11 days

(disclaimer: this is a therapeutic piece that may be a little graphic. Sorry.)

11 days ago, my life changed forever.

On July 1, I was going to try to take it slower with the kids...do more free activities and focus on one more neighborhood guide for the rest of the summer. We went to the zoo and had such a fun day. I was having one of those "Whew, we did it" moments as I made lunch for the kids and prepared for naps all around.

My phone rang with an unfamiliar number, so I did not answer. We ate our lunch and then I saw a voicemail notification. That was a long voicemail, I thought. I listened to it, ready to delete whatever offer or survey was being solicited.

Instead, it was a social worker calling from the hospital. My parents had been in a car accident. They were "both speaking" and she'd put my mom on the phone so I could hear her voice. My mom was crying and trying to explain what had happened. Her tone was upset, but more, "If you can find someone to watch the kids and come visit us, that would be great". I called around and our wonderful old neighbors were able to get away from work and come watch them. I wasn't sure what to expect, but was crying off and on out of panic.

After dropping the kids off, I was at the hospital about an hour after I had been called. When I walked back into the ER, I heard a nurse firmly say "We have GOT to get family in here NOW. Who's on that?" I soon found out that she was my mom's nurse. I got there as soon as I could, but of course was upset that they thought I was taking my good old time.

My mom was in a neck brace and cried when she saw me. She explained what had happened and where she hurt. They were going straight through a green light and someone turned left in front of them. She didn't have time to do anything, and somehow he hit her door, she said. So, in her mind, my dad couldn't be too much worse than her since the driver hit her side. Her nurse soon came in and gave her the rundown: she had a brain bleed that was minor, an L3 fracture in her back, and we could obviously see the painful lacerations from the seatbelt. She complained of headache and rib pain.

Soon, I was allowed to see my dad as he returned from all his testing. He had the trauma room in the ER and there was a huge team immersed in his monitors and inputting numbers. They were talking to a team upstairs on the phone and trying to explain his injuries to me. I was listening, but I wasn't.

I just wanted to talk to my dad. His chest was heaving with every breath, every word he tried to tell me. I held his hand, told him I loved him, and assured him that the medics had found his glasses. He said "I hope I need them". Because I didn't see blood and he honestly appeared in better condition than my mom, I was scared and crying, but not as terrified as I soon would be. They told me that he had several broken ribs and a chest tube on his right side to relieve the collapsed lung. He had internal bleeding and they weren't able to find the source. He said a few things to me. He said, "I know they gave me pain medicine, but it must have worn off" and pointed to his left chest area. He said "Thank you" when I told him I loved him (and then changed his answer to "I love you too"). And, the words that will stick with me forever, "If there are any questions, the answer is yes". Meaning, he wanted to live by any means.

At this point, I was going back and forth between mom and dad and just trying to comfort both. Soon, I asked them to bring my mom's bed into my dad's room. They were able to hold hands and speak to each other. This scene was definitely comforting to me, so I stepped outside while the chief of trauma spoke to them. He then came out to speak to me. It was time to do surgery to find and repair the internal bleeding.

A little background if you didn't know...my dad was 89 years old. This might lead people who didn't know him to believe that he had a "nice, full life and was ready to go". No. He had places to be that week, was in the middle of a roofing project, and had just returned from the first of two summer vacations. In June, he had JUST gotten a walker to help him walk long distances. And he just retired from his full time job in October. This was an otherwise healthy man who just happened to be "elderly". I never thought of him as elderly and was a little annoyed that that term was being used. 

The chief of trauma surgery told me that the surgery was extremely high risk and that his chances of survival at this age were not good. But he had to have it or he would bleed to death. I signed the authorization for my dad because it was too hard for him to sign himself. And then proceeded to cry my eyes out.

They began to wheel my dad out of the ER before I got to say anything to him, so I stopped them to say I loved him. He said "OK babe, I love you too".

Time to go back to my mom's room and wait for the phone call when surgery was complete. Mom was starting to calm down a little. Matt was on his way to the hospital after taking his delivery truck back to the warehouse and getting another driver to finish his route. I went out to wait for him in the hallway.

While waiting near the nurses, I overheard a doctor saying "If makes it through the surgery, his injuries are just so bad he will never survive he recovery" and "You should've seen his legs where they hit the dashboard". The nurses were shaking their heads and looking hopeless. I realized I was sobbing as I listened and one of them said something like "That's their daughter". The doctor came over and got me a chair. She had been in surgery with my dad and said it was not looking good. I started blubbering about thinking we'd have more time and that I always thought he'd have cancer or something that would give us TIME. She explained that her dad had died from a long disease and that it was not any better. Easy for you to say; you're not facing your dad's death right at this very moment. By now, my head was throbbing and I didn't know what I would tell my mom. I just sat outside her room (our pastor had arrived and was with her) and cried more.

This was my worst fear. As I child with an older dad, it is literally what kept me up at night. As an adult, it was always in the back of my mind, but like I said, we all thought it would unfold differently.

Matt arrived and soon we got the call from upstairs. My dad had survived the surgery and his spleen was removed (the source of the bleed). We went into celebration mode, which was short-lived by me and held onto tightly by my mom. While she updated her Facebook to reflect relief, I was taken into the hallway by the Chief. There, he explained further.

My mom was worrying about getting a bed down the stairs at their house for the weekend. And could we get him home in time to see the fireworks?  He told me that this was way "too far down the road". My dad's recovery would be long and difficult, if he recovered at all. The trauma of the accident (broken ribs) combined with the ventilator would be an uphill battle.

I got to see him after the surgery. He woke up for me and leaned in while I spoke to him. He wiggled his brows and so badly wanted to speak. He was nodding and holding my hand as I told him I was there. I told him I'd be back after I went home and got some sleep. My brother and sister would be arriving from NC in a few hours and the doctors said he was getting comfortable for the night and needed rest.

I could go on and on about the happenings over the next few days, and I have done so for my own reflections. I'll condense it a bit here.

My extended family arrived. We all had multiple conversations with dad where he followed commands and looked at each speaker. We knew he was in pain when he wasn't sedated because he winced and stirred when it wore off. When they turned him, they said "It's OK honey" and "I know, I'm sorry". He tried getting out of the restraints every time he woke up.

Our priorities changed from "weaning off the ventilator" to recovering from a blood disorder that often accompanies severe trauma (DIC). It necessitated 43 units of blood products over 24 hours and the chaplain was called in at one point because his bleeding was so bad that the doctors thought his fight was over.

On Day 2, my mom finally got to see him and it all came crashing down on her. Until she actually saw my dad after surgery, she wasn't able to comprehend the extent of his injuries. From that moment on, I was a little relieved because order was somewhat restored. His wife knew how bad things were and would now be at his side. No more going up and down the elevator trying to explain to someone with a traumatic brain injury that her husband and my dad was in much worse shape.

We went through a rollercoaster over those 5 days, for lack of a better word. My amazing friends came to visit, I got to catch up with my dear uncles and have important time with my siblings. We would be smiling at dad's reactions one minute, then hearing terrible news the next. I was sitting and eating Starbucks with my friend Mara, when the nurse lifted dad's arm to check his chest tube. She pulled out a pillow soaked in blood. That was the beginning of the DIC. I was sitting by myself just looking at dad while my mom and siblings went home to get a quick shower when a new alarm went off. He had gone into A-fib, but it did not seem to be a big deal. The nurse said there was no immediate need to call them to come back. I knew something was wrong and called them back, just saying I was getting anxious being alone. The A-fib was a game changer too. All these little moments added up as we watched the fireworks from the family waiting area, as we ate lunch in the cafeteria. As we slept for 3 nights in the lobby.

Soon, we got more details about the accident. The impact was not on my mom's side, it was head-on. The driver was under suspension, not in his own car, and likely has no insurance. Those new revelations turned some of my fear an sadness to anger.

We heard a lot of family stories over those precious days. Friends and family pulled together to watch my kids so that I could stay at the hospital, and Matt took off work of course. My kids were out of whack and tired. They missed me and our routine, but every time I went home, something bad happened or I just felt the extreme need to get back to the hospital. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say I know a little what PTSD feels like. I had trouble adjusting to home life and wondered if we could all make it if and when my dad would be transferred to a care facility.

We had an exceptional team of doctors who cared for him. And on Sunday, July 5, the whole team appeared in dad's room. One of them spoke while we listened and weeped quietly. We already knew what they were going to tell us. After dad had begun doing well with the ventilator, and was recovering form the DIC, the A-fib came along. So much bleeding had given rise to low blood pressure, so the heart overcompensated and just couldn't regulate itself. His heart rate went from 90 to 146 overnight and he was sweating trying to keep up. Our conversations were not as enthusiastic anymore. His eyes just looked so tired and were getting yellow.

Our choices were to keep him in ICU under DNR Comfort Care, meaning that if an event (stroke/heart attack) occurred, they would not use CPR. Normally, I would've done what dad said and insisted that YES they would try anything to save his life. But with his chest injuries, chest compressions would kill him and would not save his life. So, we could keep him as he was, reliant on machines, adding a feeding tube eventually, starting dialysis when the IVs took a toll on his already injured kidneys, and just gradually turning my dad into a machine just for the sake of his body to still be here.

My uncles were certain that dad would not want to live this way, I knew in my heart that the loving thing to do was to let him go, but I did not want to. If we could get back to the few days before, when he was responding to us and would enjoy having us visit him in a care faciity, I'd take that. And I knew he would too. We were assured that he would not get back to that point. So, the decision was made.

We were so fortunate to have such a unique experience. Typically, accidental death occurs immediately, and my dad did not die at the scene of the accident. Or, death is long and drawn out, leaving the loved one and their family in months or years of suffering. We had time to talk with him, hear his last words, and get all our family here to visit. Dad was definitely in pain, but was given enough time to give recovery a chance.

Around 1:20 on July 5, surrounded by his wife, children, brothers, friends, family and loving doctors, my dad peacefully passed away. It took a matter of minutes, as his body was so tired from the fight.

I have so much more to write. So many things I am struggling with. Childish things like unfairness, anger at the other driver, and just plain missing my daddy. Disbelief. I have tried to keep our days jam packed with family time so I can stall reality. But they left this morning to go back home, and I've already had to read the obituary twice to remind myself that it really happened. I would go back and sleep at the hospital in a minute if it meant that he was still fighting.

So. I am not sure when my blog will return to normal because....I don't want things to be normal yet.


Anonymous said...

I am so very sorry for your loss. I'm sure this wasn't easy to write, but I hope it did help you in a therapeutic way. And it is another reminder to us all that life is so short. Keeping your family in my prayers. xo.

Cece said...

My heart is breaking for you. I am aware that I don't know you and this is my first ever visit to your blog but man, oh man. This is rough stuff and I feel for anyone who has to go through it. I'm so sorry for your loss and I am glad that you had time to be with him at least a little bit before he went. Wishing your mom a speedy recovery and healing for the whole family.

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