Monday, May 31, 2010


For the last 10 years or so, I participated in the Ministry to the Sick, bringing Jesus to the ill, the shut-in, and whichever Catholics were in the hospital on my day of the week. Most memorable were the visits to those who lay in the Intensive Care Unit. A few minutes in ICU will get ya countin' ya blessins. I had started writing this post on May 25, planning to talk about acting as a conduit of God's grace to people I don't know. But those plans went astray today.

This morning about 4am we got a call from the hospital; they wanted information on Francesca LeBlanc, isn't she our daughter? Do we have her Social Security number, medical insurance info, etc? What? What? She's had a bad fall, is seriously injured and will be at the Emergency Room shortly. My daughter, who only a couple of weeks ago came home from college, is fast asleep across the hall from us; what a mistake! No mistake, they have her ID. My wife says we can be there in 10 minutes and will bring the data.

She is not in her room. They said she fell?

The world is quiet and dark at 4:15, except for the brightly-lit ER entrance, and a concrete pad where a helicopter is landing. I reflect for an instant on the West and its incredible machines. We go in, are quickly received and processed to a waiting room in the back. Turns out we arrived at the same time as Francesca, who was delivered in the medevac. The ER doc sees us about 15 minutes later, says a CAT scan shows broken bones in her toes and foot, and a subdural hematoma, i.e., a blood clot in her brain like the one that killed Natasha Richardson in March. The neurosurgeon is already on his way, and we can see her now before she's prepped for surgery. The curtain to her cubicle is pulled shut; he pauses and says we should prepare ourselves.

Francesca is hooked up to the usual devices, including a ventilator. My recollection from ICU is that nobody gets off the ventilator alive. But maybe not in this case: she was yelling and fighting with the ER staff  when she arrived, so she was restrained and heavily sedated. They are gently wiping blood off of her head and face, her big toe is showing bone. Her appearance is absolutely shocking. Twenty-five years ago my car was totaled in an accident. Standing the rain I looked at it...that wasn't my car looks pretty and new, not destroyed. And now I stare at this person who resembles my daughter, but must be someone else: busted mouth, swollen lip, swollen head, sightless eyes, tangled bloody hair, the ventilator, naked under a sheet with God-knows what-all stuck in her. I notice the urine bag: it's got a little bit in it already. I expected her to look more like...Francesca; my sadness was indescribable. How could this wreck be my little girl? Except that there's no way not to bear it, it's unbearable. And of course all Janet & I can do is stand around while the staff, in its efficient yet surprisingly affectionate way, goes about the prepwork. The chaplain is with us, and helps with the phonebook as we try to find a priest; we are close to three of them and are pounding every cellphone, tollfree, and church office number we can think of to reach one.

In the meantime the surgeon arrives, fired-up, ready to save a life at 5am. He explains what he'll be doing. He expects a good result, which means in a year or so she will likely recover completely, or nearly so. The fact that she arrived able to fight, yell, and focus meant there may have been no permanent damage. May. This blow was an insult to the brain, he said; we can't ever be sure how the brain will react. I thought that was an artful description.

The daughter is wheeled off to surgery and the chaplain escorts us up to the appropriate waiting room. The procedure "doesn't take long" and at some point I decide it is running long, way long. I accept that she will die. My wife & I sit and pray silently, and the chaplain sits with us doing the same. I'd have thought I'd pray for her to live. Instead I was praying that if this were the right time for her soul to go to heaven, then I wasn't going to argue with God about it. She had been a great blessing and a wonderful gift for 18 years, and I was thankful for that. So I prayed that God's will be done. I asked her 3 patron saints and my buddy saints Isaac Jogues and Max Kolbe to receive her if it became necessary, and pray along, too. I can't imagine how people get through this sort of horror without faith.

Two of Francesca's friends show up. The ER told them how to find us. They are about her age, 19 or so. I know Joey and Larry; last week they all played Parcheesi in the living room. Joey ate dinner with us yesterday, and afterward all the kids watched a movie. Turns out that later that night Francesca let herself out and they picked her up to go to an impromptu cellphone-coordinated get-together in an abandoned warehouse. She had the bad luck to fall through the upper floor and land about 25 feet below on a concrete slab. They had called 911 and thus she got to the hospital in good time. I told them that regardless of the outcome, we didn't blame them, and they shouldn't blame themselves. The two of them looked so miserable; they stayed with us the whole time.

The surgeon strode in all of a it comes, accept it.  The operation went well, he reiterated his original prognosis. He advised us to go home, sleep, and come back around 1pm to see her in ICU. This isn't a sprint, he said, it's a marathon. Get some rest. Oh... so she'll live, then. I was surprised. We went home, told the other kids the news. They'd been praying rosaries and were stressed out. Francie's dear sister Alexandra had been crying. We slept a bit.

We returned to ICU about 1 pm, went right in to Francesca's bed. I know the ICU drill. I have seen so many dying, battered bodies in ICU over the years, no worries. But I could not look at my daughter for even 30 seconds without breaking down. Still on a ventilator, induced coma, and a partly-shaved still-swollen head, with a 4-inch long cut running from her right earlobe arcing up the side of her head, held together with metal clips. Looks like a brain zipper. I had to retreat to the ICU waiting room. Tried again after I felt better; same result. My little girl is the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen. Janet deals with it better and stays with her. Maybe mothers are tougher, I thought it'd be the opposite. No, wait. I was there at Francie's birth: the mothers are definitely tougher.

We're at home now, eating something, heading back around 8:30. Close friends have already come by with food, and our immediate family who live close by are ready to help as needed. The doctors may take Francie off the ventilator in a couple of days; in an induced coma, she keeps trying to yank it out. To me that's good. You go girl, get offa that thing. Once more I reflect on the West: its managerial and organizational skills; its knowledge base and educated populations; its flexibility, responsiveness, and preparedness; its machines.

At the top of the page is the shirt they cut off of Francesca in the ER. This would seem to be the perfect time to say thank ya Jesus.

Thank ya, Jesus. I know you love us.

This is an ICU blessing I never expected to count.

Update June 16: my daughter is at home, may recover fully, timetable unknown.