Rules for the ICU

It’s cold:  Bring a parka for sleeping. Hoard blankets.

It’s uncomfortable: It’s uncomfortable to see her uncovered, wearing a thin hospital gown, in a room with a temperature of roughly 60 degrees, while you huddle in your parka and a heated blanket the nurse gave you. They need to get her temperature down. You can’t cover her. You can’t give her your heated blanket. You just can’t. You can rub her feet and talk to her.

There are doors:  There are locked doors and whenever you leave you will have to pick up a phone and talk to someone to get back in. You’ll have to get used to this. It might be against your nature to ask for help, even just to push a button to open a door, but you’ll get use to saying, “Hi.  It’s Rachael’s mom. Can I come in?” They will let you in and they won’t mind.

Birthdays happen:  It might be someone’s 27th birthday and she can’t eat cake or blow out candles because she has a ventilator and a feeding tube.  There are no balloons allowed in the ICU.

It’s noisy: Every hour or so they will come in to check on her. If she stops breathing for too long on her own, even though she’s ventilated, there might be a beep. There are beeps for other things, too, that don’t seem so urgent, but you might not understand that and they will get louder if no one comes and shuts them off. You might run out to the nurse’s station in a panic but you will probably only do that once.  They will explain why it’s not so urgent. You might forget why but you won’t run out the next time.

There will be nurses:  You might arrive in the middle of the night and might bond with the first nurse you meet, who fills you in on everything that has happened and offers you a warm blanket, and you will look for her the next night but there’s a new nurse the next night. You might feel lost.  Chances are she’ll be kind also, but you’ll wish she was the other nurse.  The next morning, you’ll miss the new nurse who just left after introducing you to the new day nurse. You’ll hope the new day nurse is as good as her. She is good. You will hope that either the old night nurse or the new nurse is on tonight. It’s probably a new new nurse. She’s probably very nice. Eventually you will get it. Nurses are special people.

Notes:   You will, sooner or later, start taking notes. Smart phones are good for that. There will be names you want to remember, things people say you need to remember, medications, numbers, a timeline you feel like you might need later. Even if you never look at them again, it will give you something to focus on.

There will be social workers:  One might relate to your situation. She might try to help you navigate the system of this other state you’ve never lived in, winking and using air quotes as she speaks. She might get in trouble for it and you’ll feel bad but you will be so very grateful she was there. Thank you, Maria.

Scary things might happen:  You might be seated outside the ICU waiting for a PICC line procedure to be completed and witness several doctors running down the hallway. You might realise, as the ICU doors slowly close behind them, that they have run into your daughter’s room. You might convince yourself you didn’t see exactly what you saw; that what you saw was some other family’s nightmare in the next room over. That’s perfectly acceptable. It might be awhile before a doctor comes out and tells you it was close call but she’s stable.

There will be doctors:  Lots of doctors. You won’t know who they are or why they are there. You might not even understand what they are saying. You might suspect that some of them just collect fees for showing up. There will be one you’ll see more often and, even though he seems very stern, he’ll pat your shoulder on his way out one evening, after he finishes checking her vitals, as you sit there in your parka, embarrassed at being caught trying to eat a kale quinoa salad from Panera while your kid lies in a coma, as he leaves for home, where his children probably are not heroin addicts. Somehow that pat on the shoulder will say, “Hey you. Eat.You need to eat. You’re not a bad mom. She’s not a bad person.”

There is a hospital chaplain:  If you are religious you will take great comfort in this. If you hold alternative spiritual beliefs, you might keep him at arm’s length for a day or two. Then you might find yourself sobbing in the hospital chapel, which you happened to be passing, on your way back from the cafeteria, at the exact moment you started to break down. Coincidence? The next time you see him you may open up. Ask him about his family. They are from Chile. He has some kids and some step kids. They are not heroin addicts, by the grace of God.  You tell him about your life. You find yourself asking for his prayers and he will agree to pray for your child. Thank you, Raul.

New friends:  There might be a boyfriend; someone you’ve never met and instantly dislike. Sorry.  There’s not much you can do about that person except persevere.  If it’s a bad boyfriend you might need to develop an alpha dog personality. You might need to find your voice. It’s okay. You don’t need to like everyone. Everyone does not need to like you.

People you love:  I hope you have people you love, like I did and she did.  People who supported her here, people who supported you there, people who took you home, fed you, watched television with you, let you pet their dogs, and helped you be normal for awhile.  People who will be there for her when you leave.  People at home who didn’t hesitate, who called, who emailed, who prayed and let you vent, hugged you while you cried.

Life and death:  She will die or she will live. If she doesn’t die we’re lucky.  If she does not die, she will wake up. The ventilation tube will come out. She might not know why she is in the hospital. Pneumonia? Stroke? Car accident?  Somehow, drowning in a bath tub won’t figure. You might have felt closer to her, more tender towards her, before she woke up and started talking; and kissing her new boyfriend, and putting up walls. This realization cuts deep.  You’re not the person you thought you were; your love not so unconditional.

Life goes on: It might take awhile.  Your loved one may never know how close she came to death. You can tell her. She doesn’t want to know.  That’s some scary stuff right there. She might be pigheaded and cavalier about her situation.  You might need to buy a ticket home, get on a plane, and leave without knowing what’s next. You might  be officially not needed, your  next of kin power stripped away. You’ll pray a lot. You might ask other people to keep your daughter in their thoughts. That’s what I’ve come here to ask of you.

My daughter is a heroin addict. And I don’t want to talk about this. Who would? I think about it constantly, trying to get a handle on it, trying to escape guilt, trying to learn from it, trying to find some kind of grace, but I definitely do not want to talk about it.  Trust me. If you ask me how’s she’s doing, I will shut you down. “Fine”, I’ll say.  How is ______? How did that __________work out for you? I’m a master of changing the subject.

But I need to talk about it because I have none of the answers to all of my questions. How can I fix this? Why can’t I fix this?  I’m her touchstone, her enemy, her saviour and her betrayer. I can’t fix this.  I can’t do anything but be available and hope. It’s pretty humbling.  Even for a chicken. Please wish her well.

Thanks for listening.

Chicken out








  21 comments for “Rules for the ICU

  1. jenny_o
    March 3, 2016 at 4:17 am

    Oh, Chicken, I am so so SO sorry you and your daughter are going … were going … will be going … through this and all it entails. And, you know, everybody’s child – everybody’s – is one or two or a few wrong decisions away from bad stuff, and the amazing thing is that more children don’t end up in a bad place. There are just so many things that can go wrong when a kid is growing up, and sometimes they pretty much all happen. Please know I’m thinking of you and your family and your girl, and hoping that things get better. This was an incredible piece of writing, straight from your soul. And straight to your readers’ souls. Being a mom (or dad) never quits, does it, no matter how old they get. Hugs, my dear. And please let us know how things are going.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 3, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      Thank you, Jenny:-). I’ve spent years not talking about it and it takes so much energy that I no longer have. I appreciate your support. XO


  2. March 3, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    My heart broke from your loving words. As a mother I can only imagine your heartache. Nothing cuts us as deeply as not being able to fix whatever happens to our children. I am going to keep you in my thoughts, and my prayers. I take comfort that your daughter has such love in her life. I will pray that you will receive the same kind of love back. With deepest respect, G-uno

    Liked by 1 person

  3. March 5, 2016 at 1:36 am

    This is devastating, and made even more so by the eloquence of your writing, which pierced my heart. I’m so very sorry for you and your daughter. I cannot even imagine the pain of watching your child vanish into the arms of this hideous addiction and not being able to pull her back. My thoughts are with you. Keep writing about it. You are not alone. Heroin addiction is reaching into and destroying so many lives in this country right now. But recovery does happen and I pray your Rachael will be one of the lucky ones. Sending you much healing light and love, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 6, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      Thank you, Jayne. I appreciate it. So many families are dealing with this issue-it’s surreal-and the scariest thing about it is how insidious it can be. I met a college coach recently, a national motivational speaker, who talks and writes openly about his son’s addiction. I met him about two weeks before this happened and I admired him for being so open-I thought it was brave. It is not something I’ve ever discussed outside a very small circle of loved ones. There are members of my own family who don’t know. I think maybe I told myself I was protecting her and there’s some truth in that, but I am also embarrassed by it. No one thinks their child will grow up to be an addict. I’m going to try and get over my embarrassment and start talking about it. This was the first step. Thank you for reading.


      • March 10, 2016 at 1:23 am

        I urge you to submit this to They publish some really top notch non-fiction. Also, The Sun print magazine and Bellevue Literary Review. There are so many publications out there. Please try not to be embarrassed. Addiction is an illness. It’s not like walking into a school and opening fire on a bunch of kids. Sending you a big virtual hug, my friend.

        Liked by 1 person

      • March 10, 2016 at 2:12 am

        Thanks Jane:-)


  4. Doug in Oakland
    March 5, 2016 at 2:42 am

    It’s good to hear from you again, Chicken, even in such a dark, soul wrenching tale as this. Rachael is very lucky indeed to have your support, and there are many who struggle with addiction who are not nearly so lucky. I suggest that you remind yourself of this when you are feeling empty and powerless about the situation. Pardon my french, but heroin is a motherfucker. I have known many people who have come under its sway, and the good news is that almost all of them have made it back to the land of the living. I’m not religious, but I will pray for you both. It can’t hurt, right?
    Also, having spent 3 months in the hospital and acute rehab following my stroke, I understand your feelings about the hospital staff. They can be confusing at times, but I loved each and every one of them by the time I left, and all of their names are recorded in my journal.
    I wrote a very similar comment to another of my favorite bloggers about my admiration for the support she displayed for her son, who had finally overcome his addiction. I told her that it may not seem like she had any other option, but the reality is that many people are routinely abandoned for far less consequential transgressions than heroin addiction. Good luck, and try to remember to be good to yourself and not blame yourself for the situation. It is frighteningly common these days, and hard to cope with even in the best of circumstances.


    • March 6, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      HI Doug. It is good to hear from you. “Heroin is a Motherfucker” would have been a good title for this piece. Maybe the next one. I hope you don’t mind if I borrow it. Who is the other blogger you speak of? I’d like to follow her blog How long ago was your stroke? Rachael had a stroke-either before or after she was resuscitated-we don’t know exactly what happened but she has a long road ahead. Thank you for the support and encouragement. I appreciate it.


      • Doug in Oakland
        March 6, 2016 at 9:01 pm

        I would be honored if you used that saying, it is just so true. The other blogger I speak of is the awesome Michelle from Rubber Shoes in Hell. I had my stroke in April of 2008, almost 8 years ago. I still walk with a quad-cane, but continue to improve. Just last week I managed to negotiate a spiral staircase to get in and out of my friend’s house near Yosemite. It seems the more you work at it, the better it gets. But, and I can’t stress this enough, the support you have (or don’t have) can make all of the difference. My doctors told me that over and over. I was very lucky in that regard. So again, good luck to you both. I’ve watched Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight” TED talk many times, and it always struck me that she said it took her 8 years to recover full functionality. 8 years for me is next month, and I still feel like I have more to recover, and I probably do as long as I have what it takes to keep working at it, and the support of my friends and family.

        Liked by 1 person

    • March 7, 2016 at 2:42 am

      Hi Doug=Oh-I know that blog. I didn’t realise. Jill Bolte Taylor’s Ted Talk is one of my all time favourites. I think of it often but even more so now. I’m glad you’ve had support and again, thanks. I am always so glad to hear from you. Happy 8th anniversary isn’t the right sentiment, but if i8 years is something you’ve had on your mind and sort of like a milestone, then congratulations on your perseverance and hard work. You are a positive influence on me and I’m sure many others. Thank you. By the way, I know you are very musically inclined and every once in awhile I come across something new that I listen to over and over. This week it is Lord Huron’s “Fool for Love”. Have you heard it? What do you think?


      • Doug in Oakland
        March 7, 2016 at 5:59 am

        I’d never heard of Lord Huron before, but I just listened to “Fool for Love” and I think it’s very good. I especially like the blending of more delicate instrumentation with straight ahead rock and roll. And I really love vocal harmonies, but have mostly been listening to the female variety for a long time, so it was good to hear male voices harmonizing. Thank you for the recommendation.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. March 5, 2016 at 4:13 am

    Please accept my most fervent hopes for your daughter’s recovery and rehabilitation. It’s important she that feel the future again. Your strength astonishes me. Keep transmitting.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Shelly (La Tejana)
    March 6, 2016 at 1:39 am

    My heart felt love and prayers go to you and your dear ones. Love is never wasted abd one day she’ll come to know that. I haven’t blogged in so long, but somehow saw your post in my email. I’m thankful. Sending you hugs across the miles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 6, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Thank you, Shelly.. I’m not an acrtive poster on FB but I do go on every couple of days and I see your posts. The photos and your other posts always make me feel good. To use Geo’s word, your love of life and your spirit transmit.


  7. March 8, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    My heart breaks for both of you. I have been there. You have done all you can do. All you can do is love her and hope that she wants to be clean. XOXO

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 9, 2016 at 11:40 pm

      Thank you Michelle-I’m sorry you’ve been there and glad you got through it. She does want to be clean, it’s just not as easy as deciding that she wants it, unfortunately. I’ve seen her struggle and I think it must so be hard to be young and have to be hyper-vigilant, never being able to let loose for a minute without the walls potentially, eventually, caving in on you. Just having a glass of wine can start her on a slow spiral back to heroin-I’ve seen it happen. I mean, she’s had enough wild times for a lifetime of stories and yet, she’s still in her 20’s. Hoping I am.


  8. March 12, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    I know this kind of pain and remorse all too well. It’s nothing we did wrong as parents. The fault lies in a million other places that make the world seem meaningless and overwhelming. Even the foods we eat contributes to the hollow feeling behind the epidemic of escape via drugs and suicide. I find comfort and help in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, a death camp survivor. Also the many accounts of near death experiences strengthen me somehow. This is one of my favorites because it remains fairly non-specific: . Hang in there. Our suffering has ultimate meaning that we have been taught not to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 14, 2016 at 11:52 pm

      Hello MTM. I hope you’ve been well. I’m sorry to hear you know of these things. I’m always surprised. When you don’t talk about it, you have know way of knowing all the people addiction has touched. Thank you for the reading and video recommendations and your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

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