Question #14: August 22, 2013
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?
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
amused 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.