A year ago tonight, my husband was hooked to a ventilator to try and save his life.
Just over a year ago, my husband had been home sick for a week, thinking it might be the flu. By the weekend, there was crackling in his chest. I kept asking him to let me take him to the hospital, until finally on a Sunday afternoon, he said ok. Wal was so fatigued and weak that he barely made it down our 5 steps into the car. Our son, 12 years old at the time, hovered behind him, willing to help if needed. By the end of that night, we knew Wal had the flu and pneumonia. They checked him into the hospital and the boy and I went home.
The next afternoon, I drove to the hospital and I found my husband on oxygen but still gasping for breath. A respiratory therapist came in to explain what was happening and that without being intubated, he would die. Being the claustrophobic man he is, he refused to be intubated. After the therapist left, I raced to my husband’s bedside with what I’m sure was a scared, shocked and confused look on my face. We discussed the living wills we had just written 3 months before and I reminded him that he had said then that he would be willing to go on a ventilator if he’d be ok and wouldn’t be on it forever. But after watching my brother and parents die so recently, I had to ask: “Do you want to go?” He said no, but said it was getting so hard to breathe and didn’t know how much longer he could hold out. Thankfully, that’s when the doctor came in and we got the process rolling. He didn’t want me to stay and told me to go to our son because he needed me more right then.
It was so hard to leave him that night. I’ve never seen my husband so scared but also so weak and helpless and *needing* help from a procedure that he was afraid of. The next morning I waited to call the hospital from work to see how his night went. I knew they had to put him in a medically-induced coma while on the ventilator, so I’d have to talk to the nurses and doctors. The nurse I spoke to told me he had an extremely rough night and that “his numbers kept crashing” whenever they moved him. She asked if I was coming in but I hadn’t intended to until the next day. I asked if I should come in. Actually…I’m not sure I asked that. I was so afraid they were going to tell me to come in now because he might not make it…I didn’t even want to know.
Isn’t that horrible? I did NOT want to know the truth if the truth was that my husband was going to die—4 months after my mother, 11 months after my father and 2 1/2 years after my brother. No. I didn’t want to know. I don’t remember all of her exact words, but I do remember hanging up after the conversation, laying my head on my desk and crying. I was sitting in the exact same place when the nurse called from my mother’s bedside to tell me my mom was actively dying.
I couldn’t do this. I could NOT go through this right now. What would happen to our son? After all the damn loss we had been through, how was he going to make it to the other side of this?
But…Wal survived that night. And the next. And the next. He was touch and go for that whole week. I wasn’t allowed to see him after the third day because I had the flu and couldn’t come into the ICU. I called each day instead and talked with doctors and nurses, some days they thought his kidneys would fail and we went through one horrific day when they thought he had brain damage and did scans to find out for sure. Then things started to get better. They started to ease up on the medication so he would start to wake up.
Then he didn’t wake up. And didn’t wake up. And didn’t wake up. The day I was allowed to come back and see him, I held his hand for most of the day and read aloud to him and played music for him and just kissed his face when I could find a spot through the tubes and tape and kissed his hand and rubbed his arms. And cried some more.
My dear friend, Tiffany, came to my house one night to bring dinner and she sat with me. We talked while folding laundry and I had a pair of pants that had a long cord to tie in the front. But one side was stuck and I started to lose it because Wally always did it for me. But Tiff took it from me and worked on it and said it was ok. When I said that if he dies, there are so many things I didn’t know how to do in the house, like clean the heat pumps. “Don’t worry,” she said. “You can Google that.” It’s what I needed to hear right then. I’d be ok. No matter what.
And then, on Valentine’s Day, Wal woke up. It was a Friday and I got to talk with him in the afternoon, before the boy and I drove up to see him. Wal was a mess–he actually threw up on me–yet I didn’t care. He was alive. He would have problems, although we didn’t realize that then. His lungs have been irreparably damaged from the infection he ended up getting as well as from the ventilator. We found out this week he may also have had a mild heart attack while in the hospital or there was an anomaly while undergoing the stress test last week. We’re trying to stay positive so we’re going with the anomaly. 😉 But…he’s alive and working and managing. He needs to work on his health more, but I can only bitch at him so much, right?
A high school classmate of mine lost her husband last month. He was 50. They had been married for 25 years, just 2 years more than my husband and I. He was also in a medically-induced coma at the end. I’ve thought of this classmate every day since I heard. I only have an inkling of what she’s going through. I’m living what she had hoped would happen. And she’s living what I feared.
I’m telling you all of this, not only because it’s the anniversary of that horrible time, but also because my husband made me so mad tonight that I went outside and “angry shoveled” for a while. He snapped at me a few times and I was so damn proud for staying calm, so I took all the yelling I would do and put it into thrashing the snow around. I sometimes have to remind myself that I nearly lost the old man last year, and as frustrated he makes me sometimes regarding a wide range of topics, I still don’t want to live without him. Maybe a day or two….but not a lifetime.
Hug the ones you can tonight, talk to the ones you can’t, and remember the ones you wish were still here. ❤
Oh and yes, he did apologize. AFTER I shoveled part of the driveway.