When the ambulance rolled up to the ER, I could see the EMTs doing chest compressions on my dad. I remembered a guy his size who had coded when I was working on the floor- that guy did not make it. I started to shake and sob loudly. The ER nurse came over- I told her I would not interfere but I did not want to scare people in the waiting room- she said, "just give us a chance to work on him." She took me inside to the family room.
About an hour later I stood at the nurse's station and listened to ER code him for what seemed like forever. He could not keep a good heart rhythm going. I felt sure that they would quit trying to save him at any time. I could see the lack of hope on their faces. They were very kind to me but I have given that look before and I knew what it meant.
After some time he went from no rhythm to critical. He was moved up to CVICU (cardiovascular intensive care unit). After they got him settled in they let the family come back to see him. I felt bad for crying and asking 1000 questions that were politely answered. I know how busy the nurses are but I shamelessly asked everything. I could plainly see the bottom line every time I mentioned how long he was down at home and that he had to have prolonged CPR- they shocked him 10 times. They worked to keep his heart beating and tried to get rid of the PVCs and keep his blood pressure at the right spot. I just wanted to hide under the desk in the corner.
So many people told me if I needed anything to let them know- but what I needed was someone to fill the emptiness that burned from my clavicle to my stomach- an emptiness that is still there burning me alive. I have always been a proponent of having a good cry as a cathartic experience- but the cleansing will not come. Now I just have a sore face and really cloudy contacts.
My dad was on a vent and many meds to keep his heart beating, his pressure up, one for sedation, a paralytic. Later he would have to have meds to get his blood pressure down, potassium, magnesium, antibiotics. He never once woke up- I stood at his side until late in the night singing him songs, telling him that I wanted him to fight and stay alive to watch his grandchildren grow up. I thought about telling him that if he needed to die that I would understand- but I just could not say the words. One night I stayed until 5 in the morning, convinced that if I left he would go into Afib and he would die without any family at the hospital.
On day three the doctor told us that there was no brain activity and asked us what we wanted to do. There is no clever acronym for the steps to follow when you are going to take your Dad off of life support- they just tell you to take all the time you need.
Well, how much time should we take? What is proper and respectful? They are making you set the timeline for when his heart will stop and his breathing will stop and the color will leave his face. Then all you want is one more hug that is returned or one more I love you from his lips- but that is not going to happen.
When you are ready you go up to the nurse's station and tell them - just like you were at a restaurant and it is time to pay the check and clear out.
At some point, after it is over you are going to leave your father's shell in that bed waiting for the funeral home to come to pick it up. This is especially hard to do when all you really want to do is lay down on the floor and cry. You know that you are acting like a fool holding his hand and telling him that you love him. This is the last time you will see those eyebrows that look just like your own and the shoulders that used to carry the whole world for you. And then you leave the hospital, confused and empty.
It is definitely a different perspective- I hope you never have to be on this side of the bed.