Love in the ICU
Submitted by Brynn Knibbe, RN, BSN, CCRN
I had this experience that jarred my soul in such a way as I was never the same after it.
It moved my from my viscera outward and turned my heart inside out. I just haven’t been ready to put it into words. And now as I type I wonder if I’ll ever bring the profoundness of the experience justice. I think it played a big part into me leaving that kind of nursing.
It was too much for me—too much for me to witness as a bystander and vapidly speak as if I had something to offer that would undo the greatest loss they’d have known. I knew he was dead when I came on shift. It was in his dead, glossy eyes that gazed off disconjugately. It was in his fatless face, hollow and sallow.
And after we had made an attempt to get his nutrition going again and I felt the plastic crunch against his nasal cartilage, and he bled and vomited, and it was over. And I looked at Sateen and I told her with tears in my eyes that this was it. This was his expiry. And she nodded with such deliberate strength with a full breath waiting to exhale in her chest. And when he took his last, she collapsed. She screamed the shrieking, helpless scream that escapes in times we are insane and out of our minds and hearts in agony. She crumbled, and I crumbled with her.
My legs, once shaky, were heavy and a phantom part of my body. And someone stronger, or strong, had to pick us both up. And the place from which I was able to muster that reaction was from imagining him there in that bed. What reason would I have to breathe anymore? What joy could I experience without him next to me? And the part of me who doubts my deservingness of this unmovable other half got the righteous justification it temporarily required—this is it.
This was a love I could carry through the ICU—the harshest, most desolate wasteland where minds, bodies and wills go to die. It prompts the ugly, the beautiful, the fight we never thought we had, makes us into cowards and heroes. It’s a love that changes and refines if we are lucky enough to survive it.