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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chapter 1

The Worst Day of Our Lives
Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death... Psalm 23:4


It was 1:04 AM. I know the exact time because we have an old Howard Miller clock on our dresser that has to be wound up. There are 3 separate springs. One turns the hammer that strikes the chimes every 15 minutes. I must have forgotten to wind it up. When the chime prepared to strike, the hammer made a single click on the hour and 4 minutes later the ticking stopped. I woke straight up and got out of bed. I took a look at the clock and decided to wait till morning to reset and rewind. I was getting back into bed when a small voice inside my head told me not to. It was quiet in the house. Too quiet.

I woke Tom and told him to check on our son.

Micah had suffered from nocturnal seizures for 14 years. After his marriage ended, he moved back home to go to college. We convinced him it would be unsafe to live alone and have no one there at night to monitor his seizures. Reluctantly he moved back home.

The fierce snoring and sudden gasps for air were part of the ordinary nighttime sounds in our house. It was my job to hear when Micah had a seizure and wake Tom up. Tom would leap out of bed from a sound sleep and rush to his side. There wasn't a lot Tom could do for him except turn him on his side, make sure his airway was clear and talk to him while he passed through the awful jerking and guttural cries that go with grand mal seizures. That and pray.

I used to go in, see the ashen color of his face, his fingernails turning blue and I would cry the rest of the night, knowing the toll it was taking on his body. I felt totally helpless.

Then, I had Tom to worry about. When I woke him at night, he'd rouse suddenly from a sound sleep and jump out of bed like a fireman on his way to a blaze. I learned to wake him gently, usually by rubbing my hand over his heart and whispering his name until he woke up. I was afraid I might lose both of them if Tom had a heart attack from being waked so suddenly. Still, he would jump out of bed and run to Micah's side. Each time, I lay in the bed waiting and crying and praying for God to heal our son if it was His will.


I was awake and halfway to the floor before I became aware of what Sheila was saying. Fourteen years of springing out of bed from a sound sleep to go to Micah when he had one of his seizures had taught me to bring my mind into focus quickly while navigating my way through a dark house.

"Something's wrong with your son, I heard her say.

It was too quiet. When Micah had a seizure you could here him all over the house. I tried to dismiss the whole thing as just Sheila being over-cautious, but I knew something was not right. I couldn't hear him snoring. In the next 30 seconds, my mind fractured. One part watched as I entered the room, saw my son lying face down in his pillow.

"No," I told God. "I can't lose them both!"

As I felt his warm skin, I climbed over the wooden rails we'd installed on his bed to keep him from rolling out onto the floor during a seizure.

"If he's gone, I'll have to bury his mother too. She'll never make it. I told Micah that. I told him to remember to put on his mask before he went to sleep!"

I rolled him onto his back and felt frantically for a carotid pulse.


He was staring blankly at the ceiling through half closed eyes. I laid my ear to his massive chest and thought for a second I heard a heartbeat.


"Dear God, I can't lose him. Please, not yet!"

I pulled the pillows out from under him and got him as flat on his back as possible. You're not supposed to do CPR on a bed, but I knew there was no way I'd be able to lift his 300 pounds and get him to the floor.

"I'm a big guy. I can press hard enough even with the mattress. I'm trained. I can do this!"

I gave him two quick breaths and started chest compressions.

I heard Sheila call me from the other room. I didn't really hear what she'd said. I was too busy trying to breathe life back into my son.


I waited in our bedroom. Tom didn't come back. I finally forced myself to speak.

"Is he okay?" I called out.

"Call 911."

I began to pray and dial the phone. Taking it with me, I stumbled toward Micah's room. It took just one look through the open door. I'm a nurse. I know what death looks like and I knew he was gone.


The next 20 or 30 minutes were a blur.

"I can help," Sheila told me at one point.

I didn't know how to tell her to help. There wasn't room on the bed for all three of us. Not with the rail. I just kept up alternating chest compressions with deep breaths. A couple of times I got in a hurry and blew air into his stomach. I repositioned his head and he threw up. I thought he might be coming around. I turned his head and cleared his mouth and airway. I pressed his stomach and got some of the air out.

Then I repositioned his head and started breathing for him again. Then chest compressions, then air. Back and forth.

"Come on, son. I'm here. Hang on. I'll breath for you. Just hang on. Help is coming."

I put everything I had into the compressions to compensate for the soft mattress underneath. I tasted vomit when I breathed for him and checked his airway again. I missed the next breath and blew into his stomach again. I repositioned his head again and kept going. I could here Sheila praying aloud in the next room. I knew she was watching for the ambulance, so I didn't even think about that.


What I told my husband, what he doesn't remember was, "Honey, he's gone."

I didn't know how long he'd been without oxygen. Even if Tom revived him, he might never be the same.

Death didn't scare Micah, but the idea of waking up from a seizure without his mind did. Tom just couldn't think that yet. He had to try and I knew there was no talking him out of it. I didn't want to talk him out of it. I didn't want to lose him either. It seemed like it took hours for the EMT's to arrive. While Tom kept doing CPR, I turned on the porch light and cleared furniture away so they could get the gurney in and out faster.

I choked back the shock and horror rushing in to drown me. I prayed.

"Please God, don't take him now. He's so good with children. He worked hard to get his scholarship. He's only 28. He'll graduate soon and be a fantastic teacher..."

Finally I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights through the window. As they came up the walk, I opened the door and pointed to his room.


The next thing I knew, the room was filling up with people in scrubs. I kept working till they gently asked me to move aside. I moved out of their way and stumbled to the doorway of his room. I watched the paramedics moving among Micah's pictures - his stacks of schoolbooks. Someone set his backpack on top of the dresser out of the way. His clothes lay draped across the chairs. I noticed his baseball glove sitting atop the television.

They weren't starting CPR fast enough.

"Hurry up, hurry up, he needs air!" my mind screamed. I realized Sheila was clinging to me, but I don't know what she was saying. I think I said something reassuring. At least, I hope it was reassuring.

"Please God, not yet."


I watched the medics setting up their gear. Getting him out of his bed wasn't easy, but finally they managed to get him on the stretcher, never stopping CPR. Tom and I stood outside the ambulance looking through the window. We saw the shot of adrenaline going straight into his heart. The electric paddles came out and then someone pulled me gently away and began asking questions. I knew they were trying to distract us - to help us focus somewhere else. I didn't want to focus somewhere else.


Once he was in the ambulance, we stood at the end of the driveway waiting. I could catch glimpses of the paramedics hooking him up to monitors and things, but I couldn't see them doing CPR or using the paddles or whatever they were supposed to do. I only knew from TV what that was supposed to look like.

They'd evidently assigned a kid from the fire department to talk to us. He told me I'd done well with the CPR.

"If I'd done well, he'd be breathing on his own now," I thought.

He explained that Micah's core temperature was good.

"That's a good sign. Maybe we didn't get to him too late."

Soon the ambulance was ready to leave. We told them to take him to Mother Frances hospital where our daughter worked as a respiratory therapist. Then we ran inside, threw on our clothes, grabbed some things and got into the car. As the ambulance pulled out, we were right behind them. The trip to the hospital was a blur.


As we drove to the hospital, we were both in shock. I called my daughter and told her to put our son-in-law on the phone. She didn't want to, but I insisted. I told Will we were on our way to the hospital. "Micah's had a seizure. I don't think he'll make it this time. Drive carefully."

He asked a few questions, but I couldn't think anymore, so I said, "We'll see you there."
I called Matt, our oldest son, who was at the children's treatment center where he works that night, working an emergency they were having. He made it to the hospital later, I don't know how.
As Tom, said, it was all a blur.


We parked in the hospital lot and rushed inside. A chaplain from our church who happened to be on duty that night ushered us into a waiting room where we spent long minutes pacing back and forth waiting for news. Our daughter and son-in-law arrived shortly thereafter followed by Micah's girlfriend, Mindy with her parents. She was not in good shape and we held her there in the dimly lit waiting area and waited for the news. I was wasted, worn out from doing CPR, confused, desperate. I kept yelling "No", aiming in the general direction of God.

Another part of me felt God's presence around us.

"Why don't you do something? Help the doctors."

Time dragged on. We got a report from a nurse who said they were working on him. She said they wouldn't be doing that if there were no hope. I believed her because I wanted to. In some other place inside me I believed she was stalling having to tell us the truth to give us time to get our minds around the inevitable. I thought about Meghan, how she often worked in this E.R., how she knew people here. I watched her buttonhole nurses like the professional she is.
Matt came in. Sheila was worried about him. He looked like he was in shock.

"Oh, God, please let him be okay."

But there was an empty hole in my very soul and I knew what it was. Micah was gone. I could feel where he was missing. The nurse called us out again to report. She started out vaguely reassuring, but it didn't sound like the truth to me. I knew, but she wouldn't just come out and say it.


After about 45 minutes in the waiting room, I stepped outside into the hall and grabbed a passing nurse. I asked her if she was working on our son, Micah. She nodded. I told her I was a nurse and asked her to tell me honestly what was going on.

She looked me up and down, sizing me up.

"We don't know how long he was without oxygen before Tom started CPR," I told her.

She considered what I told her. He hadn't had a systolic heart beat since they'd brought him in, she told me reluctantly. They had been working so long because they didn't want to give up on such a young man.

I asked to speak to his doctor. She agreed. We waited another agonizing 45 minutes before he came into the waiting room and introduced himself.

"Your son is gone," he told us gently. Micah was 28.


The next three days blurred into one long day, punctuated with brief exhausted snatches of sleep. I did what I usually do and coiled up within myself and wept. I pulled together Micah's pictures for a video tribute my daughter was doing and helped gather his trophies and memorabilia for something Sheila was putting together. Everybody worried about me, but I was really better off than I appeared. My response to grief is to go ahead and get it all out so I can get to where I can think again. I can't dribble out grief. I take it hard, then get on past it as quickly as I can. I've always done it that way and I've had plenty of practice.

The visitation the night before at the funeral home was very hard, but by the day of his memorial service, I was ready. I asked to speak at the service. I saw the raised eyebrows. I know they were worried about me, but I knew I could do it. I had to do it. I wanted everyone to know how proud I was of my son. I wanted them to remember what a fine and funny man he was. I wanted to tell them what they already seemed to know. I needed to speak for him and nobody was going to stop me.

Sheila scared me a little bit. It was as though there were someone else in her body. She should have been paralyzed with grief. I'd expected that, but instead she swept in and took charge in a way she never does with these kinds of public events. She hates crowds and big events. They give her panic attacks. I wondered how we'd ever put together a memorial service at all, but my sweet wife rose to the occasion magnificently. She gritted her teeth and decided that if this service was going to be Micah's last - his wedding, graduation and every other birthday he would ever have had, then she planned to make it the best service she could.

She did the boy proud. The night before when Micah's Boys and Girls Club kids and their families were coming to the funeral home for visitation, Sheila went early. I arrived later and found her taping pictures up all over the walls and windows and setting up displays in the halls and in the chapel. There was a huge spray of flowers across the front of the chapel atop an empty coffin. We'd had Micah cremated because he wanted to be an organ donor.

An attendant at the funeral home tried to stop Sheila from taping up the kids cards and drawings, but she got right back in his face and told him she WAS going to hang up every single cards he got from his kids at Boys and Girls Club (and there were hundreds). She told the man that she would remove the tape and wash the windows afterward if she had to, but the kids' tributes WERE going up. He retreated shame-faced.

This was not the shy, accommodating woman I married. She'd become a tigress fighting for her cub and no one better get in her way. The resulting visitation and memorial service proved one of the most incredibly hopeful things I've ever witnessed.

(c) 2009


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