also failing. Death seemed imminent and yet his mother was convinced that he would rise from the ashes of his body once again because it was Easter weekend. Her faith radiated from her eyes as she told me that she believed with all of her heart that it was not yet time for her son to die.
I saw the mother and her sons and daughters again the following day when I came to sit with my husband. I had brought my ninety four year old father-in-law who struggled to navigate the long walk through the hospital halls to the ICU. I poked my head into the family waiting room and asked how the family was doing. I told them I was praying for their son and brother. They nodded their appreciation but only the mother still seemed hopeful of ulikely miracle for her son. My heart wept for all of them.
The following day my husband was moved to a regular hospital room. I would not see the family again, but I have not been able to forget about them yet and it has been a month since I heard their tragic story. I thought of the serendipity of life and the fact that I and other older people were still rocking along while a once strapping young man may have already died. I felt such sorrow for his mother because every parent knows that losing a child feels like a violation of how things should be. I realized that the family’s story was only one of millions taking place across the world because suffering is as much a part of our human experience as is joy.
Those few days at the hospital affected me with a resolve to live my own life more fully and without the kind of irritations that are so silly and meaningless. We never know really know what lies ahead in the next moment or the next day. Nothing in life is certain.