Our normal routine was interrupted two weeks ago by my husband’s sudden hospitalization. Our caregiver couldn’t get him to walk after they had lunch at the mall on Monday. He couldn’t reach me on my cell phone so he called 911 and they whisked him to the emergency room. It was an hour later that I noticed four missed calls and then the text that they were at UCLA Hospital. I dashed out of the office and met them in the emergency room.
“He has a high fever and an infection,” the nurse told me as we waited for the doctor. “We have him on antibiotics.” I pressed for more details but I heard the familiar refrain, “You have to wait for the doctor.”
So we waited. My husband was sluggish and napped intermittently as we waited. I read email, checked Facebook and read news clips until the battery ran low on my cell phone and work phone. I rummaged through my purse and jotted thoughts in my pocket notebook. The dinner hour came and went and I told the caregiver to go home.
And still we waited.
At 8, the doctor came and said they didn’t know the source of the infection but he was quite sick and would need to stay for a few days. It was well after 9 by the time he was moved upstairs and settled into a room. I had misgivings leaving him for the night, surrounded by people he didn’t know and not remembering where he was. It was after 10 by the time I got home and even though I was exhausted, I made calls to the boys and sent emails to re-arrange my schedule at work.
By the end of the second day, his coloring returned. Each day he got stronger and his ever ready smile returned. A physical therapist got him up and walking to exercise his muscles. I was much better equipped to sit at his bedside with a bag full of books and magazines. We got used to constant interruptions as they checked his blood pressure and pulse, adjusted the IV and gave him oral medications. We re-educated each new shift on how to communicate and care for him.
He had not been hospitalized since his cardiac arrest and coma 14 years ago. I had forgotten how exhausting it is to be in the hospital, both for the patient and caregiver. After he came home, it took a week to rest and readjust sleep cycles to deal with the fatigue. And it wasn’t just the back and forth to the hospital and work during those four days that took its toll. It was those late evenings when I came home from the hospital, sat on the couch in the living room, and saw his empty chair. I wasn’t used to his absence. Although I travel on my own for work or for pleasure on occasion, he was always home. He was the vitality that made our house a home. The presence of his absence loomed throughout the house.