Friday felt like what I’ll call an emotional hangover. It was around 2 AM before I finally closed me eyes and nodded off a bit, on the promise from our super sweet nurse Cici that she’d wake me if anything happened. After the emotional roller coaster of having the kids at the hospital and those deep, painful, necessary conversations, I was s.p.e.n.t. Our pastor and his wife came by the hospital late that night and talked with me and prayed over Corey, and it was healing and hopeful and hard all at the same time. Somewhere in the late night/early morning hours, his numbers steadily began dropping and both Cici and I were watching them like a hawk. They leveled out and after a bit I finally allowed myself to nod off for a couple hours.
Friday morning his numbers were still looking relatively good and they decided to do a breathing trial. They began by weaning his sedation and when they were ready, the Respiratory Therapist came in and turned the oxygen down, and then off, leaving him to breathe on his own. He was doing pretty well until about the 30 minute mark, when he went several seconds without taking a breath (which, of course, seemed like an eternity to me). His heart rate started to accelerate and some other numbers started jumping around so they turned the sedative back up and got him breathing comfortably again. His nurse did decrease one of the sedatives by more than half and said that would, hopefully, make the next “wake up” go a little more smoothly. His fever started to climb a bit again Friday evening but overall it was an improvement over Thursday. I dunno, maybe Corey doesn’t like Thursdays. The past two have been the worst parts of this whole trial, the two nights where I genuinely questioned whether he’d make it through the night.
I’m not typically a napper but I felt like I spent the bulk of Friday napping in the recliner in Corey’s ICU room. This is where that “emotional hangover” comes in. I’d love to say that I woke up (after what really amounted to a couple-hour nap) and looked at his numbers and was flooded with relief and joy that they remained stable throughout the night. The truth is though, I was just s.p.e.n.t. My eyes felt like I’d dripped hot sauce into them instead of eye drops and I felt like I could hardly put a coherent sentence together, in my own head, let alone in conversation with anyone else. I turned the lights down low in the room, drew the curtain almost completely closed, turned my ringer off and, for once, was thankful for the gray, gloomy day as I pulled up a blanket and drifted in and out of consciousness all day. I woke up in the late afternoon to texts from two friends who had been at the hospital but I’d missed during my siesta, and one of our pastors came by first thing Saturday morning and said he’d stopped by Friday but peeked in and saw me sleeping so he slipped away and prayed for us in the hall on his way out. I let an amazing friend pick up dinner and bring it to the hospital and ended the day feeling more rested and completely loved.
I know I’ve said it before but the way people have rallied around us is the way the church is supposed to operate and is the very best of humanity on full display. It is a beautiful and powerful and humbling thing to witness and be a part of.
Saturday morning Corey was still running a low-grade fever but his other numbers were good. His white blood cell count was up (which is a good thing), his lungs sounded good and they definitely wanted to get another breathing trial under way. After turning his sedation way down again, Crystal, the Respiratory Therapist on duty today, turned his oxygen off and we watched him breathe on his own again. 30 minutes came and went and he was still going strong. Pastor John, one of our pastors and a dear friend, came by and prayed over him and shared in the excitement that he was breathing on his own. John’s brother-in-law has the same kind of cancer as Corey so he and his wife have become not only sources of encouragement and wisdom throughout the past year, but dear friends. A couple hours into the breathing trial, Pastor Rob, our lead pastor, came by and was incredibly excited and moved at the difference in Corey since they’d visited us late Thursday night. We both kind of marveled at the improvement he’d made over the past 36 hours and, again, he prayed with us and celebrated a good day. At 3 hours in, Coreys parents and brother arrived and we celebrated a bit more. The breathing trial ended at 3 hours and 40 minutes when he started showing some agitation and his numbers started jumping around again and they needed to turn the sedation back up. They changed up the sedation routine later in the day so what he’s on now will allow him to drift in and out more naturally and more easily.
Crystal, the RT I mentioned above was on duty the night Corey came to the ICU and began crashing and was the one who, ultimately, had to intubate him. She has been a big part of this process and told me today that this one is personal. She wants to be the one to extubate him and see him able to breathe on his own and fully recover from this crazy thing. Everyone in the ICU loves Corey – even though he’s in a coma! Maybe it’s late and I’m tired but this is making me laugh – like I-gotta-pee laugh – so hard right now! The effect this guy has on people is something else. Everyone we’ve had at one stage or another of this process comes in to check on him when they’re here but assigned to other parts of the ICU. Kevin, a nurse we had for 3 or 4 days earlier this week (and looks just like Richard Dreyfus) came in 3 times today and remarked, “Man! This guy is taking in massive amounts of air! Way to go!” Valerie, one of the nursing supervisors brings me coffee that’s mixed just right and offers smiles, words of encouragement, hugs, whatever I need. Blake came by one night with water and said, “You’re not drinking enough” so now they keep my ice water and hot water supplied regularly. Cici even brought me a slice of cheesecake at midnight the other night for my birthday. Again, the best of humanity on full display.
There are two parts to having Corey extubated. One is, obviously, his lungs need to be healthy and he needs to be able to breathe on his own. Today went a long way in showing that he’s at that point, or close to it. The other is that he needs to wake up and know that he’s breathing on his own. The tapering down and changing of the sedatives today took a step in the right direction on that front too. They had him on massive amounts of very heavy drugs for a lot of days. Today is day 10 in the ICU and he’s spent 8 1/2 of those in a medically induced coma. It will take a few days for those drugs to make their way through his system and for the brain fog to clear. My big prayer right now is that tomorrow he’s able to open his eyes and that we begin to see some significant mental clarity.
When my sister was leaving to go back home earlier this week, she said something to me that I wrote down on the door in Corey’s room. They have this cool, dry-erase door they allow us to write notes to him on and I put this reminder at the top: “Recovery is not linear.”
Our expectation may be a steadily upward trajectory, but the reality more closely resembles the flight of the bumblebee. That’s what the past 48 hours have looked like and boy, has it been physically and emotionally exhausting. Thank God for HOPE though, and for awesome people and for a really good day with a lot of forward progress. Here’s hoping (praying) for an even better day tomorrow!