This isn't being written as a "feel sorry for Chris" thing, or any other crap along those lines. No... my shrink, sorry, my psychologist said I should write whatever thoughts come up over the next 2 weeks.
August 2, 2016, was a regular boring Tuesday wherein nothing of interest happened. It was a routine day in all aspects. I honestly don't even remember what I did that day... since it was a Tuesday I'm sure I had some transcription work to complete... Dr. DiCaprio usually had a bunch of work due on Tuesdays. Nathan probably spent much of the day doing typical Nathan things, like playing on his computer or his tablet. I don't even remember what Christine did. She might have gone to the gym that morning like usual, or not, I honestly don't remember. I do remember that it was hot that day, the summer of 2016 had been excruciatingly hot. She had wanted to cut lawn and I specifically remember telling her not to. Normally I wouldn't "forbid" my wife anything, it's not a husband's place to do that, but I expressly told her no. So at any rate, the day was just another day.
We had supper and sat down in the evening to have our snack and watch WWE Smackdown. It was just one of the things we did. I remember there being storms in the forecast and, me being me, I was all for that.
That's when life as I knew it ended.
Shortly before 9 PM, Christine very suddenly stood up from the couch. She was as white as new-fallen snow. She specifically said that she didn't feel very good, that her back hurt really bad all of the sudden. I thought that maybe she had sat "wrong" in the chair or something, but since it was approaching the time she usually went to bed, I said "why not just go lie down for bed anyway?" So she went off to the bedroom. I went in to check on her maybe a minute later and she said that the pain was still there but it wasn't as bad, but she asked if I could bring her an aspirin. So I went and got the aspirin and she took it, and I went back into the other room to help Nathan get ready for bed. After sitting back down in the living room, I could hear Nathan saying "mommy, mommy, mommy." I raised my voice telling him to stop bothering her, so she could rest. He came out and said that "mommy is acting really strange." This was 9:05 PM.
I went in and found Christine in a full seizure. Her face was dark red and she was completely unresponsive. She wasn't breathing... well, there were occasional gasps every few moments. (I read later on, during the course of her hospitalization, this was called agonal breathing... an involuntary brain-stem response to a cardiac arrest.) Nathan had the wherewithal to call 911 and he brought me the phone. I told him we need help, and he ran out of the room. I talked to the dispatcher and she said to start doing CPR. I had a CPR certification from when I was in high school, 24 years ago. Anyway I started doing chest compressions, or ... what I would call compressions, knowing full well they weren't very effective. In the meantime, Nathan arrived with our neighbors, Derrick and Melony Edwards. Derrick told me to get out of the way, and he took over the chest compressions. I was on the phone with the dispatcher this entire time. Derrick, who is a very muscular football coach, continued chest compressions while Melony tried to get Christine to respond. It started to storm outside a little bit. Nathan ran outside with our bright flashlight to flag down the ambulance. Derrick continued CPR.
Eventually the paramedics arrived. Christine had actually started to respond again so he stopped CPR and I hung up with the dispatcher. The paramedics were in the process of getting all their stuff out when I noticed Christine go unconscious again. The one paramedic started to get the paddles out, the defibrillator, and I had to leave the room. I couldn't watch that. I went into the living room, or my office, or somewhere in the house. I remember Derrick shouting at me telling me to focus and get it together for Nathan's sake. I think I called Christine's parents or my mom. I called Tonya Scott from church as well. That much I'm sure of.
After what seemed like forever the paramedics started to come down the hallway with Christine on the gurney. I could hear "beep beep beep" and I asked the lady if that was a heartbeat, and she said yes it was. She got some information from me and then they got into the ambulance, and pulled out of the driveway in the direction of the North Whiteville FD. I just assumed they were going to the hospital that direction as a quicker way to get onto 701. They didn't "peel out" of the driveway or go racing off into the night.
I told Nate to get in the car so we could go to the hospital. Melony told me not to speed. It was raining a little bit, but there was lightning and thunder, a storm was coming. So Nate and I headed into town the usual way we go. We made it to the hospital without seeing the ambulance at all. At first I didn't think anything of it. I told Nate to go sit down in the waiting room, and I asked the lady at the check-in if they (the ambulance) had arrived... she said she'd find out. Just a few seconds after I sat down I saw the ambulance pull in, followed by "code blue, emergency room." Nathan asked if that was mom, and I said I didn't think so (but in hindsight I knew that it was).
After a few minutes they called us into the back, and we were being taken to one of the smaller exam rooms. On the way I remember watching one of the people write "Cawley, cardiac arrest" on the whiteboard. They wouldn't let me go see her right away.
Tonya (from church) arrived, along with the senior missionaries, the Madeo's.
Anyway after a few minutes the doctor came to talk to me and said that Christine had suffered a "massive heart attack," and there was a blood clot. They had given a clot buster but she needed to go to Wilmington immediately. Since there was a thunderstorm, they couldn't use the helicopter and had to wait for the Life Link bus from New Hanover Regional Medical Center. I asked if I could go see Christine and the doctor said yes, for a minute, but she's not conscious and Nathan had to stay where he was. Elder Madeo, in his capacity as "clergy" was allowed to come with me.
She was there on the bed/gurney/whatever it's called. They had cut her clothing off back at the house, and had a hospital robe covering her. She had been intubated, and several other lines had been attached. This just could not possibly be happening. This was some twisted horrible nightmare. Elder Madeo and I gave her a blessing (a religious ordinance). By this time the Life Link bus arrived. I talked to the paramedic; she said they had full life support systems on that bus, as well as a professionally trained driver. "Don't try to follow us, you won't be able to keep up. We'll be in Wilmington in half an hour, and you will not." (Wilmington is an hour from Whiteville in dry conditions.) By now it was storming pretty good outside.
So they packaged Christine up and headed off for Wilmington... I think it was around 1130 or so by now, maybe midnight, not really sure. Nathan and I headed back to the house to pack a few bags knowing we were going to be in Wilmington for however long it was going to be.... me thinking that this was all some sick mistake and we'd all be back home in the morning.
We packed up and got ready to leave for Wilmington. I stopped by the Edwards' to thank them for their help and to give an update.
Normally I'm giddy over a spectacular thunderstorm but this was not the case. It was one of the worst storms I had ever driven in... and persisted all the way to Wilmington. It rained so hard you couldn't see the road even with high-beam headlights. You could see the road when it was lit by the near-constant lightning. It was one of the most ferocious storms I had ever experienced. I'm only vaguely aware of Nathan's presence on the trip to Wilmington because in my mind this was still all one really intense nightmare.
Anyway we got to New Hanover, but I had no idea where to go. One of the security officers took us to the Critical Care Cardiac Unit where apparently they already had Christine in the cardiac cath lab. I met a nurse outside the CCCU when Nate and I got there -- she told Nathan to go sit in the waiting room. The nurse told me that she had coded again and she was "very, very sick." She didn't have much other information and that they should be out of the cath lab by about 2 AM or so.
Even now, 365 days later, I still have trouble putting all the pieces together from this night. She had been fine. She had been completely FINE all damn day, with no symptoms of anything out of the ordinary until 5 or 10 minutes before Nathan found her. What in the hell was happening? WHY in the hell was this happening? Sitting in that awful waiting room trapped in my own thoughts. Nathan sitting quietly, playing on his tablet. I think that's what the child was doing... I'm not sure. God bless him though, he was very stoic. I think there were some other people in the downstairs part of the waiting/sitting room, but they were nameless, faceless humanoids just taking up space. I can't remember what time it might have been when I called Christine's parents or my own mom to give an update. I just sat there demanding that God tell me why WHYYYY He had done this and where He was right now? I had been drilled in this faith for so many years, now it was hitting the fan and He was nowhere to be found.
At some point the doctor came into the room... I don't even know what time it was. Sometime after 2 or 3 in the morning. He said that Christine had a 100% blockage in the left main coronary artery, and there was damage to the artery wall. He also said there were partial or complete blockages in four other locations. They put 5 stents in. They weren't able to competely get rid of the main blockage. I can still hear that doctor's voice in my head a full year later. He said she was in very grave condition, and they didn't know if she would survive, or if she DID survive, she was "under" for so long they weren't sure what kind of brain activity she would have, but either way the next 24-48 hours were going to be a very critical time. I remember just sitting there ... a case of what...the...f**k...? How in the hell could someone have such severe heart disease and have no f**king symptoms? The woman wanted to cut the f**king lawn earlier that same day! And dear God when you get around to it could you please explain to me why WHYYYYY was He not responding to the blessing we gave her earlier? In a box somewhere I still have the initial copy of the catheterization diagram that doctor gave me. A few minutes later a different nurse came in and explained to me they were going to initiate a hypothermia treatment... this was where they bring a patient's body temperature way down, real cold, to cause the body to go into a "resting phase," which apparently helps "restore" brain function after such a severe heart attack. They were going to keep her down for [x] number of hours or a day or two, I can't remember now. She was on full life support. Her life was a machine. They told me I could go in and see her... they even let Nathan come in but only for a second. When I saw her I think it was around daybreak. She was ice cold. There was no life there whatsoever. What life she had was contained in machines around her bed, with wires and tubes and a whole assortment of shit. Nathan actually handled seeing her fairly well. He wrote "I love you mommy" on the little whiteboard in the room, room #7 in the CCCU. His little message stayed on her whiteboard the entirety of the final 13 days of her life. I can't write anymore right now.