First, I think you need to know that I have seen my share of sick and dying people. I taught for many years on a yard where all of the terminally ill inmates were housed. Many of my students would come to class in the morning and then die later that day. I have had several of my students die, two in my arms.
So when I say I know what the dead and dying look like, I’m not talking about the sanitized version of death. I’m talking about the messy business of dying and what the parts of it look like.
It is terrifying and humbling and frightening and horrible and hideous. If you have been where I have been you know what I am talking about and, for a person who thinks of herself as mainly a kindergarten teacher, it is an awful thing to know.
Darling was fine Monday night. Just fine.
He gets up before I do but I had some tests at the hospital, so I didn’t even come downstairs until seven. He had had a cup of coffee and was walking across the kitchen when he collapsed. So when I trotted downstairs, I found him looking pretty 911 peaked.
He hates it when I call 911. He says he just wants to be left alone and this time was not one bit different. I’m talking the the operator and he is growling at me like a big ole bear, saying he would not go. So I canceled the call and was going across the street to see if one of the neighbors could help me get him into my car and I’d drive him to the ER. But a fire truck had pulled up in front and they told him “Dude, you need an ambulance”. So for them, he went.
Our town is very small and most of my life is in about one square mile of my house. We do, however, have three hospitals. We have the Welfare hospital, the big hospital and the new hospital. We go to the big hospital because we have insurance. He spends about three hours in the ER and then they admit him. He looks a little peaked and I have to have some tests right there at the big hospital anyway, so I am in and out of his room all day. Every time I see him, he looks worse and worse. HE is struggling for breathe and not always knowing who I am. That was Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he does not look good at all. His lips are blue. His hands and feet are like ice. He has blue splotches on his chest and back. He hasn’t had anything to eat since Monday night and he is pretty cranky. Cranky in the hospital is a good thing, usually. It means you are getting better.
I have to go across town to the Welfare hospital for a CT scan. I guess they are trying to pin down the exact place I have cancer. The guy needs to give me a hot shot and I swear I am the first person he has actually ever stuck a needle in.
He sticks me six times in one arm and three times in the other. By now, I have spent entirely too much time with a lobby filled with pregnant women and roughly 100 children under the age of three. So I tell the guy to give ME the needle and tourniquet and he DOES. I yank it up like I’ve seen them do on L&O, wait for the vein to pop and AND STICK MY OWN SELF. The test itself took less time than finding a parking place. But since I’m downtown, I stop at the library. I’m hungry, so I stop at Long John Silver’s for a crab cake. Ben calls and wants to know if I can pick him up since it is about 113 degrees outside. (I think it got up to 111 but really? Anything hotter than 105 fells like Hell.
It’s maybe two o’clock. I get a call and the nurse tells me they are moving Darling to the ICU. So I sprint from the car to the ICU. He’s not there. So I sprint to his original room, right down the hall. He’s not there either. Oh! He’s getting a CT and Dr. Really Good is going to do surgery. He and the anesthesiologist are sauntering down the hall, so I sprint down to talk to them.
It starts to get icky now. Stop if you are squeamish.
My husband, who was JUST FINE ON MONDAY is dying. The best odds? 30%. Of surviving the surgery. I tell Dr. Really Good that I understand what he is saying. My husband is on a ventilator. He is in terrific pain. The plan for surgery is to find out what is dying inside of him. He is jaundiced and septic. His extremities are blue. He can probably recognize me but maybe not.The doctor will do the best he can. I tell him that that is all a person can ask for. I go wait in the waiting room and call his parents, my daughter. There is no one else. I see them wheeling my dying husband down the hallway and I run like I am going to be able to snatch him back from the River Styx. I wait with him in the hallway while they clean the ER. He looks as if he is on the riverbank and I tell him to come back to me. You have no money to give the boatman, I say. You come back to me. You cannot leave me yet. Father Michael gives him Last Rites and I realize that this little bit is all I can do.
And then they take him away and there is nothing I can do, nothing to fix, no one to pay to make this right. I talk to everyone, even the guy with leopard spots on one half of his body and tiger stripes on the other half. He’s not in handcuffs, so obviously he has done his time. I talk and talk and talk for three hours until they bring him back AND I RUN like the hounds of Hell are snapping at my heels. I run, thinking maybe I’ll pay the boatman and go myself. He doesn’t know me and needs to be cleaned up from the very messy business of surgery. So I slide down the wall and wait by the door. Someone will come get me.
So there I am, silently weeping at the door of the ICU. Dr. Really Good finds me and tells me that Darling had a fist sized hole in his intestines. He was septic and jaundiced. He’ll be in ICU for a while and then, maybe next week, he’ll go back in and do some more repairs. His blood pressure is too low for any pain medication so he is in horrific pain. So I call Father Michael to do the Anointing of the Sick because now Darling has a 40% chance of living through the night. He needs to get his blood pressure up before he can have any medication and I know for a fact that Father Michael showing up again is going to truly and sincerely piss him off. If I could have done it by myself, I would have. And I’ll probably have to tell Father Michael because
I’m the one who sees him all the time. And I’ll probably have to tell him about the River Styx stuff, too.
So he has more tubes than I have ever seen sticking out of one person. He needs dialysis because he was septic and the hole the size of a fist (which is a pretty big hole if you are talking in your gut) had “started going bad”…which is high tech medical talk for gangrene.
I grew up on a farm. I had children. I taught school where every day was wrought with some kind of injury. There isn’t a week that goes by that someone doesn’t turn up on my front porch with a little bald bird or a cat with a giant abscess or something wrong with this here dog. I patch critters up. Sometimes I’m better at it than others and sometimes I know I am lying to the kid with the little bird because I know it is too little to save. Sometimes I’m wrong and I end up hand feeding a batch of barn owls, knowing I know what to do. Before we were married, I used to stitch Mike up. Looking at his scars, I can tell that I was not as fearless as I pretended to be. Stitching up the person you love with nothing but a needle and some thread is harrowing work.
I know that 40% is a lot better than 30% if it is someone else. Or the lottery. Or Las Vegas.
For me and mine? I like numbers like 99%; phrases like “Oh, this is just a minor thingymabobbit” That was what I got when I had my rotator cuff fixed. Dr. Very Fine told me I’d be awake in time for my judge shows. Then the next thing I knew, I was home.
THAT’S WHAT I WANT OUT OF LIFE. I want all of it. I do not want some loser odds because that is for someone else. That is for some gangbanger or some junkie. God did not give me these blue eyes to cry with.
We left the hospital at midnight. It is 0500 right now. He is still alive. I’m keeping my money in my pocket just in case because I can think of nothing worse than waiting on the riverbank with nothing to pay the boatman.