100 hours. From when Tony hung himself, from when his heart first stopped beating, to when I left him in the Intensive Care Unit.
All of it painful. Like childbirth- hurts like fuck. Waves of rolling pain that you have no option but to walk through, to breath through, till that wave subsides.
And wait for the next one.
100 hours of pain like childbirth. As someone who has only done 5 hours in labour (and all of that with my husband holding my hand, not me holding his), I suppose I was exceptionally ill-prepared for this.
As if anyone could ever be prepared, for this.
Hope floats, they say. And there’s no place where that is truer than in the ICU.
From one meeting to the next.
You have meetings, in the ICU, every 24 hours, for a case such as Tony’s. Every 24 hours they give your diagnosis. But they tell you, that diagnosis lasts only until the next meeting. Until things change again. You can’t call doctors on what they’ve said previously, trip them up with their promises.
There are no promises, in the ICU. A diagnosis is only as good as the next meeting.
Ans it’s always one step forward, two steps back.
The doctor, she told us that. She was lovely and quiet and compassionate and I could see why she worked as an ICU doctor, the best of the best. What a calming, restful soul she was.
Tony lasted longer than he should have. When he was admitted, they were planning to turn off life support within 24 hours.
And then, they reduced his sedation and he moved. Within 20 minutes, his feet were moving. His eyes were opening. He was responsive.
That lasted for about eight hours. He responded, to everything we said. He showed us he could move. He fought. I told him “You’re in the hospital, babe” and he flexed his feet, forced his eyes open.
“Two days, it’s only been two days babe, I promise.”
And he relaxed again.
And no one knew what was going on, the doctors said he wasn’t responding ‘normally’. But in the ICU there is no ‘normal’. The human body, when it gets to the point where it needs ICU, and ventilation to keep it breathing… it’s a mystery, from there. Which is why the diagnoses are as they are- just for now, not long term,not ever.
I wasn’t there, the whole time Tony was responsive. I thought it meant we had more time, that he was getting better….
That we had all the time in the world.
I took the night shift. I slept with my husband, by his side, laying on his arm, kissed him good night and told him it was night time, to pretend he was at home, and the kids were tucked up in bed, and I was downstairs on the bloody computer, and everything was fine.
And sleep, baby, sleep with me. And in the morning, you can squeeze my hand for me. And it will be a whole new start.
And by the morning… no movement. Nothing. Nothing but a climbing temperature, and a blood pressure that would sky rocket to the point where his body was screaming, shaking, almost fitting.
His body shutting down, letting go.
Tony and I, we spoke of death and the afterlife a lot. He promised, if he died, I would feel his hand running down my face as he left the Earth- to tell me he was leaving, and that he was OK.
The first night, the night of the afternoon when Tony hung himself, I felt him. I was traumatised, crying, pacing, screaming around a friends backyard. And I felt his fingertips on my forehead, and I told him to go, to leave me alone, I wasn’t ready for him to go yet.
The day after he was responsive in hospital, as his vitals climbed and climbed and his brain swelled and his body heated, I lost my temper. Not there, not at him, but at my sister-in-laws house, where I fist met him. I screamed at him, how could you do this? How could you leave me?
And I felt him, his hand run down my face. And he kissed me, and I tasted the sweetness of his breath and felt his lips curl into a smile as they pressed into mine. Felt his arms around me.
And then, he was gone. And I knew that.
I ran in, told his sister- “He’s gone. Just now, he left.” And she span to the hospital, to hold him, to say goodbye as he was leaving.
Tony and I, we spent our last night together, as man and wife, on the 9th of January.
I couldn’t lay with him, and that hurts, even now, because of his blood pressure and the way they were monitoring it. But the nurses (bless them, angels) pulled off his bed rail, and the arm from my chair, and I curled and slept with my face on my Tony’s broad, tanned arm, smelling the salt of his skin.
For five hours, I slept, dreamless to me.
But the next morning, the nurse, she said to me “I don’t know what you were dreaming about.. you probably don’t remember. But you had the most beautiful smile on your face. I called the other nurses, I had to show them. And we all cried for you.”
And I cried too. My last night, with my husband.
My last night, as his wife.
And the final day, the final night. Brain death declared at 3:12pm, even though his feet were moving, twitching, responding to touch, but not pain. Just a spinal reflex. Absolutley no blood flow to the brain. If the life suppiort were turned off, Tony would have died very, very quickly.
But to walk away from someone, like that…. it’s so very, very hard.
For successful organ donation, a person is kept ventilated.
I walked away from my husband’s body at about 7pm on the 10th January. I left him with his mother, and sister. The people I got him from. the people he belonged to, really.
I kissed him, on the mouth, before I left. I could feel the Vaseline they’d put on his lips, to keep them moist. And he tasted stale, sour.
But still sweet. Still like Tony.
Hope floats. Until the very last second, and even beyond that.
I ran away from the world this weekend. I ate, slept without pills occasionally. Got dressed up and went out and felt pretty. Went to Glebe Markets, just for the people, the atmosphere.
Saw a physic, who told me many things. But firstly that I was protected. No accidents, no cancer, for me. A long, interesting life, and to die, happy, of old age. That I would marry again, have a son, to a man that is a gift from my husband, and from a woman in the Astral afterlife who is watching over me.
And I bought candy, rock candy, sweet and sugary. A mixed bag, a cheap one, a bag of off cuts from a boutique candy factory.
And found myself eating other people’s left over wedding candy, with the names of couples embossed into the middle of the candy roll. Christian and Ava, Rocco and Anna, Narelle and Hayden.
And I wondered how many of them are still happily married.