Monday, January 25, 2010

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Today it is one month since my Daddy left us. I wish I could say, "This now concludes the grieving portion of life", but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case. I must say that this is the first day in my entire life that I am feeling a high after a football game. In case you didn't see my 1,800 status updates on Facebook, the Saints won last night and are going to the Super Bowl!!!!!!!!!!!! Y'all, I don't know the first thing about football and no matter how hard I try, it rarely ever holds my attention. But last night, I can't explain it. My Daddy was the BIGGEST Saints fan ever and has rooted for them through the good and the bad. I loved that game because I felt close to my Dad. I could see him jumping off the couch, pacing the room, and screaming at the TV. I could hear him saying, "WHO DAT? WHO DAT?" If he had enjoyed hunting or carpentry maybe I would now find comfort in those things. But, my Daddy loved football and specifically the the Saints.`As my family, my Mom, sister, Uncles and cousins "watched" the game together through Facebook, and rooted for that underdog team, I couldn't help but think of the night exactly a month ago when my Daddy was taken off of life support and we were joined together in a tragic way that will bond us forever.

I made sure to grab the Saints stocking that was hanging from an IV pole in my Dad's ICU room to take with us to the private room he was being taken to. I bought him that stocking for Christmas one year and wanted him to have it at the hospital. It had been holding a fake, purple flower that Sarah had made sure to send for Pappy when I had left for Florida on Dec. 19. My family had made the decision hours earlier to take my Dad off of life support and we had waited anxiously for the Dr. to come and sign the papers. Once he had been taken off my cousin, Drew, and Uncle Reggie went to see him so they could come back and prepare us for what we would be seeing. We all made our way to his room and were instantly overcome with grief at the sight of his extremely labored breathing. To make things even worse, although his eyes had been closed since Sunday and he had just looked like he was sleeping, they were now open, although totally unaware. I am scared to even say that I will never witness anything so horrific again in my life, but that moment will definitely be burned in my memory for life. We held hands as a family and prayed over my Daddy. This time the prayers were no longer for miraculous healing, but for Jesus to comfort him and take him quickly. You see, we were told when we made the decision that he could still live for a few hours...or weeks. My Uncle Reggie was the last to pray over my Daddy and just yesterday I thought about that moment. Him praying over the brother who had come into the world at the same time as him and he was releasing him, telling him it was okay to go.

After that prayer we spent a few more hours in ICU waiting for his private room. It was during that time of waiting that my Aunt Trish came back to tell us about the man who had come up to her in the waiting room and told her he had been watching our family all night. He too, had lost a twin brother and someone else on Christmas. When Trish asked him who he was there for, he simply answered, "Oh, I'm just here for y'all." We never did find out who he was or see him again.

They finally came to move my Dad to a private room and that is when I grabbed his stocking. My Mom and I went up in the elevator with him and the nurses. It was such a surreal moment. I was taking my Daddy to the room he would die in. When we got to the room they started trying to round up chairs for our crew. I'm pretty sure we got every chair on the floor. It was so incredibly difficult to watch him struggle to breathe. They had placed an oxygen mask on him because his oxygen level had started dropping so quickly when he first came off of the ventilator. Uncle Reggie told us more childhood stories and I teased him that he was the reason my Dad was such a worrywart. Uncle Reg had spent his life jumping out of trees and off of roofs. I wished so much my Dad would start telling us his side of the stories...

The time moved slow. There were only so many times to go to the drink machine, the bathroom or check messages. There was just no way to ease the suffering. For my Dad or anyone in that room watching him. I thought of a time I was doing my internship in the ER and I sat with a man who was dying. His family hadn't gotten there yet and I had felt that someone needed to be with him. My supervisor, knowing I wanted to work with Hospice, had come in and explained the physiology of dying. She had seen it as a learning opportunity. As I sat with my Dad the physiology of dying wasn't on my mind. His heart was still beating and his lungs were still breathing, but my Daddy had been gone for almost a week. In fact, I think Dec. 19th will be the day that is hardest for me. That is the day I really lost my Dad. That was the day this new learning opportunity I never wanted started.

Things would only get worse that night. The respiratory therapist came in and someone asked her about the oxygen mask and if it was just prolonging the inevitable. She went off. She told us if it were her family member she would never take off the oxygen mask and she used the word "suffocation" which I will be honest, is all I heard. Drew was furious. He said he had never seen anyone mess up a consult so bad. I had to agree that while I wanted someone to be honest with us, it was not professional for her to tell us what she would do in that situation. That sent us all in a tailspin as we all tried to absorb that information and decide what to do. At that point I went to the conference room where the drink machine was and had a mini nervous breakdown. As I finished I looked up to see a hospital employee standing at the other end of the room. Mental note: Always check and make sure a room is empty BEFORE you have a nervous breakdown.

Josh and I found the respiratory therapist and asked her some questions. I was very confused because we kept being told that my Dad couldn't feel pain and then we were told he had some pain reflex. The biggest thing I learned through all of this is that as far as we have come scientifically and medically, there are just a lot of things we still don't know. Especially concerning the brain. Anyway, she explained that if we took the oxygen mask off that it would very difficult for the family to be present when he died. She suggested slowly turning down the oxygen and upping his Morphine. I went back and we had a family conference and we decided that was the best thing to do.

Again, it was so surreal. It was Christmas Eve and my family was discussing which would be the best way for my Dad to die. Finally, about 2:00 Christmas morning almost everyone had left to go home and get some sleep. My Mom and brother, Philip, were having cots brought in to spend the night. Uncle Reggie was staying too. Josh and I left to go do our Santa duties. I cannot say enough good things about my husband. Not only did he have to pack up 3 kids and a dog and make a six hour trip by himself, but he also had to go by our storage shed and load up unwrapped Christmas presents with the kids in the van. He is amazing. He did, however, forget to grab the bag of stocking stuffers and so, at 2:00 Christmas morning we set out to find an open store. There was one. A convenience store. My Mom still has stockings at her house for EVERYBODY. I decided it would be fun to do everybody's. Y'all we spent $92.00!!! At a gas station!! We were carrying armfuls of candy, pens, duct tape, tire gauges, and pickles. (My sister is pregnant. I couldn't resist getting her a pickle. :) The guy ringing it up (who I'm sure hated our guts) told us he had never had anyone spend that much money on anything besides gas, beer, or cigarettes! Leave it to us to break the record! I couldn't help but think that my Dad would have loved that story.

We made it to my Mom's and started wrapping presents. My poor brother-in-law, Dillon, was trying to sleep on the couch, but he got up to help us. I usually have all of the presents wrapped besides the Santa ones, but I hadn't done it this year because Kate is at the age where I couldn't put any presents under the tree yet. So, we had to wrap everything! And, the kids had made a pallet on the front of the tree! We were making so much noise. I just knew we were going to blow it big time, but apparently the kids were as tired as everybody else b/c they never even flinched. (The next day Sarah asked me how Santa had put the presents out without waking them up. I told her Santa is just really good! :) I also found out later that we had eaten the WRONG cookies and thankfully my sister, Jenny, had eaten the RIGHT Santa cookies that morning before she left for the hospital!

After that we loaded up some pillows and blankets to take to Mom and Phil at the hospital. We went back and talked with Uncle Reg some. My Dad seemed a little more restful. Or maybe I had just gotten accustomed to seeing him like that. I don't know. Finally, about 4:30 Josh convinced me to go back to the house and try to get some sleep. I kissed my Daddy's cheek and said good-bye. The whole sleep thing was a bad idea. I don't know what time it was when the kids woke us up, but it hurt! I sat on the floor in a daze while they opened presents. My contacts were glued to my eyes. I've never had cement glue in my eyes, but I imagine that is what it would feel like. I guess non-stop crying and sleep deprivation will have that effect. We survived the opening of presents and minutes after finishing Dillon came and put his arm around me and I knew. My Dad was gone.

I had slept in my jeans and Philip's gray hoodie that I had borrowed the morning before when we went to the hospital. The morning before I knew we would be spending the night watching my Dad die. I took off and headed back to the hospital. I hadn't been there. I hadn't been there when he took his last breath. I wanted to be upset, but there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been upset if I hadn't been with the kids opening Christmas presents.

I have to say that when I got there I lost it. As I shared in my last post, all I could say was, "I'm just gonna miss him." But once, I calmed down, I had such a peace. Because he was finally at peace. My Uncle Jamie hugged me and I warned him that I hadn't had a shower. We went to another room to wait for the dr. to come talk to us. Dr. Adhal had been my Dad's primary doctor for many years. After he finished talking with us I found myself chasing him out of the room. I told him that my Dad had always talked so highly of him and really thought a lot of him. I thanked him. He had a tear in his eye and told me that he considered my Dad a friend and that he was just sorry. I will be completely honest here and tell you that one of the things that made me the saddest is that I don't feel like my Dad knew how much people loved, respected and admired him. So please, if there is someone you love, respect, or admire, you should tell them today.

When I left the hospital I went by CVS because I had not bought Josh a single Christmas present and they were the only store open. Poor Josh, he got a memory foam pillow and a clothes steamer. :) At home Josh and Dillon had fixed a delicious Christmas dinner for us. Dillon said all he did was help peel the eggs, but I considered that cooking for years, so I'm giving him credit too. :)After we ate everybody else decided to go out to the base and hang out with the rest of the family, but I just couldn't do it. I have never been so exhausted in my life. Kate crawled up in my Uncle Jamie's lap and fell asleep so Josh and I decided we would lay her down and we would take a nap too. When I laid down it was the first time that whole week that everything hit me. I have never cried like that in my life. And, then, I fell asleep. I wish I could tell you here that I woke up and it was all just a bad dream. It wasn't. I woke up and the nightmare was even more real than before.


III said...

You're a good story-teller. I wish I had that kind of talent.

Your note about appreciating the football because your Dad loved it is something I've experienced, too. My Mom loved Yankee Candles. And so I love burning Yankee Candles. And when I burn them, it smells like Mom is nearby even though she isn't.

It's funny, my Aunt has the opposite experience. She can't burn them because they make her sad. It reminds her of her sister, and she thinks about how she always thought they were going to grow old together, and it's just too much emotion for her.

Anyway, thanks for sharing all your stories. They're good stories. And well told.

dharmesh said...

That was a really good post. It helped me to make sense of some of the issues with the subject.