It occurred to me I was vague in the entry below about the day Mike died. I've actually only spoken about it to 2 friends. This story really has to start with the day before.
It was Monday, Labor day, 09-03-2001. Mike was officially in Hospice care with a prognosis of less then a year to live. He was still doing relatively well though as we had just gotten the terminal diagnosis on his birthday just 14 days before. He could still walk, read, shower by himself. In fact that day alone he had made a huge mess in the kitchen trying to make some sort of smoothie concoction out of watermelon that he ended up not drinking. (But he tried) .
After his second round of palliative (life-prolonging, not saving) chemo 6 days before he had a really rough week. In fact it was during that administration of chemo in the hospital that he had his last meal. Once he got home, he was constantly nauseous and had developed a very raw throat and mouth. No appetite whatsoever. Excessive mucous had built up in his throat and by post chemo day 4 he could barely talk or swallow. Those smoothies were his last desperate attempt at consuming something.
That day, Monday, I had gotten up with Ari, early. Mike was already awake watching the Sci-fi channel when we came into the living room where his hospital bed (courtesy of the VA, God bless 'em) was set up. I had to go pick up my Mom at the airport that day, she was flying in from visiting family in Ohio. I remember the shock she expressed when she saw how Mike had deteriorated in just 2 weeks. I remember telling her in the car on the way home, that I thought he was giving up.
The rest of the day, I spent with Mike and Ari in the living room just watching TV...I think I may have gone grocery shopping as well. It sounds laid back but it was pretty tough. Mike feeling his worst, not talking, and even too tired to write was having a real hard time communicating with me. He would mouth words first before writing things down. I'd get frustrated because I couldn't understand, as he did too, for not understanding. I tried to attend to his needs and keep four month old Ari fed and happy as well. I also remember telling Mom in the car that I was planning on contacting the hospice to have Mike transferred to their hospice home. I simply just couldn't do it and it was so unfair to Mike and Ari. The whole matter was moot anyway.
I remember thinking he was bad but shrugged it off as a bad chemo reaction. The hospice Nurse had been there the previous Friday and made sure he had oxygen and a special anti-nausea med. in lotion form to keep him comfortable. She gave me no indication the end was near.
That day I had asked him, if he wanted to go to the ER and maybe get some IV fluids to feel better. He wrote down he wasn't sure. I then asked him if he wanted to wait until his appointment for chemo the next day (he would have seen his MD beforehand) He nodded.
That night, about 1 am after I had finished cleaning some, going through some financial paperwork and paying our bills, I had finally gotten up to go to bed. I was stressed, Mike was frustrated, baby Ari was pretty much the only person talking that day. Mike, still awake (He didn't sleep much that week either) was still watching the Sci-Fi channel as I headed to bed.
I asked "Do you want me to turn off the TV?" He shook his head no.
"Do you want me to turn off the light?" He nodded.
"Ok, good night" was the last thing I ever said to him. I was so exhausted, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow (generally rare for me, a partial insomniac) But just before I got to the bed I heard Mike going into the bathroom behind me.
That night I had a dream, or I remembered something from a light sleep. I heard Mike coughing and walking into our room and sitting down next to me in bed.
I had set the alarm for 6 am, Mike's MD appointment was for about 9 or 10am in Temple, 45 mins away. I had to get up early to have Mike and the baby ready for the drive.
I heard the TV still on from my room and walked to the end of the hall and looked into the living room.
Mike wasn't in his bed.
I turned around, looked back at our queen sized...no Mike.
Peeked in the bathroom, No Mike.
Even looked in Ari's nursery, thinking he wanted to sleep near her....no Mike.
Now, Our place was/is very small. At this point I had been basically in the hallway opening doors. The way we set up the hospital bed was it was set up right next to the hallway entrance, perpendicular to the wall. You had to circle around it to head down the hall to the bedrooms and bathroom.
I finally come out into the living room and around the bed...There was Mike.
On the tile floor, his body distorted, one hand relaxing on the floor one laying on his chest. Eyes partially open and dull. One leg flat, extended on the floor, one leg flexed.
"Oh, God, not like this" was all I could think.
I bent down and touched his face. Cold and hard..I didn't know human skin could feel that way.
"Where's the phone" I thought. I leapt up and dug through clutter for the cordless. Found it. "Who do I call?" still thinking but not really thinking. I first dial the hospice number but hang up, I don't know why. Then I dial the one number that has been rammed into my brain since I was 5 years old. 911.
"911, what's your emergency?" The lady dispatcher says
"I just found my husband dead on the floor, he has Cancer" I wailed this...I hadn't lost it yet but actually having to say it outloud made me totally lose it. "It wasn't supposed to happen this way!"
"Ok, Ma'am, please try to stay calm. What's your address?"
Through sobs, I tell her
"Ok, Ma'am, Do you know CPR?"
"Yes, but it won't do any good!" I'm wailing again.
"You can try Ma'am, I'll talk you through it until the paramedics get there....Now lift up his chin and....."
"No! You don't understand, he's really dead, been dead, he's cold and stiff, I wouldn't be able to open his mouth!!"
"You can't move him?" the poor lady's just getting it.
"No, rigor mortis has already set in!" Really wailing now but somehow managed to, during that conversation pull the sheet off Mike's bed and cover him with it, I had been sitting on the floor next to him.
"I'm really sorry Ma'am, I'm going to stay on the line with you until EMS gets there, OK?"
"Ok" I got up and walked to the door.
My Call-waiting beeps in. "What the hell?" I think but answer it anyway. It's the hospice, apparently they have caller id and asked if everything is Ok. I explain and she tells me they'll have someone on their way.
EMS took about 2 minutes to get there (I live about 2 blocks away from the station)
I click back over and the nice lady dispatcher asked me "Is there anyone I can call for you?" Thinking I really didn't want to say it out loud again, I give her my Mom's number and hang up.
Standing in my front yard, in my pajamas, I explain to approaching EMS that my husband is already dead, and that he has terminal Cancer. (Note I was still using present tense) I sit down on the sidewalk while they investigate. I call one of the 2 people I really wanted to be there. I call Jenni, whom I knew was getting up for work. Jenni's brother-in- law, Jay answers.
"I need Jenni" No arguments about the time, he must have heard it in my voice, he immediately gets Jen on the phone.
"Jenni, Mike 's gone." I started wailing again.
silence and before she can say anything...
"EMS is still here, I need you, can you come?"
"Let me get ahold of my boss first, I'll make it there."
We hang up.
A lady firefighter and some nice guy in a different uniform (victim services?) bring me a chair from inside to sit on. The lady fire fighter also tells me that she hears my daughter cooing in her room and asks if she can get her for me. I say yes. She must have been a Mom because she didn't just get her but brought a bottle from the fridge and tells me as she hands her to me that she changed a wet diaper for me. Victim services guy asks me if he can call anyone. I tell him to call the other person I really wanted to be there and give him Cathy's work number. She works about 15 minutes away, I swear she got there in 5, at least I know she was there before EMS even left.
Side note: "Is there anyone I can call for you" has got to be, hand's down, the most useful and important thing you could say to someone who just recently found out a loved one is dead. Volunteer to be the bearer of bad news for them if you ever find yourself in that situation. Having to repeat, aloud, the reality was horrible. Remember that.
Not knowing what else to do, I just sat there, in a chair on my sidewalk, in the front yard, holding Ari. One of the EMS guys came out of the house and was just standing there.
"How long do you think my husband was dead for?" I ask him.
"Ma'am, based on my experience, I would say about 5-6 hours, but I'm no expert."
That would have put his collapse at right after I went to bed. I had only slept 6 hours. He must have collapsed to the floor on the way back from the bathroom, or the bedroom if that visit had really happened.
Next a Nurse case worker from the hospice showed up and pronounced him dead by phone with his Oncologist in Temple. She recommended the funeral home for me and called them.
Meanwhile, Jenni had showed and chased away the cop who had responded to the call. I don't know if that was routine or not but he was just hanging out in his cop car in front of the house and she didn't want him upsetting me or making it look like a crime scene.
Cathy was in action as well. She had taken me and Ari back to her place (The other side of the duplex) and sent her husband off to get me some coffee. While Jenni and the case worker sat with me and Ari, Cathy went over after the funeral home took Mike's body and cleaned up all evidence a sick man ever lived there. She and her husband Rick (ex husband now) packed up the bed, oxygen, meds, everything medical and stowed them away in the garage. Then moved all furniture back where it was previously. I spent the rest of the day receiving family and phone calls.
EMS was great, the dispatcher although confused but meaning well was great. The hospice was great, My friends were phenomenal. My mom and my Stepdad, who live 90 minutes away, were there in about 2 hours. They too were phenomenal.
I don't think I'll ever forget that day. But I wanted to write it down, in case I ever do. That was cathartic, Thank-you for reading.