The Breath of Death

I wonder where all of this comes from. This deep and determined desire to write my story out. Tell my experience like I lived it.  Rehash and revisit a time that most would rather put out of mind. Or tell another day.

Another day when it is all far behind.

I have to tell you, though, that watching the words unfold character by character on this screen makes me feel better.  It’s cathartic. Each and every word and sentence has a literal existence.  I have a deep and intimate relationship with all of them. Because no one can say them but me. This is all mine. No one can interject or interrupt my train of thought or my process.

These words live and breathe as much as I do.

They are my saving grace.

My therapy.

This physical space — sitting here in front of this computer and pouring out my words — is now my most favorite place to be. My sanctuary. Way before dawn I hear it call my name and am drawn toward it. It’s become my very own hiding place, my shelter somehow. As I sit here, I feel completely covered. Completely safe and free from harm.  I am surrounded by love and the presence of inSPIR(IT)ation as thick as layer upon layer of chain mail and armor.

It’s here where the warrior in me emerges.

And I quite like her.

I realize that my perspective is all that speaks here.  I do. There will be some that will want to add this or that or maybe even subtract something.

But for the very first time in my entire life…I could care less.

Because THIS. IS. MINE.

And I’m also aware that in this process and during this time my son is mine alone.  I am jealous for that, I’ll admit it. He left the nest not yet eighteen, still a boy! and I didn’t get to live life the way I had hoped with him. Over the years as I watched him grow and live he seemed spread thin with this person or that person or this deployment or that. I feel as if so many years were snatched away from me.

But I can’t cry over that now.  I want to go down that road at times.  But what good would it do?

I live so very far away (979 miles to be exact) from my son.

If I were closer I know I’d paint that ceiling for him.  I’d bring all of my own supplies and a strong, secure ladder and have it finished in no time.

I wonder if he ever thought that.

But things didn’t turn out that way and it’s just one of those woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’s that go through my mind a lot lately.

If anything is hard about writing this out it’s the fact that it’s not fiction.  I cannot rewrite the situation.

As much as I want to, I can’t tell the story with any kind of happily ever after ending.

The night he fell, my son went to bed.  Laid down to rest his banged up and in pain head.

I can’t help but to wonder what his thoughts were.

Did he close his eyes thinking about how he fell and what the consequences to his body would be?  Did he lie there wondering what the next day would bring? Or, did he take so much medication that he did not think at all.

I will never know.

OH!  That thought is the worst of it.  Just the worst.

That idea that I will never know.  I will walk the rest of my life wondering.

From the very first day that I was made aware my son was hospitalized,  I was told he had pneumonia.  I simply did not understand.  How did he get that, I wondered?

After several days in that hospital room, one of my favorite doctors (I called him Dr. Tom as I didn’t know his last name) sat down with me. Eye to eye and knee to knee.  He was the only one of that impressive team of doctors who understood the value of human contact. Or maybe he was the only one not afraid to be vulnerable enough to show it. Maybe he had an experience that made him want be a doctor in the first place and knew the hard reality of it all. It doesn’t really matter…he was so kind to me. He would do little but powerful things like put his hand on mine and periodically touch my arm and made sure to ask if I understood. He was thoughtful, mindful…right there with me.

I will never forget him.  I am ever so grateful for him.

Often as I sat on the couch in that room, he would crouch down so he was at eye level with me.

This took me back because I always did that with my children.  I wanted them to be heard on their level. I remember thinking about that every time Dr. Tom sat with me. He made me feel thoroughly seen. To me this became proof of karma. The sweetest kind. Some kind of sacred payback of the tiny little details that are done and the investments a Momma makes without even thinking that someday they would come back around when they are needed most.

Part of me thinks they were watching me and waiting to see if I was strong enough to hear the truth.  No matter what the reason I was told later on…I am forever glad it was Dr. Tom that unraveled it all for me.

Your son aspirated sometime during that night.  That means he was most likely unconscious or near unconscious and vomited in his sleep.  Being that he had so much Percoset flowing through his veins, his lungs were breathing very, very slow and deep…and that vomit was sucked into them. He was at a point that he was unable to cough…or even try to expel that vomit.  And, I am sorry to tell you this, but it was quite a bit of it.  It must have happened long before anyone found him because his lungs were pretty full of it.  His lungs are burned with the acid of it.  

I know I sat there blank a little. But it made perfect sense. He had pneumonia alright…but it was aspiration pneumonia.

The deadly kind.

And my son laid there. In his own vomit.

That was not all to report to me.

And did you know that he went into cardiac arrest?  When the EMTs reached him, he was in cardiac arrest and was revived with CPR.  Ten rounds of it.  

Oh!  I had heard that he had a heart attack.  Now it made sense. Was I in such denial that I didn’t put the pieces together?  No…I was always hopeful and to be honest, did not get the entire and full story until this point.  I know how this sounds.  How could I not know?  I asked but somehow…somehow between all of the changing doctors and changing nurses and this or that…only pieces were relayed.

That or I was fearfully deaf.

The EMT knew right away to take my son to Temple which is about half an hour from Killeen where he lives.  He had to ride that entire half an hour in the back of a blazing ambulance…speeding through intersections with lights flashing and sirens blasting and horn blowing.  Hands of hopefully skilled strangers working on him, pumping air into his barrel of a chest and urgent words spoken sharp and matter of fact around him.  It’s so hard for me to visualize this in my mind.  So hard.

Now every time I see an ambulance speeding down the highway my chest tightens and tears automatically spring to my eyes.  I know I will react this way the rest of my life.

I can handle my reaction to this.  I can live with this one.

It’s the one that tries to imagine all those hours he laid in that bed that I have a hard time facing.

The idea of this wants to buckle my knees.  Makes me weep hard.  Lament.

Was he aware?  Did he realize in his mind that he vomited and was he trying in his stupor to wake himself up?  Sit up or turn to his side?  Was he aware that he was vomiting at all…breathing it in?  Suffocating.

And let me say the hardest for me to take in…

Was my son afraid?

Was my big, brute of a soldier son actually horribly afraid? Defenseless?

Not in some foreign war-torn land…not by the hand or ammunition of the enemy.

In his own bed.

At his own hand.

Did he long to cry out for help and was not able to?

Did he know?

Was he afraid he was dying?

Let me tell you…and if you are a Momma (or parent) you will know this, too…when any of my children were sick it was the night that I feared most. I am a light, light sleeper and when my kids were young the slightest cold and cough kept me awake and I’d get out of bed to check and recheck.  Always concerned. Always fearful.

Of this kind of thing happening.

Something horrible and something that in the back of your mind you actually know you are being silly about.  They will be fine. They will wake up in the morning and go about their day as usual.  Stop being so silly, Momma.

I need to say that of all that happened that month of June, this may be the absolute hardest for me.  Was my son cognizant enough to realize he was in deep, deep trouble? Did he think he was alone and no one cared?

Did every single minute of those hours seem like an eternity?  A literal living hell?

And oh! I was not there to go to his room to check on him.

I was not there.

And further…after your son arrived here to this emergency room, he coded again.  That would be twelve rounds of CPR total (hand on shoulder now and eyes of concern looking into mine). His lungs are definitely a concern to us…but more than that…it is his brain that we fear suffered most.  All of that time without oxygen.  We won’t know the extent of any damage until he is fully awake.

That meant to me that he already died.  Twice in fact.

I knew that…yes.  Down inside I did.  And I knew in my heart that I was one lucky Momma to be sitting in that room with my son laying on that bed in front of me.

I had been given a gift.

Something inside of me told me that he waited for me.  He was alive now because I needed him to be.

Why then, I asked, is it so hard to wake him?  Why is he having such a hard time?

We have to go slow, here.  Your son has been on a great deal of medication. Let me put it this way…if I were to give you the same amount of medication we have given your son, you would die. He’s a big man and has a significant amount of very potent drugs in him.

*Sigh*

I mean as in can’t get enough air in my lungs kind of sigh.

It’s suffocating.

There was some talk of rehabilitation later…some idea that if he woke up, he might be on that trach tube for a long, long time. So at this point they scheduled a procedure to remove the tube from his mouth.  Carve a space in his trachea and insert the tube through his throat.  This would be the next step. It’s the best they could do.

I could not give up hope. Maybe my son’s stubborn and thick skull had somehow protected portions of his brain and he might be alright.  There are stories of miracles like that reported all of the time, right?  Right?

I was relieved to see that removing the bandages and straps and tubing allowed me to see his face.  Completely see it.

I could freely cup his sweet, handsome face in my hands.  Kiss his cheeks, his lips.  Run my fingers over them.

I could reach him in a new and closer way.

Not only that…he looked normal.  I was so grateful for that.

Normal but not able to talk.

A big part of me kept praying that he would open his eyes and say something.

Tell me the story as he knew it.  First hand.

So I would never have to.

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