Five Months Tomorrow
(New York City)
Five months tomorrow.
I lost the love of my life on January 29 from sudden cardiac arrest. There was no warning. His cardiologist pronounced him in good health just a week before. That morning, he was excited to wear the new chambray shirt I got him for Christmas. I was on the phone when he left for work. He said goodbye and flashed me the sign for “I love you.” I was too busy talking on the phone so I just nodded. Five hours later, I got a call from his office saying he had “fainted.” My heart started racing. I asked how he was doing, and I was told he was still out and the paramedics were working on him. The caller suggested I run to their office as soon as possible. I hurriedly put on some jeans, and grabbed a jacket. As soon as I got outside, I didn’t know whether to run to the office or hail a cab. Just then, I saw an available taxi and flagged it down. I begged the driver to get to his office as quickly as he can. I think he sensed how panicked I was and he stepped on it. By the time I got to the building, I saw two ambulances parked on the 42nd Street curb. His co-worker was waiting for me, and we took the elevator to their floor. Just as the doors opened, the EMT workers were wheeling him out. I saw that his eyes were open and glazed. I didn’t know what to do. I followed them down on another elevator, and when we got to the street, I asked to ride with the ambulance. I was not allowed because I wasn’t an immediate family member. I explained that I was his partner, and we’ve been together for 22 years. I was also his health proxy, but without having the documents to prove that, I couldn’t join him. A police officer took pity on me and asked the EMT worker to take me on the second ambulance. We rushed to the nearest hospital where the doctors worked to stabilize his condition. I sat outside the room where they were working on him. The same police officer, a rookie, brought me a bottle of water and sat down next to me. It was an act of random kindness at a moment when I needed it most.
Three hours later, the doctor came out to say they were transferring him to their unit uptown, where they had equipment to induce hypothermia. They handed me a bag with his clothes. Then a nurse came and gave me his wedding band. I was wearing its twin.
I kept my hopes up for two weeks. I refused to do any research on the prognoses for cardiac arrests. I was too scared to read anything dire. So I kept hoping.
Meantime, I had to go back to work so I can pay bills. I could barely focus. Several times, I got phone calls from the hospital which made me rush up there. One time, they thought he was having seizures. So I dropped everything and ran. Another time, the nurse casually mentioned that a priest was there to give last rites. I crumpled in tears at my desk.
After work, I rushed to the hospital and stayed until closing time. He had a steady stream of visitors. I asked all his friends to visit. Some came from the West Coast. I didn’t want to keep these days of vigil to myself.
Ten days later, I got another phone call while I was at my office. The doctor asked what time I was planning to be at the hospital. I said “right after work.” She said “that’s fine.”
When I got to the ICU, the doctor was waiting for me. She took me into the private cubicle. If you have a sick loved one, you don’t want to be taken into the private cubicle.
I sat down. I noticed there was a bottle of water and tissues on the desk.
“He’s never going to wake up. And even if he does, he will be severely disabled.”
I asked to see the neurologist. She came with a team of doctors and explained that my partner had suffered severe brain damage from oxygen deprivation. She offered to show me the CT scans, and I agreed. I was shown images of his brain taken the day he was admitted. The doctor pointed to the nooks and crannies of the brain and explained that it looked “normal.” Then she showed me scans taken that day. The nooks and crannies were gone. In its place was a clear gray mass. He has massive brain swelling, and most of his brain cells have died.
I asked what that meant, in layman’s terms. The neurologist echoed the ICU doctor’s words. “He will never wake up. And on the slim chance he does, it’s very likely he will be in a permanent vegetative state. At most, he may be able to move his eyes, but he’s not going to be the person you knew.”
It was like a dream.
Another team showed up from the organ donor foundation. They wanted to know if I was interested in donating organs. I said yes. So they through a long list of body parts they would like. I said yes to most, except his eyes. I didn’t want him to lose his eyes. Besides, he was ineligible because he had laser surgery done on them a few years back.
A date was set. It was to be the coming Sunday, at 1PM. We would be taken into the operating room where they would disconnect the ventilator.
Before going in, I begged the doctor. “Please do not let him suffer.” She assured me he will not.
I had to be in full scrubs. His mother, sister, and my mother joined me. I had put together a CD of his favorite songs, and they were playing it when we were finally ushered into the operating room. All we could see was his face. Everything else was covered, prepped for organ harvesting. His eyes were open. They had been closed for two weeks.
I kept whispering into his ear to let him know I was there, that I loved him. I told him not to worry about me. I asked him to wait for me. Then his favorite song played. I started singing along with it, whispering the lyrics into his ear. “I’ll be loving you, always. With a love that’s true, always.”
I didn’t know this then, but the doctor said afterwards that his heart rate went up when I started singing. It had been slowing down before that.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the doctor. “It’s time,” she said.
I looked at the monitor, and I saw his heart slowing down. His blood pressure was dropping. I just kept saying “I love you. I love you.” Then a click. A voice announced: “3:29 PM.”
We were ushered out of the operating room.
3:29 PM. My life changed.
Four months, 29 days, 18 hours, 22 minutes, and 24 seconds ago.
Five months, tomorrow.