For the last week, Jae has slowly but steadily improved, then on Friday the nurses started the process of lightening her sedation. The physical therapist came in the afternoon and we sat her up on the side of the bed; she was groggy but definitely conscious and answered my questions and the therapist’s directions perfectly. She let me know that she knows she’s in hospital and that she had an accident. The next day, they continued to reduce her opiate pain medication and turned the ventilator to its lowest setting, so she was breathing for herself with the machine serving only as a backup. I found out that there are several reasons for her breathing difficulties: collapsed lower lobes of both lungs, fluid in the chest cavity and multiple rib fractures. So even though she is breathing for herself, the doctors want to be sure she can sustain that before taking her off of the machine.
She spent most of Saturday asleep, but because of the dramatically-lowered pain medication her sleep was much more natural-looking; she even slightly awakened and yawned several times. But on Sunday, the nurses began to lower her main sedation, Precedex; once it was down to roughly half what she had been on, she began to awaken and was very alert and coherent. Unlike Friday, she did not merely answer questions (with eyeblinks or head shakes) and follow instructions, but also initiated actions on her own; she would make gestures to let me know that she wanted something, then I’d ask her questions until I pinpointed what that was. She asked for hugs and kisses several times, and caressed my arm or hair when I leaned over her. She told me that her ribs were very painful, but not as much as her guts (some of the meds were upsetting her stomach). Later in physical therapy, she stood up with assistance and was able to follow the therapist’s instructions. The ICU doctor said we’d try to remove the breathing tube the next morning, but unfortunately being awake all day tired her out again, and she couldn’t be awakened in time to make the window for testing and removing the tube; it has to be in the morning so she can be observed all day for any issues. When she did awaken later, she was very unhappy about this; she became very grumpy and cried a few times, but we’re going to try again this morning and with any luck, the breathing tube will be out today and she’ll be able to speak and eat normally again. That also means an end to strong sedation and restraints, which should make her happy.
Now, this does raise a new issue that I think it’s very important I bring up: a lot of her friends are going to want to start calling to talk to her, and I don’t blame y’all. But she’s still going to be very tired; she is likely to be awake for only a few hours a day, and she may not really want to talk to anyone during those hours. So please, let her be; her cell phone has been found and I’m getting its broken screen fixed this week, so if she wants to call you she will. If you call and she doesn’t want to talk, I will tell you so, and I’m not going to persuade her or twist her arm to speak to anyone. She still has a long way to go before she’s recovered, and has the right to be as anti-social as she likes during that time.
Note on the picture: Grace took this of Jae on their trip to Sturgis; I asked her if I might use it for this column, and she said yes via eye blinks.