Hey, This Alarm is Beeping!

pic of stats screen

During the weeks of the HospitalStay my sister and I became number watchers.  We obsessed over heartrate and blood pressure and Mama’s temperature.  For some reason, somebody decided that the Metric system would be a good thing to use, so her temp always registered on the Celsius scale.  I finally looked up and found a converter app for my phone and, from then on, I would announce what her temp was on the Fahrenheit scale.  On a regular basis.

It got to the point that Dr. C, who was filling in for Mama’s surgeon, replied, when I asked what number he was looking for on the respiratory screen to indicate improvement, “I’m not going to tell you.  Because then you’ll be looking for that number all the time.  And there are other things to factor in.”  Yeah, it seems he had MY number.  He was right.  There were times I thought if I stared at the numbers hard enough, I could bring her blood pressure up or down, or that I could will her temperature to return to normal 1/10 of a point at a time.

And then there was the beeping.  Oh, that infernal beeping.  After a couple of days we learned the difference between the “hey, the medicine has almost run out over here” and the “heart rate is excessively high” or “O2 levels are dropping.”  For sanity’s sake, this was good knowledge to have.

We had really good nurses and techs for the most part, and they were so kind.  The respiratory therapists were great as well, and they were willing to share and answer questions.  I appreciate them so much.  But as is usually the case, there’s one in every bunch.  I particularly remember a late afternoon in the STINKU (sorry, STICU) when Mama’s O2 levels were dropping, the alarm was sounding, and I could actually hear sounds that were distressing.  I went to her door and stood, hoping someone would hear the beeping if I opened the door.  When that didn’t happen, I started staring people down.  Finally the two RT’s who were having a pleasant conversation with someone behind the desk looked up.  “Did you need something?”

(Hold up.  Okay.  Doesn’t that just make you mad?  Not “do you need something?” or “can I help you?” but DID–it just feels so condescending…..and unfortunately this is not the only time I was asked if I did need something.  Maybe it was in the delivery.  Okay, rant over.  Thank you.)

Yes, yes I did and I still DO need something.  I pointed out the incessant beeping, the numbers dropping, and the sound.  “Oh well she probably just needs suctioning.”  And yes, that helped tremendously.  But how long would Mama have gone without relief if I hadn’t been there to stare someone in?  So frustrating, especially since we were only allowed to be with her a few hours a day.

Another time during our stay with the CVICU, the IV alarm started going off.  The meds were low.  No one came in for a few minutes, and then our favorite nurse walked in. “Y’all I am so sorry.  I was in with my other patient with an emergency.  I apologize, I know this sound has got to be making you crazy.”  She went on to say that working there, you pretty much get used to the beeps.

I guess you do, as I heard them whenever I closed my eyes for days after we left the hospital for the last time.

I was thinking the other day about those beeps, those alarms.  I think we all get used to them.  Oh not that incessant chiming of the whirring machinery in the Intensive Care Units or Emergency Rooms.  But the beeps, the alerts that we should be hearing from one another.  Sometimes I think we get so busy, too busy, that we don’t take time to hear what others are saying.  Or feeling.  Oh sure, we ask folks how they are doing, and we usually get the obligatory “fine, and you?” but we don’t often go beyond that.

I just finished reading The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge.  (Yes, you should read it, thank you for asking.)  A really good book.  And actually quite an impressive one, considering my lack of focus.  I haven’t been able to “sit through” a whole book in several months.

Until now.  In her memoir, Ms. Thebarge meets a Somalian family in a chance encounter and realizes that these girls and their mother seem to be invisible to all around.  Just as she herself felt invisible at times.

How often do we go about our days, focused on the to-do list or the activities du jour and fail to make eye contact, to hear what those around us are really saying?  How many “alarms” have we not responded to?  And how often is someone suffering quietly because we are not listening?  Or seeing?  I am sad when I realize that I am guilty of this.  All too often I don’t make time, take time–I am not interruptible enough in my comings and goings.

I had a conversation with someone the other day about what it all boils down to.  Relationships.  We want to matter to someone.  We want someone to care when our alarms are beeping, be it ever so quiet.  We want to be known and treasured.  Not much to ask, huh?

Here’s link to a shorter version than what I shared before of Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministry sharing what that kind of relationship looks like:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hddnX_t5lRs

There are folks all around us whose alarms are quietly beeping, who are in need of attention or some love or just someone to sit with them where they are.  They are looking for a friend.

Tonight I am thankful for people like Sarah Thebarge and Hugh Hollowell who see and who are friends of those who could really use one.  I give thanks for the ones who have heard my alarm going off and who have sat with me.  What a beautiful message we can give to one another, “You are not invisible or silent.  You matter.  I hear you.  I see you.”  Let us make it so.

pic of i see you

4 thoughts on “Hey, This Alarm is Beeping!

  1. Oh, the beeping. It’s been 8 years since I sat in the hospital with Richard and listened to that do do da do da da dooooo of the IV med pump. And I work in a hospital, so every now and then I have to go up around the sick people and smell Purell and hear those beeps and I want to lock myself in a closet and cry.

    • Oh Ashley. My heart breaks for you. It was the day after Mama passed that I had to go to our cousin’s hospital in town and sign papers for her hip surgery. While I was there someone down the hall had an emergency, beeps and whistles going off, people running. I went into panic mode, and since our cousin was sleeping, I texted my sister and asked permission to leave. (Don’t ask me why.) I found the reserves to stay with her the last 24 hours she was with us that next weekend, but now I don’t know if I could do it. I wish for you a closet close by when you do have to go up there. Oh, yes, the smell of Purell. And the sound of codes being called out over the intercom. I found the music that signalled a newborn incongruous and precious to where we were at on our journey. Thanks for reading and for sharing.

      • I got to press the button when Kurt was born. And a few notes of a sweet melody played all over the hospital. And exactly six years later I sat in a room on the fourth floor of the same hospital saying goodbye to the woman who gave me life. Someone has a crazy sense of timing. Or not.
        But yes, it is precious and joyful.

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