Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Nightmare Before Christmas: Part 1

On December 18 I wrote a post called "At the Feet of Jesus." In it I said, "I have so much on my mind. Cleaning, decorating, cantatas, cooking, shopping, how to make a little drummer boy outfit out of a sheet." I wish that in that list of things to do I had included "Call my Daddy and tell him how much I love him and how much he means to me. Check on Daddy and make sure he is feeling okay and ask him about his medicine and how it makes him feel." I also shared, "I'm feeling a little stressed out these days. Are any of you? I've known for a while that this would be "the" week. The week of parties, recitals, and cantatas." I really had no idea what I was saying when I said that was going to be "the" week. I had no idea that the day after I wrote that post my life would be changed forever...

Saturday, December 19th was a busy day. We had our cantata at church that night and Josh's Mom and Mammy were on their way to have Christmas with us. I had been so stressed out all week trying to get stuff ready for the cantata and as Sarah and I returned from a Wal-Mart trip with the final decorations and food for the cantata I started to feel some relief. My house was finally as clean as it was gonna get and I could see the light at the end of the stressful holiday tunnel. If I could just make it through the performance that night we would finally enter the week that I had planned to do nothing but relax and have fun with the kids.

I was in the process of making a lemon pie when my plans devastatingly changed. My phone rang and Josh answered it since I was busy in the kitchen. As he handed it to me he mouthed, "It's your brother." I knew. I knew at that very second that something was wrong. I love my brother Philip and we talk on the phone when I call my parents, but he NEVER just calls me on his own. He very calmly told me that my dad had collapsed and had been taken by ambulance to the hospital and now he was on a ventilator. I was torn between being very concerned and thinking that it could really be not a big deal. I had made 2 trips in the last year and a half to be with him as he went into the hospital to have a cardioversion to get his heart out of A-fib. In fact, one time he went in on my birthday and the next time was on Josh's birthday. I teased him that if he wanted to see me so bad on special occasions that he should just call!I also knew that the ventilator could be extremely serious, or he could just be on it for a very short time.

I got off the phone and did good for about 2 seconds and then I fell apart. I called my friend Karen to ask her to pray and was crying so hard that she had to ask me several times what I was saying. I finally got it out. I wasn't sure what to do because Josh's truck hadn't been running all week and we had family coming to our house. Of course, it didn't matter what I thought logically, I was going to get to Panama City and be with my family. Josh assured me that he and the kids would be okay. Once my mind was made up about going I went into preparation overdrive. I finished 2 lemon pies and the baked beans I was supposed to take that night. I made some tea. I got all of the kid's clothes and shoes that they would need for the cantata and church the next day and laid them out. I waited for T and Mammy to get to our house and we opened presents and had our Christmas with them. Despite my ability to pull the kid's stuff together, I managed to grab a bag for myself and pack only a pair of pajamas and one change of clothes. The truth was I still had no idea what the week held in store...

Looking back I must have known how serious it was. Two of our church ladies caught me in the parking lot as I was pulling out and one told me that she had sent her husband to get our Christmas card and present because she thought I could use it on my trip. While we waited we talked and they told me about losing their dad's unexpectedly at young ages. I had moved into total shock and numbness or I might have realized that they realized how serious this was. Once I was on the road I drove for over an hour with no music. Anyone who knows me knows that I am NEVER in the car without music. My thoughts were running a mile a minute and yet I couldn't think. Does that make any sense? Of course not.

Well, in the midst of my non-thinking thinking, I missed the exit I was supposed to take and ended up taking one of the 3 routes we take to P.C. The one I ended up on just happened to be the one I knew the least. In my attempt to get to Andalusia, Al. I ended up in Opp, Al. and was pretty sure it was not where I was supposed to be. I had stopped to use the bathroom and get some Reese's Pieces and the cashier asked if I had all of my Christmas shopping done. I told her I was close but not done yet. She shared with me that she was behind this year because her mom had been sick in the hospital. I shared that I was also headed to the hospital to see my Dad and asked her mom's name so I could pray for her. I felt like God gave me that moment to show me that we weren't the only ones struggling in a time when most others were celebrating. My first thought when I realized I was lost was that Josh was at the cantata doing sound and that I needed to call my Dad...but I couldn't. I eventually found my way and drove straight to the hospital.

It was about 11:00pm by that point but my Mom had gotten special permission for me and my aunt and uncle who were driving in from Georgia to be in ICU. I made my way to the room and in case you are wondering if working in the ER or for hospice prepares you for something like that, the answer is NO!! I knew my dad was on the ventilator, but seeing him like that was incredibly hard. His eyes were also half open but he was not responding to anybody. They told me he was heavily sedated. I grabbed his hand and told him that it was a good thing they had him sedated because I had been driving around in the middle of the night by myself lost. At that point we still had no answers. We had been told that his CT scan looked normal and I was SO relieved because my greatest fear was that he had a stroke.

Something odd happened that night. When we got to my parent's house I saw his sunglasses sitting on the foyer table and I wanted to sleep with them. I know that is so weird and I didn't, but it just felt like being close to him.

We were up early the next morning for visiting hours. Still no word on what had happened or what was going on. The nurse said that they had tried to take him off of the ventilator that morning and he was still not responsive. As far as I can remember that day was pretty uneventful. Just lots of waiting.

Already, the days have jumbled together in my mind. I think that it was Monday morning when we were unfortunately greeted with a nurse my family nicknamed "Nurse Ratchett". I don't even know what that means but it was one of the nicer nicknames my family gave her. She was on duty that morning and we were of course asking our million and one questions, seeing as how we hadn't gotten a single answer about what was going on. She, like all of the other doctors and nurses started asking my Mom how long my Dad had been without oxygen at home. My poor Mama. Of course she had no idea. She didn't know how long he had been passed out when she found him and then she couldn't remember the amount of time until the first responders got there. That's one of those times when your brain has no concept of time. Do you know what Nurse Ratchett said to us? She said, "This is not TV. This is not ER. Most people who have cardiac arrest outside of the hospital do not make it." Just like that. First, I really wanted to throw her out the window. In fact, I'm sure my sister would have done it for me, but she is pregnant and cannot do any heavy lifting. Second, I wanted to assure her that we were very aware this was not TV as our very real lives had been completely turned upside down. Before any throwing through windows or speaking of our minds could happen the cardiologist came in. He told us that my Dad's enzymes were elevated indicating a heart attack and that he was convinced the medicine he had been taking for his A-fib was actually what caused cardiac arrest. I do not know how to explain how hard that was to hear. To hear that something that is supposed to be helping is what caused this was very tough. The dr. was very apologetic and seemed genuinely concerned. He did assure us that he was not concerned about my dad's heart because they could fix whatever was wrong with it. That put us back to our concerns about any brain damage that occurred during the time he was without oxygen. By this point we had learned that it could actually take 2-3 days for any damage to show on the CT scan.

The cardiologist asked Nurse Ratchett if she had scheduled the neuro consult and she said she had "forgotten" and would get right on that. The Dr. told her he wanted her to get the neurologist on the phone right then so he could talk with them. We were assured the neurologist would be coming around. She had also told us that my Dad had been combative when she tried to take him off of the vent.That was a good sign that he was aware of what was going on. Later in the day my aunt, who is a nurse, told us she had spoken with Nurse Ratchett privately and that she had told her he had no response at all when they took him off of the vent. That was obviously very bad news and I had no idea why she would have lied to us about that seeing as how she did not seem concerned with our feelings the least bit. I told her he had squeezed my hand and she was quick to point it was probably just reflexive. She tried to get him to squeeze her hand and he wouldn't do it. I kept my mouth shut instead of telling her he just didn't want to hold her hand...

The rest of that day was more waiting and praying. Bro. Randy, the pastor who married Josh and I and ordained Josh in the ministry was coming to visit 2 or 3 times a day. Poor thing, he was there at one point when my dad started coughing. I had not seen him do that and no one had explained to me what was going on. I started screaming bloody murder for the nurse. I'm pretty sure nurses in 3 states heard me. When I called Josh to tell him that I thought he needed to come he said that Bro. Randy had already suggested that. Josh and the kids and 3 of my cousins were soon on their way.

Tuesday brought yet another day of waiting. No more news. At this point my dad had been taken completely off the sedation and was still totally unresponsive. My Uncle Reggie, my dad's twin brother kept us entertained with stories from their childhood. He was also determined to wake my dad up. We all spent a lot of time talking to him, rubbing his arms and legs and tickling his feet. We got really excited when he started moving his feet because the day before he hadn't been doing that. We did, however, later get in trouble for overstimulating him. Can you imagine that?? My family being overstimulating? My sister had also requested the night before that we NOT have Nurse Ratchett again and that request was granted. I must say that all of the other nurses were wonderful. Unfortunately, we continued to pay for Nurse Ratchett's mistakes because she was unable to get ahold of the neurologist and had made no note of the order in the chart. Y'know, if we had asked for sweet tea instead of unsweet tea on his lunch tray and she messed that up that would be one thing, but an order for the neurologist was kind of a big deal. To add to our frustration we learned after a day of my dad's sugar being through the roof that the pharmacy had mixed his bag of insulin wrong. It obviously was not a huge deal because his sugar was the least of our concerns at that point, but we were pretty tired and frustrated by that point. My Uncle Jamie and Aunt Kat got into town late that night and the next day would finally bring news...just not the news we wanted.


III said...

Thanks for sharing.

I liked your Uncle Reggie. Good man.

Lori said...

Emily, this story is a difficult one to read but I so hope you are getting some healing through writing it. I'm amazed at your family's ability to find some human kindness for Nurse Ratchett - I don't know that my family could have done that and the next time you come across her, we will send my husband's family to deal with her. She won't know what hit her:)

Next time you're going home, plan a stop at my house when you pass thru Andalusia. I didn't realize you guys came right by me!

Rachael. said...

Seriously i used to work a nurse ratchett in the ICU... some should just not be in the nursing business.

Reading this makes me feel like i was there and someday you will be so glad you typed all this out!

Anonymous said...

Please keep writting Emily. I read every word over and over....each day. I miss Roger Dodger.
Uncle Reg

Cindi Dailey said...

Love you, Em...we are still praying for you all.