(Uncensored. You've been warned.)
I thought the night of her initial heart attack was the worst night of my life (being selfish, of course). Things progressed slowly to where Christine was weaned off the life support and was doing somewhat better, until she had her second heart attack the morning of August 9.
But we wash, rinse, and repeat, and she was weaned off life support fairly quickly after the second one. She had made gains each day. She had gotten to a point where she was practicing breathing with the spirometer... the respiratory therapist said it one be a big step in her recovery (and possibly being put into a step-down unit) if she could blow 1000, and then 1500 on that meter. She worked hard to do it, because she was Yankee stubborn. The second-to-last day she was so excited because she had reached juuuust under that 1500 mark.
Within her final few days she was able to pass a swallowing test and be allowed to have a liquid diet. This stuff was powerful nasty. Poor girl... I can't remember exactly what they gave her that first day on the liquids but I do recall that it looked dreadful. I used to call it "liquid nightmare in a bowl." They continued to work with her with swallowing and she was able to advanced to soft-solids on ... what would turn out to be her final day.
She was getting some bedside physical therapy and was able to stand up (for a few moments anyway), and transfer, with nursing assistance, from bed to commode and back to bed.
Things were really looking good, to the point that transfer to a step-down was being kind of quietly discussed.
Then Monday August 15, 2016.
The day was generally ok. When I first came in to the room in the morning, she looked a bit out of it. Her blood pressure was a bit lower than we wanted it to be, and she complained of feeling a bit dizzy and light-headed when they had her use the commode. I guess we didn't really think too much on the BP, figuring it would come up later in the day. She was pretty much at a plateau, and that wasn't unexpected. I parked myself in her room with plan to spend the day with her, other than when the nursing staff expected visitors to leave (afternoon "rest time" and evening shift change). She did get some good news in that her last echocardiogram, which took place on the 14th, showed an ejection fraction of 40%. When she first arrived at New Hanover, it was in the lower 20s, and the cardiologist thought that maybe we could get to the mid 30s with a lot of medication and effort.
They let me stay on the unit in her room during the afternoon rest period. She generally just didn't "feel good," which had us a little concerned, but figured that maybe she did a little too much too soon (being the stubborn woman she was).
She had a decent rest period, and I believe it was around 5 PM that I went downstairs to the cafeteria to get some dinner.
When I got back she was on the commode, with several nurses around her. She said that something was wrong, and she was having a hard time catching her breath. She looked concerned, and the nurses were helping her back into bed. They started her on oxygen once again, and after getting settled back into bed she seemed to recover a bit. Her BP was still lower than everyone wanted, but the nurse manager said they were aware and were going to add a medication (I can't remember what it was) to help boost it up.
The shift change time came along, and Christine asked me to please stay. Looking back on it with the benefit of hindsight, I think she knew something just wasn't right. I asked Carrie if I could stay and they discussed it and said I could stay, as long as we kept the door to the room shut and I stayed kind of quiet.
So Christine and I settled in to watch Monday Night Raw, as our usual. She was kind of huffing and puffing, so they started to ramp up on her oxygen delivery. As time progressed, her numbers on the monitor started looking weird. It was ... strange. None of this state-of-the-art equipment was working the way it should. They couldn't get a decent blood pressure measurement on her arm, forearm, or lower leg. They couldn't get a decent blood pressure measurement via "old school" BP cuff.
As time went on they ordered a bedside echocardiogram. Christine didn't seem overly concerned (or at least she was doing one hell of an acting job), other than still struggling to get a decent breath of air. She was also asking for the suction for her throat more and more often. Anyway, the man with the bedside echo came in to do his thing. I've transcribed medical reports for a whole bunch of years and so I know what an ejection fraction means. I glanced at that screen and saw ejection fraction in the lower 20s. The technician no-sold it, of course, he's not supposed to make a diagnosis or tell a patient anything, and that's fine, I understand. I also decided that... if Christine didn't ask, I wasn't going to tell.
She continued to struggle to breathe. I implored the evening nurse to please contact someone who could look farther into this. Christine asked me for a Priesthood blessing (a religious ordinance our church believes in). THIS alarmed me. So we muted Raw and I gave her the blessing. By time I got done with the blessing, Respiratory had come in and they put her on a high-flow oxygen mask. They also gave her epinephrine in an effort to boost her BP numbers and such.
Christine was claustrophic. She was terrified with that mask on. Her pupils were blown wide open. She was shaking uncontrollably in bed, likely thanks to sheer terror and that damned epi they gave her.
At this point it was roughly 10:30 PM. I was doing everything I could think of to calm her down a bit. We were counting, we were practicing breathing... I was telling her, "in and out, in and out." Telling her to try to watch the TV, or try to think about Nathan, or the cats. I had her hold one of the stuffed animal cats I had brought. Now nurses were in the room trying to get bloods and administer treatment.
11:00 PM or thereabouts, she was really spiraling downward. She was slipping in and out of consciousness while everyone was working on her. I was telling her to keep her eyes open, keep looking at me, keep squeezing my hand, keep squeezing my f--king hand. I have no idea how long this went on. Beep--beep--beep--beep-beep-beepbeepbeeeeeep. Squeeze my f--king hand. A weak squeeze. Eyes roll back. SQUEEZE MY F--KING HAND DAMMIT! Nothing. SQUEEZE. Nothing. Shouting (or something) behind me, someone yelling at me, I don't know. A firm grasp on my own shoulder. "I'm calling security if you don't leave now." They made me leave. I couldn't stay. Then they brought me this damn chaplain who I had no desire to talk to. Nurse Erica also was with me... in hindsight I think they made her stay with me so I wouldn't be in the way or something. ......
I stayed on the unit, but not in her room. I'm certain we shattered JCAHO and HIPAA regulations. Erica didn't seem to care, and neither did that chaplain. I wished he'd just shut up and leave me alone, but I understand he was doing his job. There was chaos coming from Christine's room, people in and out. Erica would occasionally go over and then come back to where we were (I now had a couple of other nurses and the chaplain in this little "corridor" between rooms). Erica said they were doing CPR, to keep faith. More beeps and crap, but I have no idea if they were from her room or someone else's. There were noises and people, but yet at the same time other nurses who were at their stations, managing their patients like nothing else was going on. I didn't care. I tried to get up from the chair they had me in so I could see what was going on but Erica and her posse made it pretty clear I was either staying put or leaving the unit entirely.
Have you ever been in a situation where you are simply so ... I don't even know the words to use ... but just where I couldn't think straight. I couldn't comprehend anything, I could hardly breathe myself. She was doing so much better earlier. This simply wasn't happening. I called Tonya Scott, from church, who had been there that first night. She told me she was on her way.
Shortly after 1 AM on the 16th, the cardiologist and other doctor came to where we all were sitting, and said they had been doing CPR for over an hour. There was no sign of any mental activity, no response that would indicate to them that there was still life. He said they could continue but it was doing even more harm than anything else.
A few moments passed, and I told them to do what they had to do.
Do what needed to be done.
A few minutes later the cardiologist came back and said they were finished.
I tried to call Christine's parents. No answer. I called again, as soon as the machine picked up I hung up and dialed again. Her father answered the phone. I don't remember what I told him, other than to talk to the doctor. The doctor graciously took his call, and from what Erica told me they were on the phone for a little bit. I called Christine's aunt Janet, with whom Nathan had been staying. My God I couldn't help but to see in my mind's eye, and I still see it to this very minute, the "I love you mom" on the whiteboard next to her bed, in his sloppy handwriting, that he wrote the very first complete day we were here. Everything, all of the events of the past 13 days, sped through my mind, like a videotape on "rewind." There were other people talking around me. It was chaotic. They told me to stay put. I don't know.
Tonya and her daughter Jackie arrived. I think they made it from Tabor City to Wilmington in just shy of an hour. I don't even know what time it was anymore, but Erica said we could go in and see her body.
I wanted to scream, yell, beat on someone. I wanted everyone on that damn unit to know how I felt. I didn't care if I woke every single patient there. This couldn't possibly be happening. What about the blessing I gave her? What the hell good was faith when THIS was the end result? I remember feeling sick, like I was going to be sick.
Tonya, Erica, and the chaplain went in with me to see her body. Everything had been cleaned out of the room. All the poles, the electronics, the monitors, pumps, everything was gone. Even the personal effects, the stuffed animals, clothings, her glasses. All that mess had been bagged up and put in a corner. They had a blanket up over her, she looked like she might have gone to bed. But she was very thin. Her face sunken a bit. I didn't know what to do. We just sat there for a few minutes. I touched her hand, it was chilly to the touch, but not cold, per se. Maybe she had been putting groceries away in the freezer.
The whiteboard had been erased, clean. That rooted me to the core. Nathan's message was gone. Now, listed as of shortly after 1 AM on the 16th of August, 2016, his mother was gone too. Gone to a place I can never get her back.
Her dreams gone forever. The things she loved doing, her genealogy, being with Nathan, teaching... left behind. Nathan, a 9-year-old kid, without a mother. For some reason I'll never understand, God saw fit to take Nathan's mom away, even though he is supposedly a loving God. All the fighting she did over the past 13 days, gone.
Aunt Janet arrived before daybreak. I thought of Nathan... how on earth were we going to tell him? Aunt Janet is a registered nurse herself, and she said she'd discuss it with him when she got back to Mebane (NC). I turns out that Nathan woke up in the night, sometime shortly after Janet left; he said he was feeling really sick to his stomach, that something was wrong. He knew. Janet didn't have to tell him.
Me? I didn't know what to do. Well, that's not entirely true. I knew I wanted to stay at least until the day shift nurses arrived. I covered that in a previous blog. I couldn't help to notice but there was already someone else in the room Christine had occupied.
Eventually Janet left to head back up to Mebane. I packed all of the personal stuff that had been in Christine's room in the trunk of the car. As far as I was concerned, I'd never open that trunk again. I went back to the SECU house where I was staying... and locked myself in that room to be alone with my own thoughts. Except I couldn't think. I couldn't ... think. I just sat there. I couldn't even cry. There wasn't any. I didn't know what to do, so I went back downstairs into the common room at the SECU house. But then I got down there and I didn't feel like socializing with anyone so I went outside and walked around the grounds before going back upstairs. I remember being completely exhausted... this was suppertime Tuesday and I had been up since Monday morning. But there was no way sleep was going to happen.
Nothing has been the same. 364-days-and-change have gone by. And I still want to know why.