May 1st, 2009 | by Matt |
I was talking to Dawn tonight about what was going on in our life exactly a year ago, how the night he died unfolded by the hour, what we were doing and how we were feeling at different times. A short time after Kevin died I wrote down my memories of that night and morning.
It was about 2am when the phone woke me up from my sleep. It was Dawn, and there was panic in her voice. “You need to get here as soon as possible. Something is wrong. I think Kevin just had a seizure.” There were other words said but I don’t remember them. I threw on some clothes as my mind became a train wreck of thoughts. Emily was confused and still half asleep. “Is everything okay?” “I think so, I just need to get there as soon as I can.” I really did think everything was going to be okay. I was preparing myself mentally for a trip to Iowa City and maybe an extended stay in the PICU. Maybe even some kind of heart surgery. It’s okay. We’ve been through this before.
It was the middle of the night and I knew Emily couldn’t come to the hospital with me. She had school, I thought. I even thought about who could get her off the bus if we were still in Iowa City with Kevin. I knocked quietly on the Tackett’s door. No answer. A little louder. No answer. I didn’t want to be rude and wake up the whole house. I didn’t understand yet that the situation warranted the loudest knock I could make. A little louder. Nathan came to the door. A few words exchanged, I don’t remember what, and I was off.
I’ve never driven through city streets so fast. I was doing 70mph on the one-ways through Moline. I started rehearsing what I would say to a cop if I was stopped. My boy has congenital heart disease and he’s in the hospital having serious problems. I need to get there ASAP. I wondered if they would believe me. Luckily I didn’t have to tell the story.
I was visibly shaking. My heart was pounding out of my chest. A thousand scenarios ran through my head at the same time. I know I called my parents on the way but I don’t remember making the call.
Entering the hospital, I got a few looks from staff as I ran as fast as I could to the elevators and to the floor where he was. Entering the pediatric unit was surreal. His was one of the first rooms on the right and there were already lots of people around. I’d seen this before. We spent 6 weeks in the PICU in Iowa City, and we were there plenty of times when other people had bad days. We even had some of those days ourselves. I wonder if that fact helped me walk in the door of the room. But this time was different.
I talked to Dawn and she filled me in on kind of what happened. They had just intubated him shortly before I got there. Not a good sign. He had some pain medicine and it had started to really kick in. I stood by his bed and looked into his eyes. He looked at me and it seemed like he knew his daddy was there. I hope he did.
There were doctors and nurses all around. I didn’t want to get in the way, but I didn’t want to leave him sit there. He had medicine to take away the pain and calm him down but he must have been scared. He was old enough to know something was wrong and he didn’t feel good. I cry as I type this at the thought of him being scared and wanting to go home and lay on the couch and watch Baby Einstein and go to sleep holding his favorite DVD case.
Hindsight is 20/20. Had I known he would die I would have stopped it all, pulled out all the wires and tubes, and held him. Comforted him. Looked into his eyes and felt him in my arms one last time. Be there with him as his battle ended. Let him lay in a soft lap holding his toys without his hand strapped into an IV. I wish so bad that I could have seen him one last time before he was on his bed and surrounded by doctors trying to save his life. I can’t get the image out of my head, his last moments of looking into my eyes. I touched his hands, I told him that I loved him, that everything was going to be alright.
We sat out in the hallway while our boy was fighting for his life in his room. New doctors came in. People asked if we were okay. We listened in a panic, trying to hear anything that might let us know what was happening, if he was going to be okay. Blood pressure readings, pulse rates, blood sugar levels. More nurses arriving.
I don’t even remember exactly how everything progressed. At one point we were told that they were just trying to stabilize him so they could transport him to Iowa City. A couple times it seemed like they were almost ready to go. Good. If he’s stable enough to go to Iowa City, then that’s a good thing.
What does it mean when he’s coding? Did they just say that blood pressure was dropping? Lost a pulse? What’s happening? The shaking starts. I can’t control it. I look around and it’s obvious that this isn’t going well. This is not what it looks like when things are improving.
One of his pediatricians comes out. “Kevin is very very sick.” Then some other words I can’t remember. They don’t come out and talk like this unless they expect the worst. Oh my god. OH MY GOD.
Dawn and I are sitting next to each other staring, crying, shaking. He can’t die. No. This can’t be happening. He can’t die. No.
Lost the heartbeat. A call for the defribulator. You don’t have to watch E.R. much to know that’s not good. This can’t be happening.
Wait, they have a heartbeat? He has his own pulse again? What a cruel moment of false hope. Maybe things will be okay. I swear, even if he has to have operations and we’re in Iowa City for 6 months, that’s okay. We’ll take it. Please let this be the scare of our life. Please tell me we’re going to look back at this and see how close we came to losing him, and appreciate having him all the more. Tell me that he’s going to be okay.
Things weren’t going to be okay. I don’t remember what all happened. A couple times when we breathed a sigh of relief and thought he might be out of the woods. More numbers and stats. Coding. People running around. Charge! Clear! Thump. You don’t want to hear that when they are doing it to your baby boy. It’s a horrible, horrible sound.
The life flight team had arrived from Iowa City to take him by helicopter. They just needed him stable enough to make the flight. There was a really bad storm coming in our direction. They couldn’t wait long. Please don’t let them leave without him. That means all hope is gone. Please don’t tell me there is another person waiting for the chopper who has a better chance of survival. A couple times they are almost ready to leave. Leaving meant it was over. Don’t leave yet. Not yet.
I paced. No. No. No. He can’t die. This can’t be happening. This isn’t the way this is supposed to go. No. He can’t die. Kick the wall, as if that would do any good.
The doctor came out and asked if we have a church we would like to contact. Don’t ask me that. That’s what you ask when you know it’s over. Don’t ask me that. At some point I walk down the hall to a secluded corner to call Nathan and tell him that it doesn’t look good, and to take care of Emily for now. It’s not a call anyone wants to make to anyone.
The chopper team is on the radio. The storm is getting worse. They have to leave in 5 minutes. Get him ready to transport in 5 minutes or they’re leaving.
We go in to see him again. He doesn’t look into our eyes. We touch his hands and stroke his face, but he doesn’t respond. He was gone already. We knew it.
The room was crazy. People everywhere. Disconnecting of monitors and wires and tubes. Piling the machinery into his bed for transport. Calling off of stats and checklists of things to do. Someone starts using the bag for his breathing. It’s all manual. They’re keeping his body alive. I’m not sure if they thought there was still a chance at that point. I wasn’t allowing myself to think there was anymore. False hope is torture for the soul. We’d been numbed to it for 2.5 years. I couldn’t do it anymore. It was over.
In the tangled mess of people, noises everywhere, as they prepared to roll his bed out of the room and down the hall, we said our first goodbyes. God how I wish that moment could have been quiet and personal and loving. All I wanted to do was comfort my boy and I couldn’t. I wanted to create some short memory of a personal, private, loving goodbye and I couldn’t. It was cold and it was medical and I was surrounded by 8 or 10 of the best people in the world who tried to save my little boy’s life. This is not the way his life is supposed to end. We’d gone through so many scenarios in our heads. Different ways his life could go. This was not one of them.
It had been about 4 hours since I got to the hospital. I don’t even remember where all the time went. But it was the most miserable, helpless 4 hours of my life. I sat out in a hallway while my little boy died in front of me. It’s absolutely overwhelming.
We walked down the hall and into the elevator with him, holding his hand and touching his face as much as we could. Out the elevator and down the hall to the front door of the hospital. The helicopter was waiting. We said a few more goodbyes and then watched them load him up into the helicopter and fly away. All by himself. I hope he’s not scared. I hope he’s not in pain. I hope he doesn’t die mid-flight, all alone, without his mommy and daddy.
We stood on the corner of the parking lot and cried, hugged, and thanked the doctors for all their efforts. We needed to drive to Iowa City.
We’d made that drive so many times in the last couple years. This time Kristel was driving us, and we sat in the back seat. Silent. Stunned. Exhausted. In shock. Heartbroken. The storm had hit, and the conditions were so bad that it was almost undriveable. The loudest rain I think I’ve ever heard in my life.
Halfway to Iowa City we got a call on the cell phone. It was the doctors in Iowa City. Kevin had made it there safely, but they were basically keeping him alive until we got there. They had done all they could do. They didn’t want us to have false hope and be shocked when we got there. Not that we had any hope left in us anyway.
At the hospital. Up the elevator. Silent. A nurse greeted us outside the PICU and explained what happened and what we should expect when we walked in. The doors to the PICU were closed with a sign that said medical emergency or something. People were waiting in the family waiting area, probably asked to leave the PICU and wait there during this time, as we had done several times during Kevin’s initial stay. I knew exactly what the look was in their eyes - “God, I hope that’s never me.” I know the feeling well because I’d been in that exact place. I do hope it’s never them, because it sucks.
He was in the same room he was in when he got moved out of the PICU. You’d think I would remember the number or something since we stayed there 24/7 for a week or two, but I don’t. Nurses and doctors are around, all silent. Some avoid eye contact. Others give us a look of sympathy. Some we recognize from 2.5 years earlier. Some recognize us.
Doctors circled his bed as we entered the room. Faces we recognized. They told us how sorry they were and that they wished there was more they could do. They remembered Kevin from so long ago. He was special. It was personal for them too.
They cleared everything away and stopped the artificial breathing. They had pumped his breath by hand for 45 minutes, keeping his body alive until we could get there. Dawn sat in the rocking chair. The same one she had sat in so many days and slept in so many nights, refusing to leave his side until he got better. The place he took his first bottle feeding in her arms. The place we awkwardly held him when he was so little and hooked up to so many machines.
Now there were no machines.
They laid him in Dawn’s lap and he took his final breaths. His body quit, and he was done fighting.
Our little boy was gone.