March 31st, 2016. A day after Jim’s accident.
From the moment Jim’s accident happened he was unable to breathe. Initially on the beach and in the ambulance he was manually “bagged” for his breaths. But as soon as we arrived in Emergency, he was intubated and put on a ventilator. Although his injury was critical (C-4 complete spinal injury) he was completely mentally alert except for when he was sleeping. And of course, being Jim, he wanted to communicate and talk to me.
On the second morning in Wailuku ICU (intensive care unit) Jim was desperate to communicate something to me. I was equally desperate to understand what he was worried about in order to bring him some comfort. However, all of our attempts were failing miserably. All I could hear was : “ooohhhhhahhhhh”. Over and over, he continued this moan “ooohhhhhaahhhh”. I tried to explain to him that he had to stop this as his efforts were injuring his throat where the breathing tube was inserted, as well as preventing the ventilator from delivering the breaths. But he continued: “ oooohhhhhahhh”. Even his eyes and eyebrows were trying to somehow convery the message. I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I started to cry. Conscious that this could be even more distressing to Jim, I went and sat by the window so that Jim couldn’t see my tears; even though I was pretty sure he knew I was crying. At that moment the nurse walked in and said: “Hey what’s going on here?”
ME: “He’s trying to talk and say something important but I just can’t get it”
NURSE: “No problem, leave it to me…. “ So the nurse proceeds with her normal inventory of questions.
NURSE: “Are you in pain?, Do you know where you are?, Do you want to change positions….etc, etc”
After everyone of those questions, Jim would reply “ooooohhhhhaaahhh”.
Seeing how desperate he was to communicate this cryptic message, the nurse conceded and said:
NURSE: “ok, here is what we are going to do. We are going to go through the alphabet and you can blink at the right letter. We’ll do that till we figure out the word. Ready?”
JIM: *nodding enthusiastically and eyes bright and ready for the task*
NURSE: “here we go…. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I……” after each letter she waits expectedly almost willing him to blink at any moment…. But he just stares at her and with his eyes shining bright pushing her to go on.
NURSE: “ok, ok….J,K,L,M,N,O,P” slowing down even more “Q,R,S….” and then she comes to a dead stop, puts her hands on her hips and says:
NURSE: “Are you shi….ng me????” (this coming out of a nurse talking to a critically injured client in the ICU makes us all pay attention)
Jim’s eyes are now in full panic mode. His eyes are fixed on her begging her to go on. It’s like they are saying:
JIM’S EYES: “Don’t stop now!!!!!, we are so close!”
NURSE: “You sure? Really?”
JIM: “enthusiastic nod” (which translates on his face as his eyebrows bobbing wildly up and down”
NURSE: “ok, T,U,V,W(slower and slower), X, Y….”
Bingo!, Jim’s eyes light up and he is now blinking like a mad man.
NURSE:”Y…. the letter is Y…..”
JIM: *nodding ascension*
NURSE: “why are you here?”
JIM:shaking his eyebrows up and down trying to say: “ NO!!!!! Keep spelling!!!!!!”
NURSE: “OK,…. here we go, A,B,C…” and she stops again.
NURSE (looking straight into Jim’s eyes): “Am I starting at the beginning of the alphabet?”
JIM: shaking his eyebrows “NO”
NURSE: “the middle?”
JIM: shaking his eyebrows “NO”
NURSE: “Ok then, we start near the end of the alphabet…..M,N,O”….
JIM: *blinking wildly*
NURSE: “Y,O,??????????” “Are you sure?”
Now all of this time I am embarrassed to say that I was so overwhelmed with the situation that I just mostly sat by the window and cried. The nurse’s voice rambling on to Jim and the noise of Jim’s ventilator being registered by my foggy brain as mostly just background noise. Had I been paying any attention at all, I might have been able to help Jim at this point. But the fact of the story is that I wasn’t.
So the nurse went on to figure out the next two letters in the same manner and she exclaimed,
NURSE: “YOGA????? the word is YOGA???????”
Jim’s face now projecting a happy smile of success.
NURSE: “YOGA?…. “
And that is when I finally woke up from my daze by the window as the word slowly made it’s way through to the auditory part of my brain….and I went from crying to laughing.
The nurse who was looking more confused by the second at this sudden turn of events, “I don’t get it, does he do yoga????”
Now I just laughed harder and Jim’s face and eyes just smiled harder too.
ME: “No, he doesn’t do yoga. I drag him to yoga…. I do yoga and he knows yoga is my thing and is what keeps me grounded in stressful situations…”
NURSE: “Ok (looking at Jim). YOGA, the word is YOGA. You want your (turning towards me) wife to go to yoga because…….You are worried about her?????”
JIM: “Happy face, relaxed expression, finally!!!! You got it”
NURSE: “Oh my god that’s the sweetest thing”
Me:”Yes it is, yes it is…”