It never crossed my mind the first time the doors closed.
I jumped on the elevator, because it would get me to Jimmy. The doctors called the ICU waiting area to say there had been a problem and for me to be ready to get to the Neurological ICU floor. They would call back to let us know.
“That’s weird,” I said to my brother. “Everything was OK when we left.”
My mind didn’t buzz or whirl or anything else, because I had no data to evaluate. The call was meaningless. Then, the ICU waiting room clerk waved and caught my eye. I walked to his desk. In a quiet voice, he said, “You can go upstairs now.” His softness alarmed me.
My brother, Jimmy’s family and I walked into the elevator. Its silver doors shut reflecting our image like a mirror. I had not showered as I’d already spent one night in the hospital waiting room. It struck me that I would not go home again tonight.
The doctor mentioned stroke, infarct and other medical terms. We were shuttled from Jimmy’s bedside, to a waiting room down the hall and then to Jimmy again when he quit breathing.
Later they returned us to the elevator and down to another waiting room. We waited, stared and paced in between brief updates on vital signs, CT scan results and the doctor’s departure for the night.
During the first few weeks, the elevator bothered me with each beep and bump of its doors. I dreaded each call to return to the elevator and to the NICU. As time passed, I knew that another trip might provide me with information I did not want.
I hated to see those silver doors close and show me what I looked like in the corner of a box — trapped with people for one or two floors, who were all destined to get good or bad news about loved ones.
Over the years, the elevator at nursing homes and other hospitals served me no better. They were quiet before I walked into the unknown of Jimmy’s life and his room — was he alive, was his oxygen in place, was he in a comfortable position, was he in a good mood, was he disgruntled waiting for me to arrive or was he dead.
If I had to label how I feel in an elevator today, it would be PTSD or Post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t use the term lightly. The definition here says:
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you’ve seen or experienced a traumatic event that involved the threat of injury or death.
While I see a much different reflection in an elevator’s doors today, it remains the one place that reminds me of being a caregiver to my late husband with all its ups and downs and the constant threat of death.