Sunday, April 12, 2009

This last entry is the hardest ever

On Thursday April 2 Jeff was rushed to Oak Hill Hospital with what ended up as an abdominal aneurysm that had burst. Normally people don't even make it to be hospital and die shortly after it happens.

Around 3AM on Friday the vascular surgeon reviewed the CT scan and gave him a 30% chance of survival if they did perform the surgery - and not only would he have to be intibated (breathing machine) but he would have to be put on dialysis because of kidney failure. This was because the aneurysm was located right below the kidneys and they would have to shut off the blood supply to correct the aneurysm. The big word was IF he survived. The surgeon said he would also be in terrible pain as well. He also said that if he did survive the surgery (followed by added dialysis) he would still have to deal with the brain tumor.
He said this was 'MAJOR MAJOR' surgery but the outcome did not look promising.

The other alternative was to make him "pain free" and comfortable and he recommended that. He said he has less than 24 hours. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make but elected to let him die peacefully without any pain.

Right after the decision was made - they gave him some great pain Rx and I asked him how he was feeling. He said he had no pain but he also had no feeling in his legs from his toes to the pelvic area. The doctors said that was very normal and to expect more of those symptoms.

Around 6AM I asked the nurse to call in the local Catholic Priest. He arrived around 6:30AM and started the "last rites". When Jeff saw him he just looked from me to him and back again and then made the sign of the cross. I truly think he knew it was the end.

After the Priest left I told him that when he gets up in Heaven to please pray for us poor souls left here on earth and his response was "not now" and smiled. I then apologized for losing my temper and getting angry over the past year and it wasn't directed at him but at the situation we found ourselves in. His response to that was to take his finger and thump my nose. So he hadn't lost his sense of humor even to the end.

I came home to shower, etc. and was right back up there mid morning. Around 5PM I left for home - my eyes were burning from no sleep. Don't know why I did that because I never did get any sleep. Called the hospital around 10PM and the informed me they had moved him to the second floor - had a couch set up with pillows, blankets and sheets and I could stay the night. I rushed back around 11PM to spend the night.

He had a male nurse (Eric) who entered the room and asked if we were people of faith and I told him yes. He then asked if he could pray with us. I've never seen this happen before but Eric knelt down at the foot of the bed and prayed. I do know he came back into the room to put another blanket on me and I finally slept until 6AM.

The vascular surgeon appeared Saturday morning and said he was surprised to see we were still there and reiterated that he would not be seeing us on Sunday. He was right -Jeff took his last breath at 2:40PM and his heart did not stop beating until 3:05PM.

I thank God I was able to be with him when he took his last breath - and he was at peace.

This past year has been the hardest journey I have ever been on and I'm sure Jeff felt the same way. A few weeks ago he said "Cheryl, this is so tragic that it's hard not to cry". I know he felt like crying at times - but he never did (at least not in front of me).

Thank you all for your prayers, encouraging words, e-mails, Masses, cards, flowers, food, ,etc. It means more than I can ever say.

His journey has just started and as Fr. Bernie said - what a glorious time for Jeff to be in Heaven.


  1. God Bless you Cheryl. I know you and your dear husband have had a rough time of it. It's such a blessing to know that you were able to be with him at the very end. I know it's hard now... but You are a very strong woman. God Bless You. Wonderful to read about his nurse Eric.

  2. My dear friend. What a blessing you have been in my life these past few months. You have opened up your heart and showed me something that I needed to know..the other side. The side of how to help Jim help me. That is what you gave Jeff.You not only took care of him physically but also emotionally. Both you and Jeff were blessed to have each other. I just hope I can be as strong as you..your faith is a example to me.
    God Bless You . I so look forward to your emails and your comments on my blog. Your friendship means a lot to me. Just know that Jeff is healthy now and watching over you.

  3. steffieb333@aol.comApril 13, 2009 at 1:36 AM

    Cheryl, God probably led me to this site and your very touching blog about the end of your husband's life. I have had such a wonderful day; our Easter Mass at All Saints was thrilling and I have no doubt in the power of God to carry us through the worst of times. The best of times returns with a vengeance. I have been on dialysis for almost twelve years. I also have bipolar disorder. Last year in January I ingested too much potassium, drinking large chocolate shakes from McD's and eating out at a local fish fry where I ate all the fish (should have been 3 oz. max; plus I had not one but two kinds of clam chowder with the fish. I was having a ball, eating out with a close friend who is a depressive. We were both high school valedictorians, both are on disability now.

    My culinary indiscretion led me to have a 7.8 potassium level the following Monday morning. When I got out of bed I fell and broke my leg. My daughter called 911 and I was taken to Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls about a mile from our house.
    The next thing I remember was a woman doctor getting in my face (I was on a gurney) telling me to "Stay with me". My daughter was at the foot of the gurney crying her eyes out in her little girl way even though she was then 39 years old. I said, "Oh be quiet, I'll be all right!" I was actually irritated with her! Plus there were so many people in the room. There are always a lot of people when somebody is coding. When I was that person I didn't really count them.

    So I technically died last year about March 1. 3-5% of people whose heart stops are successfully resuscitated. I was very lucky. We didn't call 911 right away, either, because I had messed my pants getting out of bed and I didn't want to call them until I was presentable. I could have been presentable and deceased.

    I was in the hospital for a week at a time starting with that heart-stopping event. Out for a week, still very weak, back in, and they said I had pericarditis from the chest compressions and I had to have a 2 inch incision around my breastbone and a clip made in the sac around the heart to drain out 10 oz. of fluid buildup. The surgeon said this was a simple and common as surgery to remove the appendix (I guess that hits too close to home for you). I didn't worry. I never worry when I'm at Community Memorial, they are a fabulous little hospital and are affiliated with Froedtert Memorial in Milwaukee, a huge teaching hospital. All their medical records are electronic and my physicians who are with Medical Associates are hooked in with their medical records so they have everything instantaneously.
    A week after I got home from that stay I was back in to have fluid removed through my back that had accumulated under my lungs, not in my lungs, from the same compressions. A week after I got home from that week, I was resting on the sofa watching Hansel and Gretel being performed by an opera company and I had chest pains and was sweating and felt like I had to use the bathroom. So I had my daughter and son-in-law take me to the hospital.

    I was there for another week and they discovered that I had had a heart attack that night. I thought it was just another angina attack but I didn't have enough nitroglycerin left to treat it.

    I had a heart cath through the groin and my cardiologist placed a stent.

    I've been having a lot of physical therapy because I had pretty bad arthritis the year before these hospital visits. I was using a walker (not the nice kind) and I had to have extra "platforms" attached so I could walk with my broken distal tibia. The whole rig weighed 16 pounds and it was almost impossible to walk without putting any weight on my broken leg.

    I had a bad back before the March 2008 hospital admission and they checked it out with an MRI so I had a baseline. Back pain is still the most bothersome thing for me, getting out of bed in the morning or off the table at physical therapy just about kills me most days.

    I had a recurring headache over my left eye and they did a CAT scan and gave me tramadol for pain--that was from my internist, a young and very astute guy. But my rheumatologist is more astute because he asked me if I had ever had seizures. I said once, at dialysis. So he prescribed tylenol with codeine. I only take it when I go to bed, because I have to load up with a lot of medications just to get 5 or 6 hours of sleep at night.

    I have had bipolar disorder since 1965 when I was 20 years old. Hospitalized many times, fought them all off. Committed a couple of times. I studied asylums in a class in sociology in college before I ever encountered one of those places so I was able to think about what was happening to me clearly, even though I was high.

    This is irrelevant to you, but I just want you to know that I have been through hell and so has my family. I was married for 24 years and still am friends with my ex. I have run support groups, written and been published in mental health magazines (for consumers to publish their writing).

    I was offered a kidney right after I got out from 17 days in the Community memorial's mental health unit last December, and I declined it because I just couldn't deal with a whole different treatment culture and personnel when I had such a support system built up with the dialysis unit, my nephrologists, etc.

    After that I was referred to the transplant psychologist for an assessment. That was really after the fact and we decided that I would temporarily take myself off the transplant waiting list. I'm very happy going to dialysis three days a week for 4 hours each on the machine. I watch political television and read and write. If I'm depressed I just don't do anything. Life is very painful then. I spent several months last fall and the fall before in a deep depression. My best male friend gets way more depressed than I do. He was living at my house with me for three years and I babied him, but when I started falling and having worsening arthritis, I allowed my daughter to kick him out of my house (I own a Milwaukee bungalow on 54th St north of Congress in Milwaukee). I went to live with my older daughter and son-in-law in Men. Falls the January of last year. I'm very happy here and they're happy to have me, although when I escalate in mood Erica and my psychiatrist meet with me and convince me to change my medications to level off. I get very argumentative but I don't cuss anybody out or throw punches, etc. I always was a very quiet person until the first hypomanic episode I had as a junior in college. I've made friends with my conditions and I could not be happier.

    I also have made friends with mortality and take every minute as it comes. I don't worry, because I used to be a worrier and it never really accomplished anything for me. My mother claimed to be the anxiety queen and I couldn't stand that. My parents are both dead now; I have a sister 8 yrs younger than I (I'll be 65 in June), two brothers 3 and 15 years younger. We stick together, even though my sister and I are lefties and the brothers are Republicans.

    Now, I read your story and was crying, because I've been crying a lot lately for both sorrow (not mine) and joy. And with you, because I felt great empathy for you and your late husband.

    Then I read your poem "Dancing with God." You won't believe this, but when Whitney Houston came out with "I Want to Dance with Somebody" I was in a practically psychotic clinical depression and felt that I wanted to dance with God in just the way that you described. I wanted intimacy and to follow as he led. I wanted some passion. I never felt passion because when I was growing up in a strict German Catholic family (mother was Swedish and the Swedish side of the family felt more living, but we didn't see them more than a few times a year), I took the word "passion" to be bad and never even knew it had any other meaning than sexual passion. Now I know differently.

    So I kept this idea in my mind and one year about ten years ago or so, I wrote a little children's story for adults, entitled "I Want to Dance with Somebody" and that Somebody I represented by a star surrounded by a circle (something I could print out of Word Perfect) so I didn't use the word God or Somebody in the book. I put it together and bound it with my Ibco binding device. I still have it, and I am going to illustrate it sometime hopefully soon.

    You were put in my path and I am praying for you to not suffer too long. Your husband has only crossed over and you and he are still together, in my opinion, never to part.

    I have studied Eckhart Tolle's couple of books and Ken Wilber's very complicated spirituality. He can be found on U-Tube and has been publishing books about his life and thinking for twenty years. He had a wife with whom he was intensely in love. She got breast cancer and died, and he wrote a whole book with her about their experience. I've only read part of it. God really tests the ones he loves. He seems to be a cruel lover, but I don't accept that. I just take tests and pass. I'm used to that. I never know what will come next, but when my whole world is blotted out by some even expected depression or death in the family or whatever, I feel that I'm being pruned and what grows back is better and more wonderful, and I couldn't have predicted how it could have turned out that way.

    I wish the best for you, to continue to live for yourself and others and savor your life no matter what.

  4. Hi Cheryl

    I am so sorry for your loss, but your courage, steadfastness, and patience have been models of how to do the hard job of saying good bye to a loved one. I suspect you feel a bit like I did when my mother died. Daddy had been healthy right up to the end really--a freak accident took him, but she had suffered a great deal, though not nearly as long as Jeff had. My sister and I went through the difficult process of approving a "do not resuscitate" order. One can second-guess one's actions, but don't.

    God be with you. Know that your family and friends are with you always.

  5. Cheryl, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I pray you find comfort in God's loving embrace during this painful time.