Life Story

Intensive Care Unit

By: Tami Harper Winn

The afternoon light streams through the fingerprint stained glass doors to the hospital. It is quiet. The Holy Cross Chapel is dark and comforting. I’ve been here before. Somehow, I find solace amongst the dimly lit candles. “God, are you there? It’s me Tami.” I think of mom at this very moment as tears race each other down my cheeks. I am here again. This place is daunting and filled with the ghosts of my past. It hurts. This is a place I associate with pain and near death experiences. I am frightened, once again alone with only me and my higher power.


I stare at those same green and blue chandeliers in the main foyer. “Dang, those ugly things are still there after all these years,” I say staring up at the hanging display of glass ornaments dangling from the ceiling across from the chapel. I am at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Hospital this evening. Tonight it is not for anyone in my immediate family - this time anyways. But I am here for my “other” family - one of my AA family members. I sit powerless again, feeling out of place within myself and this situation. It is a situation all too familiar for me. It brings back memories of tragedy and heartache that I have never forgotten, and have not touched in a very long time. Truth be told, I don’t like to touch those memories and will not if I don’t have to.


“I miss you mommy,” I say as I choke up between sobs. I am there again, all those years ago. It was the summer of 2009, the summer before I got sober. Mom had just had two brain surgeries back to back to remove aneurisms and had suffered a severe stroke as part of the package deal. It will be a long, drawn out summer spent pacing between the cafeteria, the parking lot, and the intensive care unit – three months to be exact. The carpet will be worn with my footsteps, in fact, I swear I can still see the path I made. I shiver. I drank every night, crying nonstop to a god I did not know. I’d wake hung over, smelling of booze and shake myself up enough to return to her side. I managed to stay sober during the days, but the nights were so long.


It would be only nine short months after mom’s stay in intensive care that I would find myself pushing the same elevator buttons, heading to the same floor, as I watched powerlessly through glass windows at my oldest son now on life support. I could not drink enough to stop the pain that had been coursing through my veins for so many months. The trials appeared endless.


Then in May of that same year, I would find the bottom of my last bottle. The pain had become too great. Still the shadow of that hospital loomed in my past. Every time I drove past it, I heard the ghosts of days long gone calling out to me. I shivered. I still do. So much pain filled those halls, so much terror and uncertainty sculpted the lines on the statues in that chapel. I prayed I’d never see another day like those again or that I would ever see this chapel again.


Then, almost two years ago, I would find myself pushing the #3 button on that same elevator, heading to the same floor, and standing at the bedside of my middle son now on life support too. It’s as if the powers-to-be had placed a bookmark in those halls, patiently waiting for me to return to finish the story. How could so many people I love find their ways into these beds? It seemed and still does, so surreal.


I had been sober now close to four years by the time I found my familiar spot in the waiting room of the ICU unit again. It nearly took me back out to drink once more. I was traumatized by the sight of ventilators and machines attached to humans, people I loved dearly, doing for them what they could not do for themselves.


Now, today I am here once again, but this time not for one of my own. This time it is for one of my dear friends in sobriety that must walk the same path as I have already. He looks to me with tired eyes, confusion, a broken and shaken heart, and I meet his eyes with complete empathy and understanding. We are one soul in more ways than can be explained. He is my brother in recovery and my friend in life. Our bond now shares the experience of a child that fights for his life, and the unanswered questions as to why this had to happen.


I know he will stay sober through this. My higher power and his higher power are some pretty tough cookies. But, it doesn’t make it any less painful.


As the light fades into dusk, the chapel walls close in. I am knelt in prayer to my god. As the tears escape the hallowed spaces between my lashes, I am overcome with a revelation. Images of the ventilators and machines doing for my loved ones what they couldn’t do for themselves appear vividly. I cry more. They are physical representations merely of my higher power during those moments in my life when I did not think I could hold on any longer.


It was all so clear now…why I was here in this moment, at this time, and in this place. My fear of this hospital had given me nightmares for so many years now. I dreaded this place and even feared it. Now, today I made peace with my past, with my demons. I got to see my past through a new pair of glasses, as I have done so many times before. This was a gift from my higher power – the chance to see things differently.


As the day closed, so did the wound in my heart. The healing and transformation had taken place there in the pews of that little Holy Cross Chapel. My higher power had done for me what I could not do for myself.


That hospital was not a place of pain and sorrow. Sure, that is what brought people to it, but it was put there to help heal those who suffered and hurt. It was designed to treat those in dire need of emergency attention. It was it’s first and primary purpose. Some got to live to tell the story and some did not get to make it. But everyone inside those walls had a common purpose – to help save someone’s life. If the sick and afflicted needed their help, they stood ready and waiting – willing to help the next suffering person to come in their doors. They did everything possible to help them. Miracles happened every day inside those rooms and people walked out healed and able to participate in life again – what ever that looked like.


Now, where in my life did that same scenario play out? Where else did miracles happen every day in rooms across the world? That hospital was a physical representation of the room’s of Alcoholic’s Anonymous for me and countless others. We had the same mission – the same purpose. It is where those who were in need of emergency treatment went to get help. It’s where lives were saved, and sadly some could not be. It is an intensive care unit of another kind. When the door opens, and one of our own stumbles across the threshold beaten and busted up – clinging to dear life – we bring them in and surround them with our emergency kit. We offer them the solution. Thanks God for being my life support.



I am Responsible.
When Anyone, Anywhere
Reaches Out For Help,
I Want The Hand Of A.A.
Always To Be There.

And For That,
I Am Responsible !



~ Tami Harper Winn ~



The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.