On Thursday afternoon, July 10, at 4:07 PM my life changed forever.
I was sitting at my computer desk, contemplating whether or not to go to Vacation Bible School to volunteer that night. Hubby-head had been in charge of the skits for VBS - playing a pirate, yarr - and due to a conflict with the Bible College class that night they'd postponed the Thursday skit until Friday... and I was a floating volunteer, not committed to any particular thing, so I thought maybe Hubby and I'd spend a quiet evening at home. Around 4, I'd shot him an IM with some kissy faces (yeah I know, ick) and was expecting to hear back from him pretty shortly that he was leaving for the afternoon and on his way home.
Instead, the phone rang at 4:07 PM. I checked my caller ID and the number wasn't familiar, so as was my practice I let it roll over to voice mail. I often get wrong numbers, marketing calls, or reminder calls for events I don't intend to attend, so I don't even always listen to my messages right away. That evening I did, thankfully.
The call was from Hubby-head's boss, informing me that he'd passed out at the office a little earlier and the ambulance was taking him to the closest hospital to be checked out, just to make sure. Didn't sound like a big deal - the biggest deal at that point was that he'd had the wrong number for me so he had to call hubby's mom to get my cell phone, and she was a bit worried by the call.
I closed out the computer programs I was in, told a couple of people online what was going on (they suggested maybe heatstroke), threw some shoes on, and grabbed my purse, driving toward the hospital about 20 miles from my house. I wasn't too worried, although about halfway to the hospital the ER docs had his friend who had gone with him to the ER call me so he could ask me some medical history questions. Did he have a history of serious drug use? (No, he smoked some pot years and years ago but nothing heavy and nothing recent.) Had he had a trauma recently, like a car accident or a bad fall? (No, he'd have told me if he had I'm sure.) Did he have any sort of medical history, either himself or his family, like heart disease or other serious illnesses? (Not for himself, and I wasn't sure of his family history.) Now I was starting to worry a bit... but I had no idea what was in store for me within a couple of hours.
When I arrived at the ER, Hubby was in for a CT scan, and when they brought him back to the exam room, he was clearly in distress - disoriented, agitated, and in pain. He was able to recognize me as his wife, but he wasn't acting like himself, and he didn't seem to comprehend that he was in the hospital and not at work still. He was very concerned because his legs felt like they were asleep, and he kept trying to get the nurses to let him up so he could walk it off. His arms were also bothering him, and he thrashed on the gurney quite a lot, gripping the sides, complaining about his arms and legs, and asking for help. I was a bit frantic by the sight of his condition, and kept stepping out of the room to make phone calls - to his mom, to my mom, to my pastor and some church friends to ask someone to come down to sit with me.
I kept stepping back in as I could to talk to him, I'd say "I love you sweetie" and he'd say "love you..." and then would be back to somewhat garbled requests for help. The last thing I remember him saying directly to me, leaning back to catch a breath and looking at my face, was "This sucks."
After that it was a whirlwind. The doctor pulled me aside and informed me that he had an aortic dissection, a catastrophic health event that was very likely to kill him. He had to be airlifted to another hospital for emergency surgery, thankfully one that was nearby. They told me that a very good vascular surgeon was standing by and by the time we arrived by car, he would likely be in surgery.
As it turns out, we drove up shortly after the helicopter landed, and as they wheeled him into the side door of the ER, the flight nurse pointed me out to him - "there's your wife" - and I saw him turn his head toward me. I waved and his friend Chris and I entered the main ER doors. That's the last time I saw him awake.
The first night was a long, drawn out exercise in waiting. His mother secured a flight out to Phoenix and a ride from the airport late in the evening. Our associate pastors came to sit with me, and our good friends / deacons / worship director. The vice president of his company stopped by to lend his support and give me his number to call him if I needed anything. I was a bit dazed, but comforted, and our little group had a fervent prayer meeting in the back corner of one of the waiting rooms while we awaited the results of his first surgery. If I'd known then that his surgery had a 90% mortality rate, I'd have been frantic. As it was, I waited patiently, and his mother arrived just in time to hear the surgeon's report that he was alive after very long open heart surgery where he had a metal pump and valve inserted, part of his aorta replaced, and a large amount of repair work done. They were not sure if he'd make it through the night, but our faith was strong.
His mom and I checked into a nearby hotel and went to get some sleep, planning to be back at the hospital in the morning after the ICU nurse shift change to see him again. I got about two hours of sleep, maybe. His mom got none. We had a small breakfast at the hotel, and arrived back at the hospital just as they were phoning me - he had to go back into surgery to remove some blood clots around his heart, his blood pressure was very low and they wanted to try to help it work better.
Two hours after they told me the surgery would be done, the surgeon came back out and informed us that he was back in ICU, they'd removed the blood clots and done a bypass of a coronary artery that was slightly clogged (early development of plaque, mean evil bacon was catching up with him)... and had discovered that part of his colon had died from a lack of sufficient blood flow, so they resected that section and hoped there wouldn't be too much damage from the toxicity in his system. His blood pressure and oxygen levels were very low, and they were concerned about the possibility of paralysis and brain damage. The first priority, though, was to get his vital signs stable.
I sent out text messages requesting prayer, and we sat and waited and occasionally went back to see him. His brother reported that Hubby had opened his eyes and tried to look at him when he touched him on the arm and talked to him. His nurses said his blood pressure increased when his family was talking to him.
Saturday morning we were asked to consent to put him on dialysis. The low blood flow had compromised his kidney function, and they needed to help his kidneys out for a while. By Saturday night, his vital signs were stable and his oxygen levels were good, with the support of a ventilator and some medications to raise his blood pressure. It was going to be a long waiting game, with little changes in his medications and his ventilator settings every day to see how well his body took over as they reduced the support. The docs did an EEG on Saturday night, because he'd been twitching a lot and they wanted to rule out seizure activity. The report back was that there was no evidence of seizures, thankfully, and they were able to measure some brain activity and his brain stem was functioning.
We ate a good dinner on Saturday, had a good night's sleep, and came back on Sunday morning, prepared again for another long day at the hospital. Around 10:00 the cardiac surgeon came out to talk to us, and started to try to prepare us for the worst. His prognosis was very poor. There was no chance he'd ever recover in any meaningful way, much less walk, sing, and all the other stuff he was known for. Another cardiac doc and the neurologist informed us that they'd looked at him again that morning and his pupils were dilated and non-responsive, they had taken him off of the paralytic drug and all of his pain medications and he was not responding to any stimuli. His brain scan now showed no activity, including brain stem activity. He wasn't in there anymore.
After an afternoon of prayer and tears, solemn discussions and a bit of levity from friends who had come to support us, his mother, brother and I finally made the decision that if he wasn't in there, we needed to let him go. If God was going to do a miracle for us, he could do it when we disconnected the life support... otherwise, my sweetheart, the love of my life, would not want to be kept alive on machines waiting for us to give up. I couldn't procrastinate this time.
We went back together to tell the nurses at 6:00. The doctor was in another ward at the time so we had to wait for him to arrive and at 6:45 they disconnected his dialysis machine followed by all of the drugs that supported his blood pressure and heart rate. They reconnected his pain medications. They were expecting his heart to fail quickly... but my hunny-bunny was strong and kept going, although is blood pressure dropped precipitously. They called in a technician to remove his ventilator at 6:58 PM... and his chest did not rise again. I'd seen him breathe his last breath. Still his heart kept beating, beating... for fifteen minutes. I went to the side of his bed and cried a while, and told him it was OK, we were as ready as we'd ever be to let him go, and if he wasn't in there anymore there was no sense making us wait around. At 7:15 PM on Sunday, July 13, his heart stopped, and my heart broke.
As a very wise and very much loved man once said, "This sucks."
Yeah baby... it really does.