Beneath the Ventilator

As the woman lay flaccid she barely felt the tube placed into her airway, emergency treatment to correct her failed breathing. Her body raged with pneumonia and infection, her temperature high, her fluid levels low as dehydration became worse. Completing the intubation the paramedics hovered over her, administering oxygen while providing respiratory support via ambu bag. Her family, distraught with the sudden worsening of her condition, knew the ambulance was needed…the antibiotics she had taken at home had had little effect; she rapidly declined.

Prayers were lifted up for her recovery, and endurance through her suffering. Inadequate to help medically, this was the only thing her family and friends could do to lend sustenance to her. After providing admission information at the hospital, her loved ones waited to support her.

Alerted by the ER doctor in communication with the paramedics en route, the woman’s attending physician was on hand to evaluate her in the ER as stat blood work was drawn. He accompanied her to the Medical ICU, reviewing the lab results there and ordering adjustments to her IV’s as additional monitors were applied. She was soon connected to the mechanical ventilator, and assisted breathing was begun.

Nurses efficiently caring for her spoke to her in low tones, telling her everything they were doing. A frightening experience to be poked, prodded, unable to breathe or speak, the woman appreciated the soothing words as she slipped in and out of consciousness, endeavoring to relax somehow in this situation. Then finally, she fell into a deep, deep sleep.

“I wonder what she is experiencing now,” one young nurse queried aloud. “I hurt for her suffering, and pray she is not terrified, or hurting from the ventilator. I pray she can relax and fully let go, rest in comfort and assurance. Be spared fear.”

The woman lay as in a coma, having been given medication to allow her to rest without fighting the ventilator, to let it do the work of breathing for her as her body was given a chance to heal. She had been terrified, but had come to a point in her struggle that she no longer had the strength to fight. Raised to believe in God, she had come to know Him in a personal way through surviving tragedies of losing loved ones early in life. She trusted Him for so many things. And now this. It had been her experience that trust was a lesson that was learned through situations that proved God trustworthy. Then new, more threatening challenges seemed to throw a cloak of doubt into the mix. So here she lay, learning to trust God again… literally for her very breath, for her very life.

As the nursing staff continued to care for her, the woman’s consciousness was further dampened by the medication. Still at times she could hear the beeping of machines, the rhythm of the ventilator, the voices of family, and staff. Most of the time she felt she was floating, hearing sweet music and angelic voices. It was what she imagined would be a heavenly sound, and she longed to rest in that soothing place. She felt no pain or discomfort, just warmth and rest. And on and on the ventilator cycled, breathing air in and out, in and out.

As the nurses watched the monitors, their patient ministrations complete for a time, several talked about the woman in room 2B. “I wonder if she is having an out-of-body experience,” one said. “An NDE (near death experience) many experience when they are so ill.” “It’s hard to say,” another replied. “There is so much hope and assurance given by those who have experienced such. I believe God has allowed those experiences to encourage people to believe that life after death is real.” “Yes,” said yet another, “some NDE patients have reported being rescued from the horrors of hell, crying out for God to forgive them and save them. I’m thankful God has given us a way to know Him and start eternal life now. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us is so amazing!” As the ladies talked on their discussion turned into a verbal prayer for all the patients under their care. For only God knew the condition of each one’s heart and soul, if His Spirit had been invited to reside within, to accept His love and forgiveness freely given.

For fourteen days the woman lay attached to the ventilator as her illness raged on. Blood cultures revealed the exact strains of bacteria that were the cause of her disease, and appropriate antibiotics were give, with medications to keep her body’s systems functioning as normally as possible. At day eleven she had been roused from her coma to determine if she could begin breathing on her own again. For nearly three hours she endured, then as she lapsed back into crisis, the ventilator was resumed. At times able to respond to commands and recognize visiting family, both encouraging signs, she was still gravely ill. And so the ministrations continued, as did the prayers of many.

As the days marched on the woman slowly gained strength. A tracheostomy was needed to relieve her from the intubation tube, yet still allow ventilator assist when needed as her lungs continued to heal. Studies had shown weaning from the ventilator proved more easily accomplished from a tracheostomy, especially for patients on longer term ventilation needs of over two weeks. And as she continued to improve, necessary maintenance of oral hygiene and eventually eating by mouth again were accomplished.

Still unable to speak, the woman wrote notes of her requests, and had good communication with the nursing staff who understood her many frustrations. The tracheostomy would prevent her from speaking as the air she breathed in and out did not pass sufficiently over her vocal chords. This would correct itself in time when the tracheostomy was no longer needed, when her lungs were healed enough for her to breathe well on her own. And she prayed healed they would be.

After several more weeks in hospital the woman was finally ready to be discharged. She was still recovering, though her breathing had returned to normal, her lungs healed, her illness gone. But from the trauma of being ill so long she still needed rest. Her tracheostomy had been reversed, her neck near fully healed with only a faint scar a reminder of her ordeal. Deeper in her heart, however, she carried other memories of experiences she was given as she lay dependent, with the choice to rest and trust, or to fight and fear. It had been no contest for her, for rest and trust were infinitely more desirable as she found herself literally flat on her back. Those wondering what she had experienced deep within while she was unresponsive would have to wait. For that was another story of stories that was only hers to tell.

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