Coffee is a religion, and other ICU musings

For the past 18 months, my Mum, best friend and confidante has been Critically Ill. In the past year along she has been intubated on a ventilator two separate times, and had over 10 admissions to ICU. I have written about 30 things I have thought at times while my Mum has been critically unwell, and it provides a snapshot into our lives.

With love and light,

Jess xxx


coffee iv

1) Bad things happen to good people, every single day. Bad things just don’t happen to other good people either. It doesn’t matter how many old people you have helped to cross the road, or how many charities you have donate to in the past financial year, or how many times you have tried not to take things for granted, bad things still happen.

2) Life is unfair. Throughout my life when I have cried onto my Mum’s shoulder that life isn’t fair, she has told me that life was never meant to be fair. But this didn’t stop me sobbing into Dad’s shoulder about life being unfair, as a ventilator gurgled down Mum’s trachea in the Intensive Care Unit. This time, Mum was not there to tell me that life wasn’t meant to be fair.

3) Coffee is now a religion. I am intensely, excessively grateful for a hot coffee. I wasn’t sure how my life had reached a point where I was ready to begin worshipping an instant coffee made in an ICU waiting room kitchenette, and drunk from a styrofoam cup. But the world works in mysterious ways.

jim jefferies

4) In the words of comedian Jim Jefferies, some things are the least mysterious things on the planet. This applies to Critical Illness. There is nothing mysterious about Mum being kept alive by a Ventilator, and with more tubes snaking out of her flesh than the London Underground.

5) God is a fucking arsehole. Or Buddha. Or Allah. Or the Universe. He isn’t mysterious. Right now, he is a fucking prick.

6) I take that back. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry God/Buddah/Allah/Universe/Instant Coffee that I am worshipping. Don’t let my Mum die. I will become a born again Virgin, and I won’t even look at a penis until I am married.

dr love

7) That ICU doctor is really hot. I wonder what his penis looks like. Do you think ICU doctors have nicer penises? They dedicate their lives to saving lives, surely the Universe would pay one forward to them and give them a penis bigger than a roll of Christmas wrapping paper.

8) Stop thinking about penises. Your Mum is on a ventilator. Think of something else.

9) What if Mum dies? Will Dad re marry? I bet he would marry some really weird woman that does taxidermy for a hobby or something.


10) Don’t die Mum. I can’t handle having a stuffed Labrador in the loungeroom.

11) I think the man next to Mum just died. There is so much blood. His family is screaming. Should I hug them? What do I say? I’m sorry? I’m sorry that your Husband and Dad just drowned to death in his own blood? I am sorry that a 22 year old stranger just sat here and listened to his final gurgles through the curtains?

12) Why do they even bother with the curtains, like really. You can hear and smell everything anyway. They may as well hang a banner across the middle which reads ‘I See You’.


13) Now isn’t the time to be punny.

14) I don’t know why Dad keeps telling me I need to go home and eat and sleep. Food isn’t going to change anything for Mum is it? It’s not going to save her life. I can’t just go home and inhale a burger when Mum has a feeding tube curling into her nostril.

15) Now my brother’s want to know if you can put a burger through a feeding tube. It’s a fair enough question really.

food pyramid

16) I need to cook dinner for them. Things are dire when the boys start begging for vegetables. No, no more KFC tonight.

17) I can’t remember how to cook Tuna Mornae. I’ll ask Mum.

18) I can’t ask Mum. I think I’m going to vomit.


19) Of course you can’t vomit Jess. You haven’t eaten anything for 12 hours. Maybe this is why Dad says that I have to eat. That way, when I vomit from sobbing myself in half in the bottom of the shower, I don’t vomit just bile into the plug hole.

20) I I keep getting mistaken for a Doctor in ICU. Dad says that I don’t need to wear heels and impeccable makeup to ICU, but I do. Because otherwise I will look like the other families in there, all black eyes and haven’t changed for three days and sobbing in the hallways. I can’t become like them.

21) Mum stops breathing for herself completely. I sob in the hallway. My makeup is ruined.


22) Dad and I take a break. He spends more time in the waiting room than next to Mum’s bed. He is drowning, and I don’t know how to save him. I stroke Mum’s face, careful not to nudge the ventilator. ‘It’s okay Mum, Dad and I are just getting some dinner in the cafeteria. I will be back in 15 minutes okay? Promise’. Mum does not reply. The ventilator continues to click.

23) I force some cafeteria rice into the back of my throat, and wash it down with a lemon gatorade. My blood pressure is so low, I shouldn’t be able to stand. Dad and I head back to Mum.

24) We have been here five minutes. Dad finds some reason to go and shift the car. I don’t remind him that we have a pass from ICU, making us exempt from parking fines. I hold Mum’s hand. Sometimes the Propofol wears off, and she starts to wake up. She panics, and I have never seen anyone so terrified. I beg them to put Mum back to sleep, and with the press of a button, Mum is sedated once more.


25) My brother cries. The head of ICU walks in, and tells us a story of how an ICU doctor in America was caught at home watching a porno and pumping himself full of Propofol. We double over laughing. Mum doesn’t. The ventilator clicks.

26) I smile at Dad, and tell him I will just go and use the toilets in the waiting room. I walk slowly, smiling at the staff. I slam the toilet door shut and vomit.

27) I rinse my mouth out in the basin, and walk back to Mum. ‘It’s me, Mum. It’s Jess. I’m back now’.


28) Mum doesn’t answer. The ventilator clicks.

29) Dad says that it’s time to say goodnight. We need to let Mum get her sleep. I plead for a few more minutes. I am sobbing, hysterical. The staff agree that once the big hand reaches the 9 on the clock, I have to go home. I have fifteen minutes. I say an infinite good nights to Mum, and tell her that I will see her in the morning. I tell her I love her, just in case I don’t.

30) I go home to bed. And I will start all over again tomorrow.


2 thoughts on “Coffee is a religion, and other ICU musings

  1. I’ve walked down that path with my own mum Jess. I am sorry that your Mum is so sick and that you are all dealing with it. It’s awful. And the distractions of imagined penises and makeup and even an awful styrofoam coffee are just some of the clever ways our brains help us to deal. You capture it beautifully. Because even in the realities of an ICU unit, there is beauty. It is the people.

    • Thank you for such a lovely comment. It’s truly horrific. My Mum’s journey is still continuing, and it doesn’t get any easier. I’m so sorry to hear that you too have been through ICU with your Mum. The people truly make it the saddest and most beautiful place x

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