Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Darkest Day

He was sick...yeah. It was worrisome, but
our boys were indestructible...but man, this one was kicking Jake's butt. We took him back and forth between his pediatrician, the ER, Mayo, seemed like everyone had a different take on how to treat it.

Jacob had RSV, he was struggling, seemingly in some kind of pain constantly, he was grinding his teeth, fussing, arching...

Between Traci, Cheryl, and I we took turns staying up with Jake, holding him seemed to be the only way he would soothe enough to sleep...poor kid was a mess, he was grinding his teeth so hard he made himself bleed...

After all the back and forth and with his condition just not getting any better, Traci loaded him up Monday night and took him down to Mayo. We thought he might have been having seizures on top of the RSV. After a night in the hospital, Traci and Jake came home Tuesday afternoon...

Early Wednesday morning, like 4, she woke me up asking me to take him to our ER here, if for nothing else than maybe they could admit and observe him...

Quickly after arriving the doctor starts talking about transferring him back down to Mayo. Yay, so I call Traci, she comes over, and we discuss... an intense feeling of unease is settling over me, looking back, I can ascribe to it a bit of psychic power...

But at the time, I was just worried about my son, worried about getting down to Rochester (the ice and sleet Traci drove home in the day before were still present). I told her to stay with Jake while the helicopter was getting situated...

Meanwhile Jacob is being poked, stuck, and prodded, they couldn't get a vein to start an IV, they were trying to medicate him to calm him.

I headed home loaded a backpack with clothes, the laptop, made sure Cheryl was going to be able to start getting Matt and Tommy ready for school, and I hit the road.

A quick stop at McDonalds and I headed out of town...

Still feeling dread, still unsure, scared, feeling alone, and praying....

I got to Dennison, couldn't get the heater and my sweatshirt to agree on a temperature...I basically just came to a rolling stop on the road... ripped my sweatshirt off, tossed it to the passenger seat. Didn't even bother with putting my seatbelt back on.

I started going again, got maybe 300 yards down the road from my rolling stop, hit a patch of ice, and knew I was fucked...I had time to think two things..."Please God, don't let me die. And snarkily, well I didn't need this shit today."

The Envoy slid, spun, and flopped to its side...I was in a ditch in front of a warehouse, pointing the way I had just came...I'm not sure if I briefly lost consciousness or not, pretty soon I heard two women talking to me asking if I thought I could get out...I took stock of my situation, I was alive, banged up, had hit the windshield and had glass in my head, I worked myself loose, handed the bags I had up out the passenger side door...climbed out.

I remember just saying over and over "I need to get to my son, they're taking him to Mayo, I need to get there."

The ladies called and told Traci and Cheryl what had happened... and an ambulance was on its way to take me to the hospital. I refused to let them take me back to Northfield...I couldn't/wouldn't let them take me anywhere but St. Mary's that way Traci would only have to worry about one hospital.

So they got clearance to take me to Mayo, and off we went...me strapped to a backboard, with a cervical collar, unable to move...

I was asking the paramedics about Jake, and if they could just find out if he had gotten there. They let me know that he was there, and that Traci's mom was with him...

Traci got the big boys off to school and Tommy's bus driver had told her they would drive her down and make sure she got there safe...finally I saw a beautiful, familiar face when she got there...

They checked me out all over, CT, X ray, the works, finally deciding I was just banged up, they let me go at around 430 that afternoon...Traci and I were finally able to go up and see our boy.

That's when an already tumultuous day became a waking hell...

We got to his room, Jake was ashen, and rough and just looked like he was already gone...

They were struggling still with no IV, so we got to see him for a minute before they asked us to step out so they could start a central line.

We stepped out to the waiting area...before long a nurse poked her head out the security door and my heart fell..."guys," she said, "he's coding, you need to get in here." We hustled into the room, and took up positions at his bed, but out of the way of the doctors, and nurses...

I put my hand on his foot (it was what I could reach), and my brain, fell immediately into prayer, I repeated the Hail Mary, over and over, the Saint Michael prayer..., and just begged God to save our son.

For more than half an hour, they did chest compressions, they did breathing, they did the paddles, finally Jake came back...

I asked for a priest, I had baptized Jake myself with holy water taken from the chapel when he was born, but I needed it to be official...we ended up having a chaplain that came and did the baptism...a priest came up later and blessed Jake, and also prayed for Collin who was battling RSV too.

That sense of foreboding and dread was heavier still...the doctors were talking about getting a central line in and putting Jake into an induced coma, but trying to get him to stabilize so they could...

He coded again, and since they still had no vein access they had to use the little bone drill things to get him medication...they used the paddles again, and did CPR.

This became a pattern...and every time Jacob coded, and they ran his blood, something else was shutting down. Traci and I didn't need anyone telling us that, we know enough medicine, we could track it.

I talked to the attending doc, "When are we just being selfish and keeping him alive, because the thought of the other is so awful?"

"Not yet, but we might end up there if we can't get him to stabilize."

So, cardiology came up, was able to get a scan of his heart, and said structurally it was fine, but it was just shutting down.

A quick round of discussion and we had decided that the next time it happened, it would be in God's hands, we wanted to hold Jake (as much as we could), and just let things go.

So a short time later, he coded again. And Traci and I surrounded his bed and told him we loved him and that he could let go if that was what he needed to do...

I will never forget the moment I knew he was gone. I physically felt myself break. I will never ever be able to explain that, and I don't even think I have ever admitted that.

I broke, in my soul, in my heart, my head...the world ceased to make sense (I'm still not sure if it does again, yet).

Holding him after, cold, lifeless, was in some way a bit of closure, but was also awful. I felt like the entire world was collapsing on me.

Coming home, at 3 in the morning, without a child in the car seat in the back, high as I could get on the prescription drugs they gave me...I was lost, it began the journey through the woods I'm still lost in...

Explaining to Matt and Tommy that morning that Jacob was gone was awful...I still haven't entirely forgiven myself for talking to Matt and while not ignoring Tommy, not doing a great job of including him, trying to help him understand.

Being lost and unable to help or be there for Traci may not have been the only thing that ended my marriage, but it was the death knell.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Who Heals The Healer

Any lover of video games or Dungeons and Dragons will tell you when you're creating your party, a healer is a necessary member of the group. The one with the magic incantations, potions, and powders to ensure the group can survive and thrive. Think about your close friends, you probably have someone who goes out of their way making sure you're ok; checks on you, brings you food, will stay up all night talking to you... a true blue friend, one you never worry about how you stand with.

I bet, without even knowing them, I can pin their birthday to a monthlong window. Late August to Late September...Virgos (of which I am one), are the healers of the Zodiac, the fixers of problems. Virgos tend to be sensitive, empathetic, and honest, all good qualities...of course we also tend toward perfectionism, brutal self awareness of our own flaws, and a strong desire to make sure everyone around us is happy, and doing well, sometimes, oftentimes at the expense of if not our own happiness and well being at least somewhat detrimental to it.

But all of that takes a heavy toll, being strong for others, holding everyone else up, picking up their pieces, wears you out. So if you are without a faithful friend of your own, a person who can help restore you, the road grows long. Over the last two years I have worn myself down to a nub, trying (and evidently failing, since she turned to others) to be strong for my then wife after we lost Jacob, trying to be strong for the boys, giving them a sure and comforting place of safety, trying to be strong for myself, to stay out of this pit of true despair and desperation. A pit I came dangerously close to, but was led away from by someone who will forever own a piece of my heart.

Something I have yet to learn on my journey is how best to accomplish fixing myself..."Physician heal thyself." If I have an honest, full portrait of a friend's problem, I can tell them all the things they should do to have the best outcome possible...but my own pains and problems are so many trees in an endless forest. The struggle weighs you down, the strength and empathy and understanding all drain the reserves, and if you get too selfless, too invested in helping everyone else...well you become what I currently am, a shell...

There are people I can turn to, talk to, people who have lightened my burdens, but I remain, especially during these last two years, guarded, distant, and don't let anyone in close enough to see the healer's true wounds. Perhaps because others who've seen my truest wounds have hurt me in my past, perhaps because I am still not sure anyone else could know how to fix a fixer, I stuggle along. It really is a hard thing, admitting, showing someone else those deep wounds, the ones that are scabbed over, but always ready to bleed again. It's hard because they aren't things we want anyone else to know about or see. But if we don't share them, it virtually guarantees we will never have the love we really want, and deserve.

Now to be fair I have started counseling and my therapist is working really hard at showing me how to fix myself, so perhaps that will be the key that finally unlocks that door for myself. But learning how to fix myself, and learning how not to empty myself at the service of fixing someone else are mutually exclusive ideas.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Empathy, Loss, and the Social Contract

So, I get it, it's part of the human condition we must say something in times of great loss. It was one of my least favorite parts of dealing with losing Jake. The well meant, banal platitudes. Saying something, while essentially saying nothing.

Fortunately no one to my memory trotted out my least favorite of these "I know how you feel." Really, no, you don't... The only people, I would've accepted that from, my parents, said, we understand losing a child, but not at the level you guys do. Taking nothing away from their grief at the loss of their eldest child, my brother survived 40 hours before he passed. Jacob was a year and half. 

Grief, the process of accepting, understanding, and coming to terms with the loss of someone we love, is a unique, and individual journey. I know how I feel/felt about the loss of my grandmother and grandfather. Losing them was like losing two of the brightest stars in my sky. Compass points I could always turn to on my journey, if I felt I was getting lost. However, I can't presume I understood that loss to the same level as my mother and her siblings did. It's different, it just is, the nature of the relationship colors everything, including how you grieve. 

No one who comes into my life now will understand the dynamic of my grief over Jacob. And even Traci's grief, is different than my own. We are getting closer and closer to this divorce being fully realized and finalized, but I can't imagine no matter where life takes us as we travel separate roads for the first time in half our lives, that we won't check in with each other and probably share some tears every August and February. 

And even people offering advice and well meaning platitudes about the divorce don't understand either. Because while every divorce is generally the same, the relationships being separated by it are different. Traci and I spent the bulk of our married life getting by, waiting for the next crisis, and alternately leaning on/needing each other and hating/blaming each other for the problems we each saw. We never learned to communicate effectively, to work on what pulled us together in the first place, and to attack the problems while they were small chips, before they were major cracks.

That being said, I've seen that woman carry me on her back walking through Hell, laughing at the devil the whole way...She has iron in her veins. But she is also soft as butter on the Fourth of July. In our 16 years together, she taught me strength. I am forever indebted to her for that.

I know as I begin to let go of all these things I cling to, out of familiarity I will eventually come out the other side, brighter, stronger, more fully realized. I'm finding outlets for the grief, using it to begin growing, to begin rebuilding.

So be patient with me, share those well meant words of encouragement about how it'll get better, I'll be ok...but understand if I grumble about it.

Who knows, I may yet grow enough to not refer to the last year and a half as The Darkest Timeline. Maybe I'll grow, change, adapt, and look back at this time, and see all the points of light I can't/don't/won't see and I'll notice them, realizing how well lit this road really is.

Meanwhile the only way out is through, right, so I shuffle on, taking the steps, moving forward, only occasionally backward.