For 17 days in autumn, I sat in the waiting room of the surgical ICU at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro while my dad lay in a hospital bed, intubated with a ventilator, a machine breathing for him.
It was a horrible thing to see, my dad swollen with the 20 extra pounds of fluid that surgery pumped in. A medusa of tubes. Machines rigged to his body. He had surgery for a diseased lung on a Tuesday, then another surgery for a blood clot on Wednesday. Twelve days after that, the doctors shocked his heart to correct its irregular rhythm. Then, pneumonia. Just as he started to recover from one thing, something else happened to set him back.
Every day, my mom drove from Asheboro to sit by his bedside. She woke up every morning at 5 a.m., showered, drove the dark highway before the sun came up, and stayed at the hospital until visiting hours ended at 7 p.m.
Clocks are everywhere in the hospital. In my dad’s room on the second floor, a clock was behind the bed, and a clock was in front of the bed. The hospital has 518 patient beds, and each room has at least one clock; many have two. Clocks hang outside each room, too, and on every hall. Clocks are in the half-dozen central waiting rooms. Clocks are in the 16 operating rooms.
I don’t know why there are so many clocks. Anyone who’s been in a hospital knows that time stands still.
Here, everyone is watching a clock, waiting for something. Waiting for news. Waiting for a doctor. Waiting for recovery.
They told my dad, “It’s just going to take time.”
This year, daylight saving time ends on November 6, and all those clocks, the ones beside the 518 beds, the ones in the rooms, in the hallways, in the waiting areas, will automatically adjust back an hour.
Reverting back to standard time in the fall moves an hour of sunlight from the evening to the morning. It means that if my mom is still driving to the hospital each morning, she won’t be in the dark.
This November, a time of thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the smallest things that can make the days easier, that give a little relief. Sunlight in the morning. Clear autumn skies. Hot coffee from a vending machine. Casseroles packed in Tupperware. Strangers who care for people they don’t even know.
On day 17 in the hospital, when I walked into my dad’s room, he had his eyes open. I’ve noticed how much my own dark eyes look just like his. He still had his ventilator, and he couldn’t talk, but he was holding a pen and scrawling notes on a piece of paper: “My throat hurts.” “I wish I could have some water.” “Nose itches.”
I watched my mom rub her thumb across my dad’s nose. A small thing. A little relief.
On day 17, my mom and I were leaving the critical care ward for the evening. My dad lifted his hands, reaching for us. My mom held onto one of his hands; I held onto the other. The nurse stood in the doorway and watched us. “What a sweet family,” she said.
My dad squeezed our fingers tight, closed his eyes and nodded. I felt the wave of peace wash over the three of us.
And time stood still.