My father had been in the intensive care unit (ICU) for two weeks struggling to fight off the effects of COVID-19. This was a week after he had contracted the illness. We had been contacting the nurses’ station every day, even multiple times a day, to get updates. On Aug. 26, we arrived at the hospital to meet with the doctors and nurses. We wanted to know when we could possibly bring him home, as he had suddenly hit a stalemate in his progress. In fact, he was starting to regress.
As my mother, brother, and I sat across the table from three doctors and two nurses, we were informed in detail that my father was worse off than we had understood. Approximately four days prior to our arrival, a secondary infection had afflicted his lungs, causing his progress to be halted and reversed. They couldn’t know for sure what was causing the infection.
The only way to know for sure would be to put him on a ventilator and obtain a sample from the lungs. But doing so was out of the question for two reasons: one, his lungs were too weak for him to survive being taken off a ventilator; two, we refused to allow the use of a ventilator.
He couldn’t come home because his lungs were so clogged that he wouldn’t be able to survive the trip home, as an ambulance wouldn’t have the amount of oxygen his lungs required.
Our notes full of questions, many provided by a nurse and friend of the family, seemed almost unnecessary in the face of such news. We asked to see the chest X-rays. We wanted to know what was being done to possibly put him on the right path—medicines, therapy, food intake, vitamin infusions. Whatever could be tried didn’t seem to us a bad idea.
Isolation and Hopelessness
My father had been stuck in a room with no visitors allowed, while also not being allowed to get out of the bed. For all intents and purposes, it had been isolation. We needed to see him. He needed to see us. My parents needed to be together even if for a little while. Due to my father being in such a perilous state, the doctors agreed we could go in to see him, as long as we understood the risks, and as long as we wore the proper protective gear.
The risks were negligible. My brother and mother had gotten COVID at the same time as my father. They no longer had it. The doctors said my father no longer had it. I understood the risk, but I also understood this could possibly be the last time I saw my dad. The immense amount of protective gear—hairnet, gloves, apron, mask, face shield—wasn’t a deterrent to any of us.
Before stepping out of the room with the doctors and nurses, my mother made a clear statement of faith and love. She made it clear that no matter what happened, God controlled the outcome. She saw the X-rays as clearly as the doctors did. The lungs were white when they needed to be black. She heard the report they had laid out. It was a situation on the edge of hopelessness. Her response was not a rebuttal (what do we know of the medical world?), it was a declaration (we know plenty about faith). It was a pushback, not against the medical team, but against death.
As we walked down the corridor, every single room we passed gave the impression that it had become more of a morgue than a hospital. It appeared to be a mere holding place for those passing on to the other side. Every patient was on a ventilator, their faces expressionless. Their mouths holding in place a plastic contraption. Their bodies slightly wrenched to perhaps make room for the plastic tube, or perhaps because it was the last position their body held when they were awake. I would later tell my mother that the entrance to the floor should borrow from Dante’s “Inferno” with a sign that reads: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Prayer and Hope
When we arrived at my father’s room, I was the first to look at him through the glass door. He had the same look in his eyes my grandfather had when he was hours from dying. A glassy, far-away look that focused on nothing. Then he and I made eye contact and something began to change. When he saw all three of us, he waved. As we put on our protective gear, I looked back and he shot me a comical peace sign and waved for me to come in. When my mother moved in front of us, his hand rippled up and down as he gave her a soft wave.
We walked in brokenhearted with the weight of the recent news and to see him in such a condition. We said hello, that we loved him, and that it was good to see him. But we knew what we needed to do more than anything: pray.
We began a firestorm of prayer, speaking healing and life, and demanding death to leave the room. We messaged friends and family. We called pastors. We left messages in Facebook prayer groups. The world—at least our world—was hitting heaven with petition after petition. As my brother later texted to my cousin and me, if Dad was going to pass away, it wouldn’t be for a lack of faith and prayer.
Days prior, I had purchased him a get-well card. The moment I had released it from my hand into the mailbox, I realized I hadn’t put a stamp on it. As we stood around the hospital room, talking with Dad and answering calls and texts, I noticed a stack of cards in the corner.
I sifted through the cards, and by some kind fate, mine had made it. I read the cards from friends and family and placed them along the counter in front of his bed.
We stayed for hours. By the time we left, his demeanor had changed. The glazed look in his eyes was gone. And the weighty feeling of death had lifted.
One of the doctors told my mother that it meant so much for us to come to the hospital and address our concerns. She took note of how passionate we were in our belief that God would pull him through this, and if God chose not to and he were to die, it would be our and his great wish that he do so at home with family around, and not alone in some hospital room where the only way to know he had left this earth would be to hear the sustained beep of a flatline. She said that so many of the people on her floor had no one checking on them. We were perhaps not an anomaly, but we were a rarity.
Faith and Love
My brother and I love our father more than we can express. My parents will have been married for 45 years on Sept. 17. They have been through the roughest of times together and have come through on the other side. My father has many friends and a family of seven brothers and sisters, along with nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, and two grandchildren who love him dearly. He is a very funny man with the most patient and kind demeanor. It is a gift from God that even in his darkest moments, like these past few weeks, he has never lost his sense of humor or decency.
It has been a combination of faith and love during this time of COVID that has kept my family strong. Love is what brought us to that hospital to address the doctors with our concerns and is what led us down the hospital corridor into his room. Faith is what has caused us and so many others to hit their knees in prayer.
As I write this, my father is being moved from the ICU to a non-ICU room. He has now been in the hospital for three weeks. A new Texas law now allows patients to have at least one visitor, so my mother can be with him every day. I don’t know what the outcome will be. I don’t know if God is calling him home. I pray and believe that he will be staying here on earth. But I can’t possibly know. Who knows when their time is up?
That night, on Aug. 26, my mother quoted Job: “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.”
Knowing the outcome isn’t faith. Our faith is sustained in the knowledge that God hears our prayers, not that he answers every one of them. It is enough to know that he listens and cares.
Millions, perhaps billions, of people have been devastated by this pandemic. There are many who have suffered without these two great sustainers: faith and love. If there ever was a time to take account of your life and ask where your faith lies and who loves you, it’s now. If there ever was a time to build or rebuild your relationship with God, it’s now. If there ever was a time to mend bridges with friends and family, it’s now.
Life is empty without faith and desperately lonely without love. Just as I can’t predict what the outcome will be for my father, I can’t predict the outcome of this pandemic. What I can predict with certainty is that life, and even death, is manageable, even joyous, with faith in God and the love of friends and family.