I was going to start this blog yesterday, November 1st but I had so many other important things to do, i.e., laundry, packing boxes, wander around the house, watch reruns of Little House on the Prairie, wander around the house some more, read the local paper from cover to cover and really study the advertisements; it was very necessary to get to the liquor store to ensure I have plenty of hard liquor on hand for the next few days to help medicate myself against the feelings/emotions that are coming. Well they are here, but I’m trying to ignore them. I can’t bury my head—or I won’t—any longer.
It happens every year at this time. The weather changes, the leaves start dropping, holiday decorations are going up. The commercial assault for Thanksgiving and Christmas begins and we start to put away our summer clothes because Fall has arrived.
For me, November is the benchmark, the exact month and I know the exact day and hour when my life changed forever.
I dread this time of year. I want to go hide somewhere until January 1 or beyond when I know it will be safe again…safe from the hurt and pain and loss and grief.
Why? Because November is the anniversary month of my husband’s death.
It wasn’t yesterday that he died, but it feels like it. My memories of that day are as clear today as they were then.
On Halloween my husband was lying in a bed in the Veteran’s Hospital at Loma Linda, Ca. He had received a round of chemotherapy and it was working so well killing the cancer that he had a fever. He was scheduled to be released but this fever worried the doctors enough to keep him for the weekend to monitor him.
A big, overbearing and uncompassionate nurse told me that visiting hours ended and I had to leave. This was the first time I’d ever been told to leave my husband’s side. I looked at her as if she was confused or an escaped patient from the psych ward upstairs. Woman, I thought, you must have seen Mike’s chart, you must know he’s dying, why would I leave at a time like this? How can you just kick me out as if Mike was there for the removal of a hangnail? I didn’t move out of my chair as I thought she’d ignore me and move along. She didn’t.
Mike said, “Don’t cause a fight, and just go home.” Uh ok, if that’s what you want. Where do we live again? It’s been so long (3 months) since I spent more than 2 hours at home it was no longer familiar.
But I left. Mike gave me permission after all. And he WAS going to come home in a day or two so it’ll be ok, right? That’s what the doctors told us anyway.
Mike’s last wishes became almost his mantra. “I don’t want to die in pain and I don’t want to die alone.”
The doctors were managing the pain—cancer is always so very painful; and I was going to make damn sure I was with him….in case. But he told me to leave so I left.
I was in my own bed but as I said it was no longer familiar. I was used to freezing from the hospital air conditioning set so low you could hang meat, the hard plastic chairs, propping my feet up on the foot of Mike’s bed, trying to find a relaxed (though impossible) position so maybe I could nap or at least not be so uncomfortable that my body aches and I want to scream from claustrophobia and inaction.
Anyway, I hadn’t heard from Mike or the hospital so I took some time to do mundane things like laundry, straightening the house, preparing for Mike’s return, etc.
It was mid-morning and I was done with fidgeting in the house. It was time to head to the hospital. I got in my car with our daughter Gabrielle to head back “down the hill”. I had grown sick and tired of hospital food so we stopped at a Taco Bellfor some food to eat on the way. This stupid FASTFOOD restaurant took FOREVER to fill our simple order. Then the order was wrong! Granted I was pretty tense and stressed…every minute that ticked by meant that Mike was exposed. He might die and I’m not there as I promised! Each minute I was away from him, out of the hospital, I would be hit with anxiety—almost a panic attack—because I wasn’t there. This time was no different. So I was ready to snap at that pimply faced teenager who was clueless as to how she is delaying my drive—to a place I had to be but didn’t want to go. I didn’t snap at her though because it wasn’t her fault she had no idea how upside down my life was. I clenched my teeth instead to remain silent.
I got the stupid food order, now so stressed that I didn’t want to eat it, and we got in my car and started the 45 minute drive to the hospital.
I had been on the road for about 5 minutes when my cell phone rang.
I answered it and heard a voice I didn’t recognize. I didn’t recognize the number calling but that didn’t matter. It could be anybody or it could be the hospital. Just as I answered the call disconnected/dropped.
Again the phone rang. Again I answered. I hear a woman ask, “Mrs. Mike?” Yes.
“This is…garbled voice….” The call ended again.
OMG! Who was that calling? What do they want? Is it about Mike?!!! Of course its about Mike, but what about him?!!!
A third time my phone rang and while I answered the signal seemed clear so I slammed on my brakes and skidded over to the side of the road.
SIDENOTE: To have a better understanding of this particular portion of my drive, I was on a “back road” that is extremely windy. Taking this road cuts off about 25 minutes of drive time instead ofdriving through town to the freeway. It is a partially paved two lane road that has a rocky steep mountain on one side and deep ravines on the other; depending on which side of the road you’re driving on. This road has to be driven with care at all times due to the poor visibility and sharp curves as well as one narrow lane for northbound or southbound traffic. It is common to come up on a slow driver who is enjoying the scenery and there is no passing; so one often gets stuck behind a sight-seeing turtle.
As I skidded into the dirt pullout I answered the phone.
“Hello?” I said tentatively. I think instinct had kicked in and I knew, just knew, it was the hospital calling.
A woman on the other end identified herself as Doctor….something or other. I didn’t get her name.
She asked, “Where are you?” I told her I was on my way down there.
“How long will it take you to get here?”
About 45 minutes, why?
“Well that’s too long. We need to…garbled words…” You need to do what?! Hello?! Hello?!
“We need to….garbled words…and we can’t wait for you to get here.”
I said, well screamed actually….do whatever you can! Just do whatever you can and I’m on my way!!
She replied, “We’re moving Mike….garbled….ICU….”
Ok. Moving him? Where? Where are you moving him to? What? Hello?!!!! Why?! He was fine yesterday! What has happened in less than 12 hours?! Those questions went unanswered as the call was once again dropped.
I pulled back onto the road. I didn’t even bother to look to see if there was a car coming. I started speeding down this two lane windy road with all caution thrown to the wind. Speed limit there is 25; I was doing 60mph. When you get a call like that adrenaline and terror simultaneously kick in. Usually your reflexes are better than ever during that rush. Mine were and I was Mario Andretti speeding down this two lane road. I was driving a Dodge Magnum with a Hemi and the thing drives “like it is on rails” so it managed the twists and turns easily.
I’m pretty sure Gabrielle was scared beyond words as she sat silently gripping the dashboard with one hand and the door handle with the other. But she trusted my driving just the same. Or maybe she knew to tell me to slow down would have been a waste of words. I wasn’t slowing down! Not even if I passed a cop. I figured if a cop was going to pull me over he’ll just have to follow me all the way to the hospital and maybe even turn his lights and siren on to clear the way for me.
I hit the freeway and accelerated to 85mph. I know how fast I was going because I glanced at the speedometer out of habit. When I got into the fast lane I was doing 100 mph. I maintained that speed until I reached the off-ramp for the hospital. I loved my car then; it didn’t fail me in the least. No flat tire, no running out of gas…going 100 mph without any strain at all.
I told Gabrielle to get on my cell phone and call everybody! Call Mike’s parents, call Mike’s drug-addict son Ryan tell him to crawl out from whatever rock he’s hiding under and get to the hospital; call this person and that person and tell them to get to the hospital NOW! Tell them to pray too. Oh God tell them to pray like they’ve never prayed before.
She told me, “ok calm down, and don’t kill us on the way to the hospital.” But she did as instructed. I think she was glad to have something to do. She had to look at the phone to make calls rather than at the cars we were passing at breakneck speed.
I made that 45 minute drive in 20 minutes. No accidents, no police chase, no incidents at all. It was as if this usually crowded 4 lane highway had miraculously cleared for me and I took advantage of the open road.
I sped into the hospital parking lot straight to the emergency room. Finding a parking spot was always impossible. To find a spot anywhere near the hospital, regardless of the time of day, was almost a extraordinary event. But I knew there were always slots near the ER so I headed there without thought.
I found a spot right next to the door! Lucky me! If there wasn’t a parking spot available I would have parked where it was illegal. I would have double parked. I would have pulled up to the ER door and left my car there. I would have even considered parking in a handicapped spot; though that thought is abhorrent to me.
I leapt out of my car and ran into the ER, past the check-in desk, past the security guard, past the sign in desk and ran to the nearest elevator. Gabrielle stayed right behind me, running with me and assuming I knew where I was going.
I tried to remember where the woman had said Mike was being moved to and thought it was on another floor. So I headed there first. I got off the elevator…must they be so damn slow?!!!…and ran to where the ICU area was. There were signs directing me so I didn’t have to slow my frantic running to where Mike was.
As I approached the ICU a security guard was there standing outside the doors. I guess he saw the panic on my face, my frantic racing down the hallway toward him and he said nothing to me, didn’t try to stop me but as I approached him, he helpfully pushed the button that opens the automatic doors and stepped out of my way.
I ran to the nurse’s desk and in between gasping breaths, I asked if they had Mike. She looked at her list (there’s only 8 patients at the most in each ICU so I was impatient that she had to look it up, that she didn’t know immediately that she had Mike under her care!)
He wasn’t there! Can you check to see where he is?! She did and told me he was still in his room. I took off running again out of that ICU area and to the stairs. The nurse shouted something after me about Mike but I didn’t stop to listen. I was not waiting to call an elevator to take a tortuously slow ride up one floor. I took the stairs two at a time; Gabrielle being 24 years younger than me kept up with me easily but still remained silent.
I slammed open the stairway door taking no heed if someone was standing on the other side. There are white painted lines on the floor which outlined the swing of the door—to warn anyone who is foolish enough to stand near a door—that you might get hit by a maniac running up the stairs and through the door, so be warned.
I ran down the hall and skidded to a stop at Mike’s door. I walked into his room, thinking he must be dead. He must have died while I was driving down the hill. Oh my God! He’s dead and I have failed him. I wasn’t with him when he died. Oh my God! How do I…what do I do…oh my God…!
As these thoughts raced through my head, my heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to burst I came into his room and saw 5 doctors, all in their clean white coats, standing around Mike’s bed. They were all standing…milling about, hands in their coat pocket waiting. I suppose they were waiting for me to arrive. I saw these doctors in a blurry sort of way and was looking for Mike, around them, through them to see Mike. There he was, sitting up ALIVE! Oh my God he’s alive! Oh thank you God he’s alive!!! I thought I was going to burst out in tears of relief that he was alive. That he hadn’t died while I was gone seemed to be the answer to my prayers.
Mike sat with his arms resting on the rails that each hospital bed is equipped with. We don’t want patients falling out of bed do we? That posture would allow him to have his arms raised and make it easier for him to breathe, even with the assistance of oxygen. He looked at me, as if it’s just another day and said, “That’s my wife.”
One doctor said, “We’ll just wait until she catches her breath before we make any decisions.”