file000253375816Everybody’s got a Story.  Tell us yours!

Question #14:  August 22, 2013

Tell us… What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

Lee Aldrich

 

 

Lee’s Story:

On a rainy afternoon in October 2011, my dad was going around a curve on his way to physical therapy. A woman heading toward him hydroplaned  on the wet surface and hit him head on at 45-50 MPH.

 

When my brother called to tell me about the accident, he said the xrays were clear for fractures, but they had overmedicated him and he was sick. They were going to keep him overnight and release him the next day. By the next morning I was hopping on a plane to Michigan.

 

The hospital had pushed back his MRI for hours – even after dad had complained about his neck hurting. They had overmedicated him and couldn’t wake him up. After the nurse repeatedly shook him – all with neck issues – they realized they had overdosed him. The ER doctor’s comment was “We gave him too much. Oh well.” (Yep, really.)

 

After an MRI that showed neck and sternum fractures, a neurosurgeon was called in to operate on his neck. After the surgery, the surgeon gave us the bad news…dad would more than likely be paralyzed from the neck down….if he survived.

 

For the next 7-10 days I sat in dad’s room feeding information to the rest of the family until they were able to get there each day after work. I also talked to dad about my niece and nephews sports, our kids, the daily goings on…all in hope that he would hear and wake up.

 

Several times a day, the intensive care doctors would test his reflexes and I watched as less and less response registered. In addition to the declining reflexes, the doctor explained that the flutter we were seeing as he was breathing with the machine was not a hiccup…it was indication that the involuntary reflexes that control breathing were short circuited due to the injury. The bottom line was, dad would never be able to move or breathe on his own. He had been in a controlled coma with propofol and unsuccessfully brought around only once….long enough for me to see the fear and panic in his eyes. His blood pressure was being kept up artificially with medications….more proof of his involuntary system not working.

 

With the help of the intensive care doctor – who was my hero – we, as a family, made the decision to discontinue the efforts to sustain my dad. We’re a family who talks about death and dying, and we all knew what my dad would want. But sometimes doing the right thing hurts more than you ever thought possible.

 

On October 27, we sat at my dad’s bedside as the propofol was turned off, bringing him to a brief awareness that we were all with him. After 45-60 minutes, and the realization that he was holding on, I quietly whispered to my dad, “It’s OK to go, daddy. We’re all here with you. We’ll be OK.”  A short time later we watched as our dad, husband, and friend slipped quietly from this life into God’s hands.

 

Helping the man – who had taken me year after year to see the movie Mary Poppins; played CandyLand for hours; instilled a fierce loyalty to our Red Wings; had always been in my life – move from this life to God was the hardest thing I have ever done and I miss him terribly.

 

I told you my story….What is YOURS?

 

Barbara Joy

 

 

Barbara’s Story:

I’m a midwesterner.  If you ask any of us how we are, the answer will generally be “I’m good”…whether we are or not.

 

Singling out one particular hard thing seems a bit disloyal to my genetic make up….because I’m always just ….”good”.

 

My first grandson was born with a severe brain damage, but  I was going to be “good”.  I was going to see my daughter through this…but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

 

She was unmarried at the time and not really with her fiancé so I was in the delivery room with her.  It was a difficult birth and the baby was deprived of oxygen for a very long time.  The minute he made his appearance, I thought there was something wrong.  As I watched the doctors and nurses bustling around him I knew something was wrong.  I worked hard on maintaining a positive composure so my daughter wouldn’t be alarmed.

 

It took the hospital several days to finally come to a conclusion about his status.  The day came for the doctors to finally tell us what was wrong with him.  We were led down a long hall way into a dimly lit room.  This set off all of our senses to expect the worse news possible…after all  if this was good news we would be celebrating in the public atrium….dimly lit rooms down long hallways far from crowds equal bad news.

 

Alec, my very first grandson, was born with absolutely no brain function at all – his brain stem was the only functioning part of the brain and that controls the involuntaries….pooping and breathing.

We were told Alec wouldn’t live long and we should just take him home and wait for him to die.  There was a pediatric hospice team assigned to the family.

 

I didn’t know how to be a mom that couldn’t make it all better for her children.

 

Alec got kicked out of the pediatric hospice program….he didn’t die.  He lived Six and half years, but he remained as an infant…he never developed any function.

 

Since my daughter was a single mother, I helped.  For a while she lived with us.  I went with her to appointments to try to figure out how to care for Alec, but it wasn’t until one day while we were at one of the countless mind numbing appointments, I realized people were bypassing her and talking to me.  I am used to be a type A personality…a take charge kind of gal.  I guess I was still stuck in the “I’ll take care of this” mode.  I was still trying to solve a problem and there was no solution, we just had to live it.

 

With the help of a great therapist, it became apparent to that I was owning the crisis we called Alec.  I knew I had to let go and allow my daughter to own the grief of a disabled son.  A therapist helped me see I was robbing her of something that would and should be a part of her life.  I couldn’t make it all go away.

 

One of the multiple times Alec went into “active dying”  my daughter called me at the office and I rushed to her apartment.  I was holding a huge toddler with no function as he struggled to breath….writhing and arching his back.  We all wanted him to be able to stop…but what did that mean….that wasn’t an easy solution to hope for.  The pediatric hospice team was there…there were three of them.  They sat on the couch facing me like lined up birds on a wire.  My daughter was stomping around the apartment, slamming doors and cursing….she was mad at the world.  We could all feel her emotions.  While I held Alec, I tried to talk with her and offer any helpful words I could think of.  She grabbed her cigarettes and walked outside slamming the door behind her.  I couldn’t blame her…I was mad at the world too.

 

I looked at the hospice team sitting across from me starring wide eyed at me.  I asked them to help me….”I don’t know what to do!”  “I want to do the right thing!”  Their words are still with me today.  They said “You’re doing the right thing”.  My eyes filled with tears….I said, “then why doesn’t it feel better?”  “Because doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good.”

 

Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good.  My words to live by, now.

 

Alec died over 10 years ago.  He had a short life, but impactful one.

Now it’s your turn. We told you our story…Now tell us yours! What’s your answer for today’s question? Just use the comment section…and if you’ve already written about this – go ahead and leave your link for everybody to read!

13 Comments

  • Sue Shoemaker

    After reading your stories…I almost don’t want to share mine. You have each shared life & death, heart wrenching experiences. You both exhibited courage and grace as you faced your fears and the resulting unimaginable sadness and pain that surely must have accompanied the circumstances in which you found yourselves. And it is obvious that by staying conscious as you lived through those difficult minutes, hours, days and years, you have grown, evolved and matured. Thanks for sharing your life lessons about “doing the right thing”…it “hurts more than you ever thought possible” AND it “doesn’t always feel good.”

    When I read today’s question: WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING YOU HAVE EVER DONE? My thinking went immediately to the hardest “physical” thing I have ever done.

    When I took a cross country road trip 40 years ago with my college roommate, we met three younger men from Florida who loved to hike and encouraged us to go with them on a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We hiked about 21 miles in approximately 24 hours from the south rim to the Phantom Ranch and back. The daytime temperature reached 110 degrees.

    They had canteens and backpacks and apparently “knew what they were doing.” We were “walkers,” but certainly NOT hikers. We wore tennis shoes. Ignorance truly was bliss…we had no idea what we had gotten into until it was over.

    However, I am SO THANKFUL to those guys for helping us meet that challenge. I have never hurt so much “physically” before or since.

    Any physical “challenge” that I have met since that time has had to face the “Grand Canyon hike comparison”…including childbirth…twice. Nothing compares. That was the hardest physical thing I have ever done.

    • Lee Aldrich

      Sue – hard is hard whether emotional or physical. What a great accomplishment! My hubby and I moved to the mountains in January, and are hiking….as a matter of fact the UPS guy just brought his new hiking boots.

      Thank you for your kind and generous compliments. Both Barb and I put those stories off for a bit since they bring up a lot of hurt. Regardless, we’re all cut from the same cloth and experience some of the similar things in life. We’re all there for each of us. How fabulous is that?!

    • Lee Aldrich

      Shannon – it’s scary, and in both these cases extremely hard, putting our stories out there, but we all experience hurt, loss and grief. We choose to share it to help others by realizing they are not alone and that it’s OK to talk about what we feel. Thank you for your kind comments.

  • For years, my “hardest thing” was listening, at ten years old, huddled in a bed in another room, to the last hour of my mother’s life as she died, in great pain, from breast cancer.

    Then last year, one of my dearest friends died at age 43, indirectly from domestic violence. Had to say goodbye, arrange a memorial service, and be “nice” to her boyfriend who is mentally ill and wasn’t “purposely” abusive.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted…Summer Fun, Summer Songs #GenFabMy Profile

    • Lee Aldrich

      Beverly – I cannot even begin to imagine what that was like for you at 10 years old. It’s hard enough for us to understand as adults. I give you praise for being able to be civil at your friends funeral. Not so sure I would have had that strength. Thank you so much for sharing both of those stories. I’m sure they still hurt and it must have been difficult to think about both deaths and feel the emotions all over again as you wrote about them. Thank you for your honesty.

  • Richard Hatch

    My wife’s twin sister went to the doctor for a bladder infection but because of some abnormal blood test results, he thought she should go to the hospital to have it checked out. Like my wife, she had had her share of medical issues over the years so she knew the drill and wasn’t overly concerned and in fact, felt pretty good that day; she and her husband even drove through Taco Bell on the way to the hospital.

    I received a call and left work late in the afternoon. The infection was out of control and spreading rapidly—by the time I arrived she was in ICU and by days end on life support; with hemorrhaging visible from her pores and in the tears from her eyes. My wife and I and her twin sister’s husband, her parents and her other sisters and brother-in-laws gathered and waited in a makeshift family area they made for us near her room. I clearly remember the doctors explaining how grave the situation had become and these words as they spoke to the family: “She is going to die. We don’t know when. It may in a few hours. It may be a few days. But she IS going to die.”

    My brother-in-law was too distraught and I somehow became a De facto family spokesperson. I spoke with the doctors privately to ask if Mary’s sister was comfortable; she was not. And then asked what the point of life support was, if they were so sure she was going to die. They told me they were waiting for someone to ask that question because they couldn’t broach the subject without being asked by family first, but the infection was unstoppable, she was no longer breathing on her own and the life support was futile.

    I asked them then to address the family once more and the life support options which they did, and my brother-in-law turned to me and asked, “What should I do?” I honestly didn’t want to be a part of any decision like that. Relunctantly I told him, “The doctors can’t do anymore. They said she is going to die. She’s very uncomfortable and could be for days. If we’re going to get a miracle, God doesn’t need machines to perform miracles.” My heart ached for everyone in the family, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and their kids—my wife still says losing a twin is like losing a part of yourself that no one else can understand unless you’re a twin—and I can still see the worry, pain and grief in my mother-in-law and father-in-law’s faces as we sat and waited in that room.(They’re gone now, but they were such awesome.awesome people.)

    One-by-one, we all said our goodbyes and then they gradually decreased the oxygen—after 30 minutes passed they said her heart was stronger than they expected and would decrease it more—a moment that left me with a tinge of doubt that sometimes still lingers and troubles me today.

    There were no miracles to be had that day and she passed away, less than 48 hours from the time she had arrived at the hospital. That was 21 years ago at the age of 42 and we buried her on father’s birthday.

    Thanks for the tough question, sharing your own personal stories, letting me share mine, and if I may, borrow your words to live by, “Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good.”

    • Barbara Coleman

      Thanks for sharing your story, Dick! Making decisions for other people always leave you filled with doubt, especially when there’s no happy ending. It takes courage to make those decisions. I also have learned that dying is the easy part, not dying and living with no quality of life…that’s the hard part. Thank god for people like you that have the courage to see how to provide the most comfort. It’s not always easy, but you know it’s right.

    • Lee Aldrich

      Dick –

      I can understand how hard this was on the family and on you since it seems they turned to you for guidance and support. I’ve found that sometimes the miracles come disguised as God and life putting us in a position where we can actually make a decision that we know is what the other person would want.

      I’ve also seen how the human spirit clings to life, not only because that is our nature, but because of an innate concern for the people who are left behind. We doubt ourselves because we wonder “what if.” But in playing that “what if” game in our heads we also need to roll around the “what if we hadn’t” part of the equation.

      Thank you for sharing such a personal, moving, heart-wrenching experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge