It’s your Birthday Today. And… as I write this it’s ~6am MDT. You died at ~5am PDT. So… now.
But you had gone before your body stopped trying to keep you here. I consider it one last act of defiance by your body which I still hold didn’t love you nearly as much I love you.
It was about 40 minutes of difficulty breathing before the crash carts showed up. 6 days before, you and I had had a talk. You didn’t want to be mutilated anymore. You didn’t want to be tortured again. I promised, “no heroics.” I lied. I let them do one heroic thing. I let them try when the crash carts came. They had to pull you back twice. Twice I watched your blood oxygen drop below 10%.
I stood there, calling out stats and improvements, holding your hand, looking in your eyes, telling you what they were doing for about ten minutes. When they said they were going to intubate you, I promised, “when we can get you breathing, the tube comes out. I promise.” The tube didn’t work.
I was holding your hand during the crash carts… I was talking to you. They had to yell at you to get you to respond and there wasn’t much blood in your hand. I don’t know if you remember me holding your hand or if it had gone numb at that point. I don’t know if you remember me talking to you. But I remember. I remember all of it. And I hope the record of the angels reflects it. It was maybe two minutes more before I demanded the doctors and nurses push a sedative because I knew this was your worst nightmare relived. And some part of me knew… if you were going to die, you’d rather do it asleep.
My therapist tells me most people would have left when things got hard. Tells me most people can’t be there at those moments. I never thought about being anywhere else. Nowhere else was an option. I was there, until I knew you weren’t.
Another two hours we adjusted small things to see if your body would react. You had spent nearly two and a half hours with oxygen levels below 60%. I talked with the doctors. “How long can someone be on low oxygen before there’s permanent brain damage.” Their eyes told me everything I needed to know. “It depends,” their mouths said. “It’s already too late,” their eyes said.
I went to lunch. I ate slowly, trying to keep my tears out of my food. I knew the math. I knew exactly what happened before the doctors knew. You had been struggling to breathe after you came back from sedation. Part of me demands blame. That anesthesiologist pushed too hard. She was careless. I didn’t understand the breathing problem for what it was soon enough. I thought over and over again we should have turned you upside down to get the blood to come out of your lungs.
I knew it.
And I hated myself for it. Eviscerated myself for it. Destroyed myself for it… until I was numb and could face the next hardest thing; calling your mother.
The phone call lasted 13 seconds. She had to get off the phone to scream.
They gave me a room next to yours to… dissolve? decompose? compose? worry?
She called me back almost exactly ten minutes later. We talked for another 30 minutes.
At about 5pm, I started going through the room. Collecting my things. Collecting your things. The nearly unused VR head set I got so you could leave your room without endangering yourself. The OT squish ball I found to help you get your hands working again. Moving them from the room of your body to the other room. Logging out of the XBox… because for some reason, I didn’t want anyone else playing our saves on Dead Cells.
I was in your room every 15 minutes. They had turned you so your back was up. I knew how often you complained about the plastic mattress. I touched your back, made the sweat was dry. Your hands were dying. Your feet, the color of a corpse.
At about 4pm… they pushed the paralytic, trapping you in your body. You were resisting. Fighting. But you were fighting them. You were fighting the medication. In retrospect, I think you had finally understood your time was up, and you were trying to force us to let go. You were always so damn stubborn. Well… for everyone else but me. You trusted me.
I started calling family. Sending text messages out. Telling people the progress we announced 5 days before had turned into tragedy. My sister was already on her way but no sooner flights could be scheduled. I would be alone for when you passed. A part of me was terrified I’d have to face this alone. A part of me was so incredibly grateful no one else would have to carry this.
Shift change happened at 7pm. The new nurse came in with gravitas. I suspect they called in their version of Jalil. He was clear an matter of fact. Something I really appreciated. It took too long to convince doctors and nurses I needed the unsullied truth, as much as they knew of it. He didn’t flatter me or give me false hope. He was respectful and they were still trying to save you. He started working his best magics. I still held the thinnest strand of hope. I could still… “feel” you? You know how I just know things? It’s the way the Holy Ghost works with me. It’s not a burning in the bosom, it’s just knowledge streams. I knew you were still connected with your body. I knew you were still in there… but I also knew… I knew you’d hate me if you came out on the other side of this with a brain that fought you or a body that worked against you.
This is when I just started waiting. I made the decision, “no heroics” was what you really wanted. I talked with the doctors. I made sure they understood at this point, it should be either complete recovery or I go home alone. I told them to try and help you settle, but if you crash, don’t try to save you. Save. What a stupid word at this point.
I waited. I doted. I went and got some dinner. Sushi from the place I was saving for when you were a little better and willing to eat solid foods. I understood your position. Until you could used the bathroom on your own… only liquid foods. So I was happy to wait for that milestone. But that evening… I decided to have one last meal “with” you. There was a couple in the family lounge. Their baby just got the transplant they needed. They were celebrating. All smiles. “Is your child here too?” they asked innocently. “He is. But he won’t be much longer,” I said. They took that to mean something it didn’t. I didn’t correct them. Let them celebrate their child.
I went back. I looked at the monitors. And then… I hope you heard what I said next, “Hey, Buddy. Your body is pretty messed up here. I don’t think if you come back it’s going to be a good time for you. Remember when we talked about what’ll happen if you die? You made me make a promise your family would be okay? Well… It’s time for you to go. We had a good run at it and… I don’t think you should come back. So if you get to choose… I’ll love you either way. And we’ll be okay. I promise.”
My body was giving out at that point. I had used up days of adrenaline and stress hormones. I came out of your room… looked at the doctors and the lead (because you had two nurses and three doctors stationed just outside) said, “We’ll wake you if something changes.”
I didn’t even really lie down in a bed. It was a meeting room and I just stretched across two chairs and passed out.
I woke up at 12:41am at night. I walked passed your room. You were still in there. I went to the restroom. The nurse was waiting for me outside. I said, “How long has the O2 been up over 72%?”
“It’s been bouncing all night.”
I nodded. Hope wasn’t realistic still.
I went to bed again. Different chairs this time.
I woke up again at 4:10am. Walked passed your room. You’d gone while I was sleeping. Your body was there. The machines were keeping it working. But you had gone.
I stopped at the door. Turned around and looked at the doctors. They all came to talk to me. Yea. It was time. Before they could start, I said, “I got up to use the bathroom. Let’s talk when I get back.”
I knew you weren’t there anymore. So… it wasn’t really a hard decision. I also knew what you wanted… and that made it a certainty. Before the doctors could start talking, I said, “What’s the process to shutting his body down? And can we save anything meaningful from his body for analysis or is it just chemical soup?”
They looked the strangest combination of relieved and sorrowful and concerned. Sometimes all at once, sometimes in a cruel loop of expressions. Your body was still paralyzed. Your brain, flooded with sedative. Your arms and hands… probably irreparably damaged. It was just a vessel that housed you. The beautiful you. The verbose and curious you. The you that knew your time was short and so you never wanted to take unnecessary risks. The you that trusted me.
I told them they had to turn off the paralytic first. If there was any chance you were still in there… I wanted to make sure you could tell us. The nurse stepped forward and turned it off.
“How long will it take?” I asked.
“About an hour,” he said.
I nodded. I went back to the other room, grabbed my laptop and a chair, swung it over next to you and started writing your obituary. It’s the best writing I had ever done. It’s funny and sad and sour and sweet. Maybe it’s because I knew you, but I felt like it was right on target. I talked to your body about it. I thought maybe you’d still be around. I don’t know what the process looks like. The spirit of a child doesn’t enter their bodies at conception like a lot of Christendom preaches. People who say that, clearly haven’t read the Book of Mormon. Jesus says, “and on the morrow come I into the world.” Clearly you can’t be in the womb AND not on the planet. Plus you can’t baptize a stillborn baby and they’re not even recorded on the records of the church. Miscarriage, abortion, death of the mother… these things don’t preclude a spirit getting access to the world. They’re just meat suits. And I was just sitting next to your meat suit.
I figure it takes 40 weeks to make a vessel and probably a few months to maybe a year before the spirit is fully downloaded to its host. Maybe that means it takes time to die? Some horrible experiments tell us we’re still conscious for a little while after the guillotine. So… I didn’t know how long it would take you to leave. I thought hard about not leaving the hospital. There are old traditions where you have to slowly walk the body of a family member back to the hometown so the spirit doesn’t get lost. I was terrified they were right and I was going to unintentionally abandon you.
So I sat there and wrote. At my last sentence… I asked you if you liked it so far. That’s when the nurse came in again. I looked at the time. It had been an hour time for phase 2. “Do we turn off the sedative now?” I asked.
The nurse looked sad, “No. His body has already taken care of the next steps for us.”
I looked at the monitors. Sure enough. All flat. Except for the breathing. Apparently, the machines didn’t get the memo that you were done with your body. I didn’t even feel sad at that. I nodded. Got up. I still remember the touch of your bare back. No sweat. Comfortable. Son… you were hairy. You would have made a fantastic wookie in your later years. I patted your hair. Your stupid double cow-licks. I bent down and whispered in your body’s ear. “You did good buddy. You fought so hard. I’ll never not love you.”
And I left the room.
I called your mother at 5:32. Two minutes after your body stopped. 5 hours after you stopped using it. We cried. Mom knew you were gone. I wasn’t “breaking the news.”
I sat there for 45 minutes. And then I started texting people. The group threads. The ward. The family. The friends. The mortician. I couldn’t go through the conversation again and again. But I rewrote every group text. I knew the next few days were going to be… quite unpleasant. So I started building a plan.
How do I get home? How do I get your body home? When does your body leave its room? How long until they kick me out of the hospital? But over the next few hours… solutions arrived. Your Aunt was already on her way. She’d bought a ticket on Monday when things were going well. Same day I was approved for medical leave. We would drive home. She would fly out from there. The social worker, the doctors, the nurses, the staff. They all knew. I didn’t have to tell them. They were aghast. You were healthy yesterday. They had some good words. They had some bad words. But… I made it home.
I stopped counting the number of hours since your body died after about 90 hours.
Your ashes came home after 17 days.
Mom had her birthday after 22 days.
AsherCon was held after 25 days.
My birthday was after 30 days.
I went back to work after 41 days.
I took your name to the temple to complete your initiatories after 73 days. My friend came with me because… he’s having brain surgery on the day we were supposed to take you to the temple to complete your work.
I finished your birthday gift after 74 days.
I did the math on that day. You were sick for 74 days before you died. You spent 16 of those without two legs. We were in Seattle for 10 of those days. This is also the day I stopped counting the days since. I don’t know if it was because of the initiatories or if it was because I started worrying about my friend with a brain tumor.
It’s been 77 days. Happy Birthday.
Now I have to go serve jury duty.
And tomorrow… hopefully… we’ll see you at the temple for your endowments. If my friend shows up in person to help you through the endowments… I’m glad you’ll have someone to help you… but also… the universe isn’t kind and I’m going to need some support.