My best friend died last Monday, May 14. After some debate, I’ve chosen to write about Marlon’s time in the hospital, his passing, and, eventually, ‘lighter’ stories of his wonderful life. While I’m still in a state of denial, writing about him brings me much comfort, as did your incredible, thoughtful, comments on his passing. I can’t begin to tell you how overwhelmed I am at the outpouring of support and love. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
He awoke with a gut-wrenching groan a little before 3 a.m. Saturday. This was nothing unusual or out of the ordinary as he’s had stomach pains for years following a complicated gall bladder surgery in 1997.
I wasn’t alarmed. This was normal.
What wasn’t normal was him clenching his chest and telling me he needed to get to the hospital. I immediately called 911, threw on some clothes, and ran outside to wait for the ambulance. Marlon followed me, staggering, but strong. He was always strong. Big and strong. At 6’4”, weighing more than 300 lbs., ‘big’ is an understatement. The EMT’s barely opened the door before he was inside the truck being hooked up to whatever it is they hook up to someone complaining of chest pain. By the time I gave them his name and basic info, they told me they were taking him to Mercy San Juan Hospital.
The thought of a “severe indigestion” diagnosis was replaced with the dread of “heart attack”. But as I followed the ambulance I kept hoping, praying. It’s possible, isn’t it? You hear it all the time, don’t you? Someone thinks they’re having a heart attack and it’s just a case of severe indigestion. Surely that’s the case. Surely nothing is seriously wrong with Marlon. Not Marlon! Marlon is the one who takes care of all of us. Marlon is the one who we all depend upon. Surely this can’t be serious.
At 3:10 I make my way to bed #26 and my husband is writhing in pain. I stand back as ER nurses start hooking him up to more machines. I watch the EKG as if it’s speaking to me, as if it makes some sort of sense. Big spikes, little spikes in a regular rhythm. That has to be a good thing, right? But I’m not asking the question. I’m letting the nurses work. I’m acting calm. I’m trying not to hyperventilate.
One of the nurses – Brigette – asks if he’s still in pain. He nods. Does he want something for the pain? He nods his head vigorously. Now I’m worried. Really worried. This isn’t him. He doesn’t want pain meds. Ever. In 21 years he’s had two serious knee surgeries, a blown gall bladder removal, and he rarely took any pain meds. This is not a good sign.
Brigette returns with a syringe and I’m focusing on the rhythmical spikes and my own breathing. Deep breath in, deep breath out. My cell phone rings and I nearly jump outta my skin and Marlon barely notices. This is not a good sign either.
Our oldest son wants to know how Dad is. I have no idea. I haven’t even seen the ER doc yet. I’ll call you when I know. Right now I’m busy. I have to breathe. I have to stay calm. But it’ll be okay because it’s Dad and you know your dad – he’s big and strong and he takes care of all of us. He’ll be okay.
But he wasn’t okay. His pain was incredible. The ER doc told the nurse to up his morphine dose. Then they switched to Dilaudid. Nothing seemed to help. He’d doze a bit but when he’d wake up, he’d ask for more pain meds.
I knew this was a bad sign. The pain and the fact that they couldn’t bring his blood pressure down. My focus shifted from the beeping spikes to the blood pressure numbers. 212/100? Something else was wrong and I couldn’t bring myself to ask the nurse or the doctor why his pressure was so high.
I assured the ER doc Marlon was not hypertensive. At his size and being black, not to mention his family members all have high blood pressure, it was just assumed that he too was hypertensive. But no, he wasn’t. I don’t think the doc believed me. Just another patient’s wife in denial.
From time to time, when he’d stir just a bit and groan, he’d reach is hand out to me. At the time I didn’t think anything of it. He wasn’t afraid. He was just in a lot of pain. To anyone else, a man reaching his hand out to his wife in the emergency room would seem perfectly normal. But that wasn’t “us”. That wasn’t Marlon. Did he know? Did he sense that things were critical? Was he preparing me? I don’t know.
Around 5 a.m. Dr. told me they were going to do a CT scan. By this point Marlon was dozing more than he was awake and I was grateful that he wasn’t in as much visible pain. I prepared myself for the diagnosis. It’s probably his stomach. They’ll probably have to go in and remove some scar tissue from his gall bladder removal. My mind reeled with the logistics of taking care of him post-op, my mother, and our grandson. How am I gonna handle this?
What I wasn’t prepared for was the actual diagnosis – an “aortic dissection”.
Being an ex-medical transcriptionist, I know what the aorta is and I know what dissection is but nothing could’ve prepared me for what a tear in the aorta actually means. Dr. Griffin told me he’s never seen this condition on someone who’s alive – he’s only seen it on autopsy.
But you’re in a state of shock, I think, when your loved one is in the ER. You think you’re ok, normal, dealing with things. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t. Because I thought the vascular surgeon they were calling in would just repair the tear, it’d be a long, arduous recuperation, and we’d continue our life together.
I was wrong.
I’ll continue with the surgeries and the story of his passing. It might seem strange to read all of this because it sure seems odd to write it. At some time, our sons and grandsons will be ready to read it though. So far I’ve written about saying goodbye, his hospitalization and passing, and my Manifesto.
Marlon’s memorial is this Thursday so I’m busy writing his eulogy, making phone calls, and all of those things that one must do when your husband dies. I’m anxious to paint again, to talk about anything other than how I’m doing. People keep telling me “You’re so strong!” No, I’m not. I’m pretty much a mess. But writing is keeping me sane and this blog is my salvation right now. I appreciate your indulgence as I go thru all of this.