A well thought out and deep description of how to change or shift a culture would probably lead me into a profound analytical scheme of approaching the culture, slowly submersing yourself into it, getting a feel, with time, for how the others respond to you, and so on. However, my time in the ICU has proven all of that quite wrong. So here’s the backstory:
I went in for surgery on Friday for a second biopsy since the first yielded results that were “indeterminent.” Unfortunately, the risks were a lot higher in this procedure and my lung ended up getting nicked. It started bleeding and then collapsed. So, like a scene out of Grey’s Anatomy, they had to make the call to put a sponge to stop the bleeding in my lung, insert a chest tube, and close me up. This resulted in me waking up in the ICU in an incredible amount of pain and confusion. I had gone from being relatively coherent and mobile to fighting for each painful breath. I couldn’t move without help, I kept discovering more cords and tubes on my body, and my mind had lost relatively all sense of time. The next 24 hours presented to be some of the most difficult I’ve gone through yet. But, since it’s me here, there is hope at the end of this story and it involves the involuntary and unplanned culture shift of the ICU.
So chest tubes suck and losing any dignity you have left in the hospital through a bed bath in the ICU will leave you feeling extremely raw and vulnerable. Quick thank you to all the nurses out there that endlessly serve their hearts out for the hurting and broken. That is Jesus.
I have this game I like to play where I win over every doctor and nurse that attends to me. Sometimes I’ll get this description of, “Oh he’s a little rough around the edges but once you get past the stiff personality he’s a very caring man.” Well, isn’t it obvious? He’s dedicated his life to helping others. Regardless of the layers of “personality” there will always be a strong caring spirit. I seek that out and make it a goal of mine to win them over. It keeps them on their toes and I get to see the doctor look surprised every time I make a joke or comment. Here in the ICU though the nurses provided such a nurturing environment that I felt as if the last bits of my stronghold of self preservation slowly started to crumble. I was literally in my weakest state and they met me there. It wasn’t just their job it was their passion.
So let’s talk about Carter. The third day in the ICU I was feeling much better, had more mobility, and was a lot more coherent. My morning nurse came in and said, “you’ve got a male nurse today. He’s very nice and I think you’ll like him.” In walks a tattooed, bald, strong “murse” (he likes to call himself that because it’s short for male nurse). He walks up to me and says, “Hey kid give me knucks.” I immediately knew we were gonna get along. Throughout the day as I was waiting for surgery Carter would check in on me, ask me to tell him fun stories of my life, then in exchange he would tell me stories. He’s a volunteer firefighter and a straight up BA. He would just sit at the side of my bed and talk. We talked about adventures I went on, where I want to go and what I want to do, and we spent a lot of time talking about food. I couldn’t eat all day in preparation of the surgery so instead we would talk about what meals I would want once I get out of here. We talked about steak a lot.
Then this amazing moment happened. I thought I was about to go into surgery again. The doctor had come in and told us about more of the risks. One possibly being a thoracotomy which is basically opening my chest in a pretty extensive way to get access to bleeding and such if things weren’t cooperating. I really don’t want a thoracotomy. I was feelin a little scared this time, not gonna lie. Waking up from my chest tube surgery really shook me up. I went from being self sufficient (which is one of my favorite things to be) to waking up with no choice but to fully rely on strangers and others. While in extreme pain. And nothing was going to change. It wasn’t a choice it was just a really tough circumstance.
It was as if the Lord saw me in my doubts and weakness and sent an army to my room. No joke, as the surgeon is still in the room discussing possible scenarios, Dr. White and his wife walk in talking about Jesus calling and encouraging me right where I needed it, followed by their doctor friend and prayer partner (see told you I get in good with the doctors), my aunt and cousin who inspired me and told me to keep thinking creatively about the brand I want to design, AND a close family friend who brought in a slim jim and related it to my perseverance and character. It was if the Light had flooded directly into that room and I promise it was physically brighter. All this was happening as Carter was trying to change a bloody bandage that had gotten pretty gnarly on my hand and it looked like a scene from a movie. It was all quite perfect. Dr. White has a way of speaking to your spirit in such a direct way that it’s like what was once a little lost and confused looking around in the shadows now perked up, realigned focus, and continued on toward the Truth.
The rest of the day was just unreal. Yes, I may have spent a lot of it taking naps and watching daytime TV but there was something different within the atmosphere of the ICU. My family reminisced on the time when we said our last goodbyes to my dear cousin so many years ago in the same ICU, we told different stories and memories, and watched as many who came in breathed their last with their own family surrounding them. It was if time was standing still and I was put in this opportunity to catch a glimpse of how unpredictable and wild life really is. I think shifting the culture or atmosphere of a place requires the changing of perspective. You no longer have an inward focus but everything is determined by how you can react, respond, and love outwardly.
You see, it wouldn’t have worked the same if I went into the ICU as some polished evangelist with all good intentions and a lovely speech. It required me to be thrown into an unexpected and uncomfortable place where the beauty of the soul that my God created would shine. My hair is dirty, I’ve got tubes everywhere, and I’m helpless but yet everyone who came today made the same comment, “She looks really great!”
This isn’t some beauty competition I’m trying to win points for or flattery I’m trying to achieve but it is a simple truth. Once the spirit the Lord made for me was able to shine without hindrance it shifted the culture of a relatively scary place. It brightened rooms, lifted perspectives, and reflected my
Jesus. I was being loved on so well by the ones surrounding me that my soul’s natural reaction was to furiously love in return. I think that is in everyone. Even the tall, “stiff” surgeons that walk these halls everyday saving vital lives. Even the sweet janitors who mop my room (one of my favorite things cause germs). Even you, my friend. We love and live to love furiously.
It’s 4 AM and I’m sitting in my ICU room in the dark smiling cause I know what you are capable of. The love you have within you that is hoping for a chance to show everyone what it’s made of. The life within you that might need a little water and sunlight but wants to grow deep roots and strong stems. The beauty within you waiting to be released into the world rather than be diminished by petty standards of normalcy, political correctness, or cautious limitations.
Choose joy and for goodness sake choose good food. This is what I’m thinking after several days of surgery diet. Take every moment captive. Go and do that thing you enjoy. Spend time with your family and loved ones. Grow in relationship and character. Do something that challenges you. Allow the difference to be made through you. We don’t have to strive or put on masks for it to happen.
When I leave the hospital you will find me taking a road trip with my family to a natural springs mineral bath place, eating a really good meal, and probably drinking a fancy latte with my favorite chocolate. Chest tubes aren’t forever, my friends, but those dreams of yours will last a lifetime.