Friday, June 9th, 2017
Disclaimer: This is my point of view of the days leading up to my aunt's death. In this post and in future posts, I am leaving out many of the reactions, experiences and thoughts of my family members that were there in the hospital with us. I believe that their point of view is there's alone to share and I want to respect their privacy when it comes to reliving these moments - whether publicly or privately.
This day started off like any other.
Don't all tragedies begin like this?
I was in the bathroom of a house I shared with a good friend and I remember the door being open. It was bright. The dogs were milling about.
And then my phone rang. That's odd. Who would be calling right now?
It was my mom and she asked, very calmly, if I wouldn't mind taking off work that day so that I could be there for moral support while my aunt went into surgery.
I instantly flipped my mind over to helping my mom but a few thoughts started swirling around.
The main one being - my mom is the toughest and most capable out of all of us. Why would she need or want me for support?
I shook the thought away and got ready to meet her at the hospital. Honestly, it felt like a day of hooky. My expectation was that we would spend some time with my aunt before going into surgery, sit around while she was in surgery, and then fluff her pillows and wait on her while she healed from surgery. Queen treatment.
On my way there I thought it would be nice to pick up a quick breakfast since my mom had been in the hospital with my aunt for over 24 hours. I ran through a drive thru and pulled up to the hospital valet juggling reading material, food and my bag. My mom met me at the entrance and we took the long, convoluted walk up to the Critical Care floor where my aunt was getting prepared for surgery. I remember texting my supervisor that I had a family emergency and would try to be back in the office after lunch.
Little did I know I wouldn't be back to work until that same time a week from that Friday.
We got to my aunt's room and set down all of my stuff. All seemed fairly calm. My aunt dozed in and out while a nurse prepped her for surgery. My mom waved me over to a very sterile and cold looking couch. It was one of those ones that folded out so family members could stay over night in the hospital.
I sat down and she explained to me that a few hours earlier, a doctor talked with her in the hallway about my aunt's condition. I was half paying attention until I heard her say "50/50 chance of making it".
I looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language because she was. That couldn't be right. It sounded too serious. But my body reacted and I burst into tears. I looked over at my aunt and the nurse and wondered how a 50/50 chance of making it didn't warrant more commotion. Nope. They just have to give you all the serious talk so they can cover their bases. Everybody gets this talk, I thought.
I got up from the couch and walked over to my aunt. I patted her arm and watched the nurse do his work. She wasn't able to say much but we looked at each other. I tried to give her a kiss on her cheek but she was wired up to so many things she couldn't lean forward. I let her rest and went back to the couch to sit.
After a few more minutes, they were ready to wheel her out. They angled her toward us and we told her we loved her so much and to do really well in the surgery. We would be waiting for her after. She nodded and smiled.
That was the last time I ever saw my aunt awake.
My mom and I looked at each other, took a deep breath and decided it would be a good idea for my mom to rest since she hadn't slept for a long time. She went to the recliner and stretched out. Before she could even pulled up the blanket she was asleep. I wasn't terribly tired but I also didn't feel like reading either so I reclined the couch and snuggled in for what I thought would be an hour or two.
At one point, I opened my eyes and saw 6 or 7 doctors standing outside of the room talking. I couldn't hear what they were saying but I didn't think anything of it. After awhile, a woman came in and asked us to step out into the waiting room so that they could prep my aunt for being back in the room. She was out of surgery and heading this way.
This all sounded normal. Nobody was freaking out and they would have said if there were any issues, right?
I woke up my mom and we gathered all of our stuff and trundled over to the waiting room. Give us 30 minutes they said.
30 minutes turned into an hour and then 2.
My aunt's original gastric bypass doctor showed up and looked antsy to get us into a private room. I remember him being fidgety but kind.
There was a family conference room right off of the waiting area so we headed in there and shut the door. He introduced himself to me and expressed that the surgery had taken a little longer than expected and that my aunt was pretty sick but they would give us additional updates once they got her settled.
Then, a female doctor came in. She was much more pulled together and confidant than the last doctor. She sat down, folded her hands together and informed us that my aunt's heart had stopped.
Okay. My frame of reference for all of this was nothing.
She continued by saying that they had to shock her and do two minutes of CPR. I looked at my mom for guidance and she seemed to be processing this slowly too.
The doctor had some papers for my mom to sign - permission to do X, Y and Z. After she left, we sat there, dumbfounded. No serious alarm bells were going off at this point, at least in my mind, because they seemed to have it all under control. There was an atrium between us and my aunt's room and we could see a lot of movement. There were stripes of frosted glass so you couldn't see everything that was going on but enough to know that it was crowded.
"She's very sick" was the next update. Three doctors this time. One seasoned doctor with two students. We hadn't seen any of them before but I got a good vibe from the seasoned doctor. He was calm, a bit more rough with an unusual mix of gentleness.
5 different doctors so far.
They explained that during surgery, they extracted 3 liters of fluid from her abdomen. Toxic fluid. Bad, not supposed to be there, fluid. I'll be honest, I'm not entirely smart when it comes to measurements. When they were describing how much was in there, I was thinking like kid size milk cartons. In reality of course it was actually three large soda bottle sizes. That's a huge difference. Monumental in fact.
They left and we sat there again, shocked. More to process. More to understand.
We had a brief break from updates so I ran down to the cafeteria to get us sandwiches. When I returned, my mom said we still hadn't received any news so I didn't miss anything.
We ate, tried to relax and waited for another knock on the door.
The knock came and it was the last three doctors plus the first one from the beginning of the day. The room was getting tight. All of the doctors stood except for the seasoned one. He sat down, perched his elbows on this knees and folded his hands. He said he was here to be as honest with us as possible. We shook our heads in agreement and thanked him for being straightforward, even if it was hard.
He cleared his throat and uttered the words that still haunt me to this day.
My mom launched herself off of the couch in the conference room and started screaming and sobbing. I looked around at everybody's faces. The seasoned doctor had his head bowed down and his eyes closed. He looked genuinely distraught.
The words sunk deeper into my consciousness. They were so clear and honest. No reading between the lines or deciphering what was being said. She was dying.
They said they were going to try everything in their power to help her get better but the odds were against her. The second blow -
"She has a 99% chance of dying." Not living. Dying.
The tears started flowing but not until all of the doctors had exited the conference room did I curl up into a ball of sobs. I was bent over crying into my legs. I was crying so hard that it was difficult to breathe. I had to bring my head back up to get air. I kept gasping like somebody had just taken a bat to my chest. I located the trash can out of the corner of my eye just on the off chance that I needed to throw up. It felt like it was imminent.
Before the doctors left to go back to my aunt's room, my mom sternly requested that we get the chance to see her. It was preposterous that at this point, we couldn't get in there to be with her. The seasoned doctor understood and told us he would be back once they prepped her for us to see her. He was back in about ten minutes.
As we stood to get up, he stopped us. He made sure we were both paying attention when he told us that she was in very bad shape. She was going to look very different from what we remembered her looking before surgery and we needed to prepare ourselves.
We rounded the corner to her room and put our things down before bracing ourselves to see her. There were still quite a few nurses and doctors in the room but it looked like they cleared many of them out so we could have a moment with her.
The easiest spot to get to her was her feet. So we gathered there and took everything in. We rubbed her feet and told her we were there.
While monitors beeped, we looked at all of the wires, cords and tubes coming out of her. It was very hard to tell where one line started and ended. Her eyes were puffy and slightly open. Her hair was still in the braids from a few days before. Most of her body was covered by a blanket except for her hands, arms and feet. Her hands and feet, just like her eyes, were very puffy.
The scariest part for me was her breathing. She was being helped by a ventilator that they had only two of in all of the hospital. There was a big tube coming out of her chest that I believe was connected to her heart. Surrounding her was the ventilator and 2 carts that each held 12 different medications each. And right beside the ventilator was the machine that monitored her blood pressure, heart rate, etc.
It was a lot to take in. The seasoned doctor was right, she looked very different. And the strangest thing for me wasn't all of the machines and tubes - it was the fact that I couldn't tap her to wake up.
Even with the poor odds, I imagined us laughing about this hours later when she recovered and she was up and talking with us.
"Can you believe it? They said you had a 99% chance of dying. How ridiculous is that?" - that's what we would say when she woke up.
When everything got increasingly bad, my roommate friend called off her birthday weekend to watch Phoebe. I was overwhelmingly grateful.
I stayed until 9PM; rubbed her feet, held her hand, talked to her, watched the nurses and doctors monitor every little thing that kept her alive and waited. Waited for an update that would sound a whole lot better than 99% death. My mom and I escaped quickly for dinner and when 9 rolled around I gathered my things to head out. There was only one family member allowed in the room so I told my mom and I would keep my phone handy so that if anything happened, she could call me and I would hop in the car and zoom over.
We were expecting close family members to arrive early in the morning and throughout the day on Saturday. I drove home, hugged Phoebe and tried to settle in for the night. I had an unimaginably hard time getting to sleep and before the phone call from my mom on Saturday, I felt sick to my stomach.
Saturday, June 10th, 2017 will be shared in a different post.