Friday, April 23, 2010

What Happened Two Years Ago

Two years ago tonight, I last saw T alive. Here is the story of what happened.

We went to Mexico in mid-April of 2008. Two days before we were returning home, the Friday afternoon of the trip, T started feeling pretty bad. He had some intestinal issue, and by Saturday afternoon was so sick he sent me out to find some Immodium-type drug that might help manage the situation. That evening he sent us ahead to the resort restaurant, saying he wasn't hungry, but would join us later for a little while. We were sitting at our table when T's niece and nephew, who were facing the front of the restaurant, saw someone fall on the path outside. We shrugged it off, as the bar was that direction, but it did seem odd for someone to be that drunk so early in the evening at a family resort. A few minutes later, someone appeared at our table asking for me. It was T -- he had fainted as he passed the bar and only just come to.

He was bemused but all there. Several people from the bar had come out to help, and one woman, a doctor, told me it had taken him a while to regain consciousness. A very nice man walked us back to our room to make sure we got there safely. The hotel staff called the paramedics for us, and soon a crowd of Mexican police and medical personal filled our room. The language barrier was a bit of a problem, and all they were able to do was take his vitals. I think they said his blood pressure was low, or maybe high -- I don't remember exactly. They wanted to take him to the local clinic, but it was the night before we were leaving, and T said no.

He was doing better the next day, and made it home fine. Monday he stayed home sick, but by Tuesday he was feeling better and went in to work. He brought home a nice filet mignon from one of our favorite restaurants, and drank a glass of red wine. Meanwhile, I started feeling crummy on Tuesday afternoon, and T's son D was not doing well around that time. B had had diarrhea since the last days of our trip, and was still having problems. Our nanny, who didn't even come on the trip, got sick around then too.

Wednesday we all stayed home. T was feeling bad again, and he had a fever of 100 or so consistently throughout the day. By mid-afternoon I insisted he go to the doctor. He had initiated a transfer to my family practice doctor, though he hadn't had an appointment with her yet. Luckily, he could get in to see her that afternoon, so we packed up B, who was still having her problem, and headed off.

I was not in the room for his exam, so I don't know exactly what transpired, but apparently he did not tell the doctor about his heart situation when she asked about any chronic conditions: his enlarged heart, the valve replacement, or the drugs he took. She must have taken his vitals, listened to his heart, etc. I remember when he had some virus after his surgery, and took himself off to his cardiologist because he said it could be more dangerous in his situation. Why didn't he take it more seriously this time?

The doctor hadn't met B yet, so before we left I took her in to say hello. The doctor congratulated us on B, and then told me T would be fine.

T hadn't eaten much that day. I bought him a bottle of Gatorade, which I don't think he had any of. I think he might have eaten part of an English muffin, maybe a banana or some leftover rice. He sat in his black leather chair in the family room with the throw rug over his knees, watching TV, while I was in the office on the computer. Around 9:30 or so, he went to bed, and as I came through the family room probably soon after, I remember seeing his empty chair and the throw rug on the ottoman and being a bit disappointed that he hadn't said good night. I think he was already asleep when I came into the bedroom, or at least I don't remember him saying anything.

The next morning the alarm went off as usual at 6:30. It was on T's side of the bed, but he didn't respond. I figured he was still feeling poorly, so I got up and walked around the bed to turn it off, so as not to disturb him. (Knowing too well his penchant for privacy and my personal dislike of being awoken unnecessarily, I didn't want to even reach over him to get to the clock.) I was feeling better, so I took a shower and got dressed, planning to head to work. T was still lying on his side, his right arm tucked under the pillow in his usual sleeping position, when I finished getting ready.

I went in to get B up for the day, and she had had diarrhea again that had escaped the diaper and gotten all over her and her bed, even into her hair. I scooped her up and carried her through our bedroom, right past T as he lay in bed facing the other way, and into the master bath where we bathed her. I ran a bath and cleaned her up, while she fussed and cried. Carrying her back through the bedroom, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why T hadn't gotten up to help me with her. Even if he were feeling pretty bad, he was a very involved and hands-on father.

Still holding a naked B wrapped in her yellow bath towel, I put my hand on T's shoulder. "T", I probably said. He didn't respond. "T! T!" I think I shouted, now shaking him. "Oh my god", I might have said, and ran around the bed to put B down, still naked, on her towel on my side of the bed. I ran back and shook him again. I noticed the hand under the pillow was a little clenched, and his head was tipped at a slight upward angle. He had been sleeping in a tee-shirt and shorts, unusual for him. I pulled the sheet off, and felt his arm. It was cold, and he was stiff. I felt under his armpit, and in his groin. There was a little warmth still there. I ran back to my side of the bed and called 911.

I don't remember what I said to the dispatcher. Maybe "My husband is not responding!" or something like that. The dispatcher told me to get him on his back and start CPR. When I tried to turn him, I couldn't straighten out his limbs. The right side of his face was distorted, and his lips were drawn back slightly, as if a wave of pain had come over him. "I can't turn him over!" I told the dispatcher, and then ran to open the front door so the paramedics could get in when they arrived.

I don't remember hearing any sirens, though I imagine they must have used them. Three or four people came quickly in, and I remember telling a kind-looking man, "I think it's too late". I was ushered out of our bedroom by a police officer (another kind man), and took B into her bedroom to get a diaper and clothes on. I then went into the family room with her and the police (I think there were two by then) and called our best friends E & D.

Did I say "I think T died", when I called them? I don't remember. They both came over immediately. The head paramedic came in and told me I was right, it had been too late. I asked him whether they could tell what time he died, and he said they might guess somewhere between 1 AM and 4 AM. They said they called the coroner, and he would arrive soon. The police were asking questions, collecting medication, telling me the bedroom was off-limits for a little while as it was a "crime scene". I thought that was humorous.

I sat on the couch that T picked out in the family room of the home T found for us, and tried to take in the fact that T was dead. I held B and cried. When the coroner arrived, he examined T's body and then took me and E out to the back patio (for privacy?) to explain that we may never know the cause of death, but an electrolyte imbalance due to his illness, like a marathon runner dropping dead on the finish line, was a likely candidate.

The police suggested that I might not want to see them wheeling T's body out of the house on the gurney, so we closed the doors to the front hall, and I sat on that family room couch trying not to listen or think about what was happening.

At some point that morning I called T's father and told him. "NO!" he cried, and he and his wife jumped on the first plane out. I called D's mother and told her. "NO!" she screamed. I called my boss, crying and keening. I called my dear friend L, and my Dad. I started a list of people to have called. I let E & D, and another close friend of T's, take over as much as they could. Someone, maybe me, called my doula and she arranged for a masseuse to come to the house one of the first nights. I called my grief counselor friend. Someone suggested sleeping pills, and I called my doctor to tell her what had happened (she was shocked and so very sorry) and get a prescription. For the first time in my life I took a sleep aide.

After almost six months, we got the autopsy report. The cause of death was inconclusive, but likely to be a cardiac arrhythmia. He hadn't been dehydrated, but maybe his electrolytes were out of whack. He had stopped taking some of his heart medication on the trip, apparently, so maybe that was a factor. I so much wanted to tell him what had happened, and talk to him to figure it all out. "You died!" I caught myself saying to him in my mind. "Can you believe it?"


  1. ((( Jen )))

    Telling this story is so hard. Thank you for finding the courage to do so, for honoring us with your pain. I hope that the passage of time has made it a little easier for you.

  2. Hi,

    I just now found you - you left a comment on Sundry's blog. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am that you have experienced this, but also how in awe I am that you were able to write about it in such an honest and powerful way. My life is complicated, as is everyone's, and I was spiraling into a sour mood over some unknowns in my near future, and then I found this. You have put everything into perspective for me, and for that, I thank you.