I lived in the Neuro ICU for almost 4 days. The time of death was called less than 24 hours after he arrived at the hospital, but they were working on keeping his organs going because he was an organ donor. I wasn’t going to leave. I never left the unit. I sat with him, I held his hand, I cried a lot…some of my friends even helped me climb into the hospital bed with him so I could sleep with him one last time. I understood that many of his organs were going to be donated and there were recipients all lined up. That gave me some comfort. However, at the last-minute I was informed that there were some complications and they would be unable to donate any of his organs. Complications? Jake had run 14 MILES for fun the day before this all happened. His organs were perfect. All of his beautiful, healthy organs. But, Jake wasn’t going to save the lives of others. All of the disappointed families. Shattered me into even more pieces.
From the time I received the first phone call, everything seemed to happen in a fog. I remember telling myself “No, no, no, no, no–this is not really happening. This is not your life”. My brother was the first to arrive at the hospital. I had a very hard time getting there. It’s not like we see on TV–where the police officers are all compassionate and offer you a ride. As I rolled around on the floor of the police station, wailing and screaming, the police officer basically shrugged his shoulders. He said “If I were you, I’d hop in the car and head down there”. WHAT?!? You are advising me–in this state–to get in my car and drive into downtown Seattle, during rush hour? It didn’t make any sense. There was no “I’m very sorry ma’am”–no explanation of what had happened. Just a shrug of the shoulders. I will never, ever forget that. I will also never forget the kindness of a stranger standing nearby who offered, and then drove me to the hospital. I hopped out of her car at the ER doors and never saw her again. But I think about her all the time.
As I mentioned, my brother was at the hospital in a private room with a social worker. I thank God he was there. I vaguely remember surgeons coming into the room and apologetically telling me that surgery wasn’t an option. I still didn’t understand. I remember asking “So that means he could make it? He might live?” Their small sighs and sad faces were all I needed to see to know I was clearly mistaken. Again, I ended up curled in the fetal position on the floor, wailing. My brother was there. He was always there. From that point on, he took care of everything. All of the gruesome, scary, terrible tasks that needed to be taken care of–my brother did it all. I love my brother, but his strength and character has astounded me since then.
From that point on, things are very hazy for me. I remember A LOT of people coming and going throughout the next few days. Loved ones who brought me water and changes of clothes and soap so I could take a shower in the physician locker room. People holding my hand, rubbing my back, crying with me, I remember that first night there was so much blood. Way too much blood. Giant puddles of it under his bed. His face was also covered in blood–he didn’t even look like my Jake. Thankfully, the next day someone cleaned him up a little bit, and from that point on, I was there to wipe off every trickle of blood that showed up on his face.
I know for all those days, I begged and pleaded for him to come back. I didn’t understand how there could be a world without Jake in it. I still don’t. When the organ donation people sat me down and shared that Jake’s organs were not going to be donated, they cried with me. After awhile, they explained to me what was going to happen next. They would turn off the machines that were keeping his organs alive, but his heart may still beat for a little while. Still–in my head–I had some hope. Maybe this is it. Maybe he will start breathing on his own and we’ll have our own little miracle. I laid on the bed with him. I put my head on his chest. The nurses looked at me before they turned off the machines. Then they respectfully left the room. My mother and aunt were there with me-but I asked them to leave as well. I needed to listen–I needed to hear his heartbeat. I cried quietly as I did just that. I listened to his heartbeat for a while before it slowed down–and eventually stopped. I stayed there for a long time.
I don’t think it actually ever occurred to me that I would have to leave the hospital. It felt like that was the world I had always lived in–how was I going to function outside the Neuro ICU? I didn’t want to go. It was a strange feeling–one I still don’t fully understand. The darkest hours of my life so far were spent there–yet I didn’t want to leave. I remember shaking like a leaf and nearly vomiting with every step I took closer and closer to the elevators.