…i don’t want to forget, so it is going down on virtual paper.
Terry had been feeling poorly, we chalked it up to the flu that was going around. in retrospect it wasn’t. Symptoms were there, fatigue, shortness of breath…could have been the flu but since he rarely got sick it probably wasn’t, but he was 50 and getting older means getting hit a bit harder when the flu comes. Part of me is angry at myself for not seeing it, part of me knows it was easy for anyone to miss. even the doctor he saw for the flu. I will always regret not catching it, but beating myself up is pointless. It won’t change anything.
He went to work that morning, after feeling a bit nauseous. I don’t know exactly what happened there, other than he asked someone to take him to the hospital. They loaded him into a car and headed that way. He called, but i was on the phone with CJ, so I called back and he said “they’re taking me to the hospital, I think I am having a heart attack.” I replied “Oh God, I will meet you there.” and thought “how bad can it be, he’s talking to me” so I figured it was mild, he’d get a stent and that would be that. On the way to the hospital I called a friend, who called some friends, who all showed up shortly after I did.
When I got to the hospital I called him back to see how far out they were. John, the man who drove him, said that he’d started convulsing and they stopped at the Sheriff’s department, where they defibrillated him and did CPR. I couldn’t understand why he needed CPR for convulsions. That his heart had stopped didn’t occur to me. There was an ambulance and EMT’s there anyway, so they loaded him up and brought him in that way, having to continue CPR and defibrillating him again on the way.
In retrospect, upon pondering all this, I am convinced he was dead entirely. His soul was no longer there and his body was being kept alive. I appreciate the efforts, though. They did what they had to do.
He was worked on the the emergency room for 40 minutes until they could take him to the catheter lab. The ER doctor warned me that the situation was very dire and I needed to prepare myself. A nurse came in a little later with Terry’s stuff, and I asked her if the doctor was a pessimist, and she said he was. That was a bit of comfort. When I told my friends what the doctor had said, one of them called another one who’s husband passed away several years ago, and she dropped everything and came over. She held my hand and stayed by my side the entire time, reassuring me that it was going to hurt, but she would be right there.
He was worked on in the catheter lab, where 2 stents were put into his heart. The intervention cardiologist met with me and drew a picture of his heart and what had happened. There are 3 major arteries serving the heart muscle. One of them was completely blocked up at the top, and she said likely he had too much damage to survive. She also warned me that it was likely he suffered too much oxygen deprivation for his brain to have survived.
When I went in to the cath lab to see him, he was having small seizures in his face and eyes. The crystal clear blue, those eyes that would look right into you and know what you were thinking, were cloudy and grey, Nothing was there. He wasn’t there. His body was kept alive, but Terry wasn’t there. I knew that, deep inside. When I saw his face twitching, and his eyes opening and closing, those pupils that were different sizes, I knew. That logical part of my brain told me so. My heart wasn’t ready, and held onto the hope of miracles clung to the desire for his recovery, promised God that if he recovered, no matter how hard it would be, I would do whatever it took.
His heart was cleared, and stent put in where the blockage was, and it continued to beat. His blood pressure was so low…I was told that it was too low to sustain his organs, and if he survived, he would have significant damage to his kidneys and liver, and be deeply impaired neurologically. She (the doctor) said it’s not like on TV, where they shock the person and they wake up a few minutes later, happy and fine. I appreciated her candor on that, and felt so much resentment toward TV shows that I probably won’t ever watch another medical drama again.
It’s peculiar what goes through your head in times like that.
Eventually he made it into a room in the ICU. So many tubes…9 different IVs, a ventilator breathing for him, a giant pad with chambers that had chilled water circulating through them, on top like a blanket. 2 or 3 nurses constantly monitoring, a respiratory tech, lab tech “Hi, I’m the ICU Vampire”. Through it all his heart continued to beat, his eyes opening and closing, face twitching. They put him on propofol, the stuff used to anesthetize people for surgery, and something else that kept him paralyzed. To allow his body to not use any energy except to keep his heart beating. A machine breathed for him, other machines pumped fluids and medicines in him, beeping things, hissing things, clicking things, keeping his body alive. through the night his blood pressure rose and heart kept beating and I was able to snooze in a chair.
That morning, his blood pressure was holding stable and heart was doing ok, so CJ took me for some food and coffee. It tasted like sawdust and I wasn’t really able to eat, so we went back.
The nurses tried to reduce his blood pressure medicines (that were keeping it up), but had to turn them back up. By about noon, they had him on the highest doses of all 4 meds, but his blood pressure was dropping slowly. The head nurse asked if I wanted to consider signing a Do not Resuscitate order, they weren’t going to stop the meds, but wouldn’t give him CPR if his heart stopped. I discussed it with Terry’s mother, and she agreed that signing it would be the right thing to do. It was, at that time, the hardest thing I’d ever done. However, no amount of anything was going to keep his body from dying.
His soul was gone, no amount of anything was going to keep his body alive, anyway.
I brought the boys into his room, and explained what was happening. No, I was not calm and collected, I was weeping and having a terrible time getting the words out, but the nurse helped explain it all. I said it was likely to happen within the next hour or so…we weeped and prayed and weeped some more. 3 of the boys were pretty loud about it, and one of them sat in a chair and hung his head. I hung my head next to him and whispered in his ear “If the situation were different, I would totally be laughing at your brothers” and he whispered back “Me too” . Because….really….it sounded like an Ethiopian wake. how do I know this? trust me.
His blood pressure slowly dropped, his heart beat slowly dropped, and his body stopped. We prayed, cried some more, and said goodbye. We went into the ICU waiting room, where friends and church family waited, and told them. Being surrounded by loved ones and support was…incredible. People feeling it all with us, it was the most comforting thing.
I thought signing that DNR was hard. No. seeing the monitor, those numbers go down, his heart beat slowing, and knowing it was irrevocable, that there would never be another conversation or pouring of morning coffee or griping about work hearing a gentle “this isn’t really the best thing you’ve ever made” or “see! I told you you could do it!”…that’s hard. I have it all in my head, though. This has been the best 30 years of life. I am grateful beyond measure for having him. I miss him terribly and I know it will get worse before it gets better.
I am, upon constantly evaluating it all, confident that he died at the Sheriff’s department, that his soul departed his body quickly and with little pain. He didn’t linger in any way. The night I was with him in the ICU, I thought about how much he would despise being waited on, in a bed, making my life and the lives of our children difficult. He was an In Charge kind of man, and putting himself in the hands of other people, being reliant upon someone for his basic needs, that would have been a special flavor of Hell for him. He loved being pampered and cooked for and being an Old School Husband, as much as I loved being an Old School Wife. But he also loved being The Provider, The Fixer, The One People Depended On. If he had survived this, he would have become a miserable and bitter person, and his quick demise saved him from all that. It was, as painful as it has been for his family, a blessing beyond measure. I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the way this event transpired. I miss Himself, and always will. I am confused and unhappy and brokenhearted, but I am grateful for himself being spared from a future that would likely have broken his spirit.