October 7, 2016

Critical Care

Modern medical science can only do so much.

Ernest A. Jones

As I entered the intensive-care unit (ICU) in our rural hospital north of Spokane, Washington, I could tell it would be a busy day.

Three patients were in the ward; two were not critical and would probably be transferred to the medical ward later that morning. But the third one took almost constant monitoring.

I was the lone nurse in the unit that day, and I was thankful that at least the two other patients were not in critical condition. I was pushed just to keep the one patient quiet, who was not mentally sound at the time. The doctor expected this patient to become more mentally stable as his physical condition improved, but in the meantime he needed almost constant attention. I had to stop him from pulling out his intravenous tubes or the monitor cables while making sure he stayed in his bed. Keeping track of all three men and their monitors was a challenge.

Out of Nowhere

“Ernie,” the hospital’s director of Nursing Services (DNS) said as she entered the ICU around 9:00 a.m., “your aunt is in the emergency room. She’s very ill. Your uncle’s asking for you. I’ll cover for you here while you check on your aunt.”

Fear struck my heart as I rushed down the stairs, not waiting for the elevator. My mind raced back to a year before when my wife, Dorothy, and I were expecting our first baby, only to suffer the birth of a stillborn son. This year the doctor had told us not to risk Dorothy’s pregnancy by traveling to a family reunion.

I wasn’t going to go without her, so my mother’s siblings came to us. Dorothy had never met them, and I hadn’t seen them for decades. Uncle Ken and Aunt Bea had checked into a hotel the night before, phoning us to say that Aunt Bea was not feeling well and they did not want to come to the house and expose Dorothy to whatever she had.

Aunt Bea looked so sick, so pale and fragile lying in the ER bed. I greeted her, but I wasn’t sure she even knew me. Fear nearly overwhelmed me as I held her hand and tried to reassure both of us.

Uncle Ken, looking haggard from fear and lack of sleep, led me into the ER waiting room. “They tell me that your Aunt Bea is in a diabetic crisis. They’re going to admit her to ICU.”

“Lord,” I prayed as I ran back to the intensive-care unit, “please be with her. She came to see me, and now she’s sick. Heal her according to Your will. And please send me help. I can’t care for all four patients alone.”

Prayer Support

“Ernie, admit your aunt and stay with her,” said the DNS. “Sister Mary and I will care for the three men.”

Much relieved, I admitted my aunt to the ICU while the DNS watched the man who was so restless. Sister Mary took care of the other two men.

Aunt Bea’s doctor, Dr. Lenny, was in frequent conversation with the diabetic specialist in Spokane. Aunt Bea’s blood sugar level of 700 was dangerously high. Carefully following the specialist’s instruction, Dr. Lenny kept increasing the insulin in her IV, but the blood sugar level remained dangerously high.

Drawing me aside, the doctor said, “Your aunt needs to be shipped to Spokane, but she’s too sick to make the trip. Even to airlift her at this time would be too dangerous. I don’t know what else I can do. Nothing seems to be working. I’m afraid we might lose her.”

Concern showed on his face as he watched me. The doctor and I had always had a good relationship, and for a brief moment he laid his arm on my shoulder as we drew support from each other.

“At least I can pray,” I replied softly, my voice breaking under the strain.

“Yes, pray. God can and might heal her. That’s the only answer I can think of now,” Dr. Lenny said.


I called Dorothy to tell her about Aunt Bea. “Should I come in?” Dorothy asked.

I started to tell her to stay home, but I broke down and couldn’t speak.

Sensing my fear and frustration, and knowing my love for my family, Dorothy said, “I’m coming in right now. I’ll get a ride with the neighbor.”

“Call Pastor Ed first,” I whispered, my voice again cracking.

About a half hour later I saw Dorothy and Pastor Ed coming down the hallway. I felt relief. Aunt Bea and Uncle Ken didn’t belong to any church at the time, but when I introduced them to the pastor, they welcomed him willingly. Aunt Bea was only semiconscious, and seemed not to be fully aware of what was going on.

Pastor Ed spoke a few words to Uncle Ken before turning to Aunt Bea. He took her hand and spoke softly to her, as a close friend might do. Her eyes seemed to shine a little clearer as he spoke. Then bowing his head, he spoke to our heavenly Father, pleading for Aunt Bea to be healed, ending with the words “Thy will be done.”

Something like an electrical charge filled the room. The change was dramatic and almost instant. The nurses, doctor, Dorothy, Pastor Ed, Uncle Ken, and I stood like we were glued to the floor as we stared at Aunt Bea.

My uncle said later that Aunt Bea’s condition improved instantly. “Now I believe in God,” he said reverently.

Dr. Lenny ordered more blood tests, which now showed the blood sugar to be in a normal healthy range. Aunt Bea was alert with a clear mind.

One hour after Pastor Ed’s prayer the doctor said to me, “An hour ago your aunt was too critical to move to a better treatment center. Now she’s well enough to transfer out of this unit. I’ll keep her in the medical unit for a few days to get her insulin regulated. She is a fortunate woman. God healed her; I didn’t.”

Ernest A. Jones was the first male nurse hired at Mount Carmel Hospital in Colville, Washington. Now retired, he and his wife live near College Place, Washington.