Bad days become worse days

It’s been a tough week here in Albuquerque. And more so in Tennessee.

I’ve been the intermediary between a knitting friend and the many people we know in common while her husband has been in an induced coma in cardiac ICU. Today, Google kicked me over the top.

L, R, and some friends were hanging out the other day when R, her husband, just dropped to the floor. He’s had A-fib for a while, but I thought it was pretty well controlled. He had no pulse, so they immediately started chest compressions.

(Aside: CPR has a much better reputation than it deserves. Most people believe the CPR stories they see on medical dramas are true, and they aren’t. They don’t do the compressions properly or in the right place (given what they can do with props, it wouldn’t be difficult to make it look right), and there’s only like a 20% survival rate overall–not just among young, middle-aged, or old people, but all people who have CPR done outside a hospital. Surveys show most people think survival rate is around 75%, and with no neurological damage. Among people my age, that survival-to-discharge-from-hospital number drops precipitously (like to 5%) and also comes with danger of broken ribs, lacerated livers, and more. The first three or four days afterwards are quite dangerous, especially for the brain. No one, but no one, pops up immediately after CPR and says, “Oh, what a lovely day! Let’s go for a six-mile run!” This is why I have a DNR. If my heart stops while I’m eating ice cream with you, just let that be my last sight.)

At the hospital, the bloodwork showed no enzymes indicating heart damage (so no MI–myocardial infarction, or heart attack). The best they could figure was some weird electrical pulse and the A-fib collided at the wrong time. They put R in an induced coma (to prevent some of those dangerous things) and yesterday, started trying to bring him out.

He was unresponsive.

He remained unresponsive.

They did an MRI, and L heard the words “global hypoxic event” along with some others she didn’t quite catch (or take in). “Global hypoxic event” means the brain was deprived of oxygen long enough to have affected function in all of its systems, and no way to know how much. It is not a phrase you ever want to hear; it most likely means “the heart may be beating, but no one is home nor will ever be again.” In fact, L said, “I think he’s gone. We may have saved his body, but everything that makes him who he is is gone.”

So today she and her kids made the decision to withdraw life support. I don’t know the status right now; she’ll call or text when she has the bandwidth for it. His body could live for an undetermined amount of time, or it could go quickly. I hope for a quick, gentle exit for all their sakes.

In all this, I’ve been delivering bad news to our common friends, sometimes a couple of times a day, and fielding/passing along love and sympathy. I had no idea how painful bearing nothing but bad news could be. But it is excruciating.

Today, I had to tell everyone that R was gone. That tore me up badly enough that I wasn’t sure I could even make it to the endocrinology appointment made last October.

I had to drive way way out to the new guy’s, and just as I got to the part of town I don’t know at all, Google suddenly decided to cut out voice direction (it’s not reception; I’ve driven out there before with no problem). On these freeways, you don’t pull over and stop to try to figure out the problem if you value your life and your car. All I could do was balance the damn phone on my knee, try to read the badly reflecting screen, read signs, add “in 1.3 miles” to what was on my odometer, watch traffic, avoid crazy drivers, try not to look like a crazy driver, and hope. It is a flat-out miracle that I got there in one piece. I still have no idea why that happened, but 25 miles of that was about all the extra stress I could handle for one day.

When their touch-screen check-in didn’t work, I lost it. Fortunately, they were very kind and helped me get at least a tiny grip, so I could get into the exam room before I started to blubber.

I managed to get through the appointment OK; and I got home. Those are miracles enough for one day. My heart is broken for L and her family, and she’s far enough away that I can do nothing practical to help her except take this little burden of message-delivering off her shoulders. I’m glad to be able to do that, even though it hurts. I can’t imagine the pain she’s enduring (with her usual clear-eyed courage, pragmatism, and dignity), moving from half of a happy couple with lots of retirement plans to a widow so suddenly and unexpectedly.

This is so unfair. Sometimes, life sucks like a brand-new jet engine.

Posted by wordsmith

2 comments

If only his body would follow quickly. He was reading “The Silmarillion” when it happened, and the kids and L are reading it to him. I’d swear he’s hanging around just to find out how it ends, and there’s more than half the book left to go. Maybe they should just read him the last chapter.

Ugh, sounds like a terrible experience for basically everyone but R, who may have just gone quickly and been done with it.

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