ALL IN THE FAMILY, Michael Segal

Nobody wanted to be there, not even one person. However, they were all there, and in a strange way, glad that they were.

It was the waiting room of the Neuro Trauma Intensive Care Unit (NTICU) at Memorial Hermann Hospital, one of only two "Level OneTrauma Hospitals" in Houston, Texas.  When a person is critically injured, when one's life is hanging in the balance due to some traumatic event, the family should always attempt to see to it that its injured loved one goes to a "Level One Trauma Unit", if that is possible.

The families in the waiting room of the NTICU almost always appear to be petrified as they know  that at any moment a physician might enter the unit and tell them, "I am very sorry. We tried everything possible, however...".

The first few days, as a rule, the families keep to themselves. However, as time passes by, the families usually get to know each other.  Further, as a group, they share the joy when there is good news for a family and they also share their sorrow when there is poor news for a family.

The Unit's many families become a "support group" for each other. I have seen it often.  As one of the Social Workers for the hospital I understand the dynamics of hope and the importance of support. Both aspects are huge when a loved one is in the Intensive Care Unit. True, at Memorial Hermann Hospital there is a "Family Support Group" that meets twice a week; however the feelings of the families go much deeper then the hour-long group sessions that meet every Monday and Wednesday.  I have seen families volunteer to take a family from out of town to their homes so that they could rest and shower.  I have also seen relative strangers pray for the recovery of someone whom they did not even know 24 hours earlier.

It is a wonderful feeling to be able to watch a person "wake up" from a coma, not just for the immediate family and the hospital staff, but also for the patient's "new extended family."

When I first began working at the hospital, a 19-year-old young man was brought to Memorial Hermann by an ambulance after being in a serious automobile accident. Most people thought the injured young man would soon die as he was in a deep coma.  I remember watching his father beg his son to "wake up."  The father tried everything he could think of, including screaming, "WAKE UP!  WAKE UP! YOU JUST WON THE LOTTERY!"  Unfortunately, that "trick" failed and the young man remained in a coma.

However, one day, several weeks later, the young man "awoke" and his first words were demanding ones:  "WHERE'S MY MONEY?!"

That was a unique and atypical story; however, the feelings of many of the families in the waiting room were universal as they indicated their sincere happiness for the family of the young man. It was as if their loved one had come out of the coma.

Unfortunately, there are many times when there is not a "happy ending."

On another occasion, a young man was severely hurt and suffered a traumatic brain injury and was rushed to Memorial Hermann Hospital. For days, his prognosis was in doubt; however, after a while, most of the staff thought he might survive.  His mother was always in the waiting room and I am sure she expressed a roller coaster of emotions, but she breathed a huge sigh of relief when the doctors gave her reason to hope.

Then she saw another mother in the waiting room whose daughter had not been given that hopeful prognosis.  The daughter, she was told by the doctors, would soon probably pass away as a result of the severe injuries that she had sustained due to a car accident.

The two mothers were soon linked together, strangers on one level joined forever by a universal magnet -- motherly pain.  They became very close, supporting each other in both good and bad times.

Ironically, the predictions for the two mothers were eventually reversed.  The young man who was supposed to survive, unfortunately passed away, while the girl who was supposed to die is now making progress in Florida, in her home.

One would think that the young man's mother would be bitter; however, that is not the situation.  That mother, and I still keep in touch with her, told me that she feels "lucky to have obtained her new relationships."  She feels very fortunate to have met people in the waiting room, especially the family of the girl who was severely hurt but eventually survived.  That girl is still recuperating in Florida; however, the two families keep in touch and the girl who was injured so severely will probably soon visit the mother of the young man who passed away.

Families in the waiting room can eventually develop very close relationships to each other.  They sincerely care for each other.

Two patients, one an elderly gentleman and the other a teenager, had been in the Unit for quite some time.  Their families were beginning to blend, one to another.

The parents of the teenager were always at the hospital, night and day; however, one night the teenager's mother returned to her home while his father remained in the waiting room. The next morning she returned to the hospital and said to the wife of the elderly patient, who also regularly remained at the hospital night and day, "I was very worried about you all night."

To that comment, the wife of the elderly man quickly and jokingly replied, "I figured you were worried because last night, in the waiting room, I WAS SLEEPING WITH YOUR HUSBAND-- AND I WOULD NOT HAVE MISSED THAT FOR THE WORLD!"  Everyone burst out in deep  laughter.  Humor can be a great coping mechanism.

Yes, life can be very difficult; however, it can also be tempered if one has a support system to help and assist during those strenuous and exacting moments.  Support is very important -- especially in the waiting room.


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