Pssst. Hey, Happy Birthday, Cory. You would be 29 today. When I was your age I was married with 3 children. You will never get to experience the challenge and beauty of marriage or being a father. …
Source: Birthday Gift, January 3,2017
Pssst. Hey, Happy Birthday, Cory. You would be 29 today. When I was your age I was married with 3 children. You will never get to experience the challenge and beauty of marriage or being a father. …
Source: Birthday Gift, January 3,2017
I am a pretty positive person, in general. So when I woke yesterday with a sense that something terrible was going to happen in my world , I was worried. I couldn’t shake it. I prayed, said positive quotes in my thoughts….It wasn’t going anywhere. It was a physical sense…it unnerved me. It was more than a gut feeling….it was like the rumbling of thunder in the distance with ominous clouds I could feel coming my way, no doubt about it.
Am I losing it? What’s wrong with me? Age?
I called my husband, Dave, to see if he got safely to work. Texted my adult kids and made sure I locked the door before I left my daughter, Hannah sleeping in the house. I drove very carefully to work. I felt like I suddenly understood with clarity what “they” meant by a “sense of impending doom”.
That… or I needed sleep. I decided that waking up against my will at 4:00 in the morning was the culprit. I got to work and the feeling passed. Life goes on.
Only, when I got back home, it was back. I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned and worried….about something I couldn’t name. I finally heard Hannah and Dave come in from late nights at work. I went in to chat with Hannah on the end of her bed….”Is everything okay? I’m worried.” “Ummmm, yes?? Why?” “I’m not sure, just a gut feeling that something is wrong….” She patted my head. I went back to my bed. On my way, I looked at the clock and realized I had been up 21 hours…..is this hormones? I am almost 50. I did finally go to sleep and ended up sleeping 7.5 hours which is average for me….then…I woke up.
My eyes popped opened and my breath was literally taken away. It’s here. The Grief Train came rolling through my brain as I screamed in my head and It landed behind my eyes and the tears came rolling out. The no-facial-malformation-cry, saved just for Cory’s Suffering&Death Days Grief…just a steady flow of tears down the sides of my cheeks. I could feel my ears getting wet as I lay listless. I know I am powerless over this Thing that has visited me the past two years with a vengeance in September and October. Then It retreats sometime in early November. For anyone who might not know, we watched my son’s immeasurable suffering in the ICU for 2 months and then he died on October 31 of 2013. It was every bit as tragic as one might imagine, but Life in general is no longer tragic. This form of Grief, though, is. It feels tragic when It arrives. It’s something beyond my daily life that I have no control over. It is the unwanted house guest, that I can’t tell when to come or when to go. I do manage it, though…this Grief is nocturnal. So, it leaves me be while I work. If this reads a little like a horror movie, it’s because sometimes in September…when it’s almost October….it is.
Most other days of the year, Grief pops in like a Grandpa with a sense of humor, soft worn skin, and gives me tidbits of wisdom. I feel comfortable with the Grandpa Grief. He isn’t usually pushy, and is often surrounded with beauty and memories and even smiles as I remember and miss Cory. I am comforted to talk, walk, and rock with Grandpa Grief, reminiscing about the good ole days. I cry, but it’s happy, grateful tears about what we had and wishes that I’d had him longer and warm longings for him. This Grief makes me feel close to Cory, keeps my memory of him alive, and I’m thankful for it.
But in September, It, this intense painful thing that seems truly beyond Grief, arrives in a hostile manner, uninvited. No beauty or warmth surrounding It. It’s primal and intrusive….it’s the Doom my body and brain warned me was coming.
I laid in bed for two hours, drowning in the feeling of my heart sitting on the outside my chest. A mental slideshow of Cory’s short life played over and over again in my head. Then I made a decision.
“Hey there, Grief….It….the Thing. You’re back. I know, because it’s almost October, you’re back. I just wanted to have a little chat. I’m changing the rules. We are doing this a little differently this year….
Instead of dreading you, I will welcome you.
Instead of fearing you, I will embrace you.
Instead of running from you, we will dance.
Instead of escaping the pain you bring, I will feel.
Instead of staying in bed, I will get up.
Instead of pretending you don’t exist, I will acknowledge your presence.
Instead of being angry with you, I will be gentle with me.
Instead of drowning, I will swim.
Hopefully, this time around I can give you the attention you must need so you don’t have to be louder every time you arrive for an annual visit.
…so that maybe next year when you arrive, you might come in like a wind instead of a storm. And maybe someday, you’ll only be a breeze when you announce your arrival. And maybe some almost-October, you’ll be a rainbow.”….One can Hope.
It’s Saturday. I could stay in the bed all day. But instead, I pulled myself up, breathed deeply and did normal things. Planned things. Unimportant things. Me and Grief hung out together all day long, and my only decision was to keep moving. We got in the shower and cried some anguish I-can’t-do-this tears. I got dressed, fed the dogs, and walked out the front door. Into the sunshine and felt a sense of okay-I-can-do-this. Then moments later in the car the tears came again to the songs on the Christian radio station, reminding me to pray. “I’m trying. Please give me strength to do the normal things today.”
As I drove in the car wash, the song “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan came on from my Iphone playlist…..oh, timing. And I felt Grandpa Grief holding my heart as I bawled my way through the psychedelic colored soap raining on my car. Cory loved the carwash when he was little. I laughed through my tears at the memory of the cuteness of his little self. When he was a toddler, I would reach my arm all the way back to hold his chubby fingers propped on his carseat while we drove….He was blond and beautiful and healthy.
The carwash seemed in slow motion as I had the memory movies of my baby and young- child Cory playing in my head. As the gigantic brushes enveloped my car, I felt all the immense, intense, like-nothing-else-before agape love that my early-20’s self felt toward my first child. I saw him laughing, and running in the grass, and squealing on the swing. I felt him laying on my chest, crawling in bed next to me, his little arms around my neck…..
PULL FORWARD, EXIT
Sometimes I need flashing signs to remind me.
I left and drove toward the shoe store. Every red light, and slow slow traffic just solidified my perception that the world was moving in slow motion. As I passed a church and pulled to yet another stop at a red light, I caught sight of thousands of small American flags in the grass….oh my goodness. Tomorrow is 9/11. That must be 3000 flags, which means 3000 mothers and fathers. Tomorrow is Their Day. My compassion tears came on full force as I stared at all of the flags that represented someone’s lost child that left this world through no fault of their own. Moms, like me, who lost an adult child before themselves and are trying to push through life belonging to the Club we never asked to join.
BEEEEEP! I was jolted by the car behind me honking. The light was green. I quickly pulled into the church parking lot and sat and took all those flags in. I wondered what their names are…I could picture men and women in their suits. Maybe a young wife who was visiting Daddy with their child on the 18th floor. And I thought about the nightmare calls their parents received or the remains that were never found for other parents….
It’s so interesting that I still say, “I can’t imagine…”
I prayed for the families who were left here, without their child or brother or sister….So much will never make any sense.
I pulled out of the parking lot, wiped my face off with the paper towels I brought to clean my car windows with, and headed back into traffic. I started to head home and give up. My prior year’s comforts of my bed and some wine sounded much more appealing than pushing through my venture with “It” on my back. I prayed again….replacing shoes for Hannah that our cute, chewy puppy ate the backs off of was the last thing on my to-do list. I can do that. I think I can, I think I can….I thought of The Little Engine That Could children’s book. Then I laughed out loud at how ridiculous it was that I had to cheerlead myself on to go to the shoe store. “Stop this”, I corrected myself in my head. And I said out loud, “This is silly.” I sucked it up and walked into Rack Room shoes.
I caught myself in the mirror….no make-up, red face, puffy eyes and my Tenacious Fortitude shirt with Cory Jay Powell’s name on the back–the memory shirts representing Cory’s fight for his life and his love of vocabulary. “Team Cory” wore them to raise awareness for the need for bone-marrow donors for those who suffer from blood cancers…I wear it because I love him. As I looked through the shoes, I pleasantly remembered that every time Cory would come home as a young adult…from college or California or from his life adventures…I would insist on buying him new shoes. He was the most unmaterialistic human being I have ever known…. and always had worn out, holes-in-the-toes tennis shoes. “They’re fine, Mom, see??” and he’d show me the soles that obviously, to him, still had life in them. I realized, right there standing in front of the size 11 men’s shoes, that this attitude carried him through Cancer.
I walked to the check out and the older lady with a smile, greeted me so kindly. “How are you today?” “Fine”, I said, but I knew by the looks of me she probably didn’t believe me. As she rung things up and I fished through my purse for my credit card, she said, “Tenacious?” I smiled and said, “Yes.”
I don’t ever mind talking about Cory. I love to talk about him, just like any of my children, and by now, do so with ease. But I know it can make “new” people I meet feel upset, awkward, or uncomfortable only because they are so compassionate. I think it makes their heart skip a beat, because it’s every parent’s nightmare, really, and they just don’t know what to say. So it’s not something I bring up with just anyone… but for their sake, not mine.
She said,”I know something about Tenacious. Why are you Tenacious?”
“Oh, I’m not Tenacious. It’s for my son. He had 2 cancer battles and was quite a fighter.”
I watched for the shocked look in her face, and was ready to say something to comfort her discomfort, but she didn’t bat an eye.
She simply said, “I lost my son to cancer, too”. Now I was the one tearing up.
I did know what to say…”I’m so sorry. How old was he?”
“He was 6.” …My heart dropped into my stomach. I can’t imagine….
“And he was such a little fighter, but the brain tumor took over.”
“Oh, my goodness….How did you know? What were his symptoms?”, I said.
Her response helped me know she wanted to talk about her baby, how proud she was of him. And like describing her son’s first goal in his first soccer game, she proceeded to tell me…”Well, he came home and his eyes weren’t right, kind of crossing and he was wobbly for a few days. I knew something was wrong. And we went to the doctor and they thought it was dehydration. After a week of giving him enough water to float, we took him back. They found the tumor and they told us we would have 6 months with him. In the middle of chemo treatments, he still insisted on going to school! He just kept going! He was something else, marching and eventually wheeling around with his little bald head. He fought until the end. It’s been 20 years now.”
“It’s been 3 for me….thank you for sharing that with me. Cancer is terrible…it’s amazing how strong they are.” I said, and we gave one another a smile of solidarity.
Then, as I scooped up my bag, she said in a motherly way, “Remember, you are Tenacious, too.”
Not one customer came to check out while we chatted about our sons. I walked out of the glass doors with a sense of awe and gratefulness for the Angel behind the counter at Rack Room Shoes. I passed the 3000 flags on my way home and wished I could listen to every mom and dad about tell me about their sons and daughters, too.
I’d just decided to do normal things. Planned things. Unimportant things. Me and Grief hung together all day long, and it was okay. I felt exhausted, but as I laid my head back on the same pillow I was on when the Terror Train came rolling in this morning, I felt Peace.
Turns out this is a better way.
Early October, 2013
He continued to thrive, relatively…always relatively.
They just kept treating him as they’d been treating him. The anti-fungal that I fed into his feeding tube into his stomach each day was apparently doing the job. He needed less everything as each day passed. Less pain meds, less blood, less platelets, less dialysis, less tests, less vitals taken, less care. It seemed about a week or so passed of doctors ….waiting….waiting….for things to take a turn for the worse.
That didn’t happen. He had More energy, more self-care, more conversation, more movement, more good “numbers”, more stability, more predictability, more healing, more Intention every day. He was waiting for a room to open up on the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. He required ALOT of care, but no longer needed Intensive Care.
Cory and I or Cory and his visitors had meaningful or meaningless (which was just as valuable) every day. We told him about the Do Not Resuscitate Order. I apologetically told him why they recommended it and I signed it. He told me it was okay….that under the circumstances, we all did what he would of wanted. Then he said, “That’s why I had You sign that paper.” [the medical power-of-attorney….at which time I signed, I never dreamt I would be called on to use]. He consulted the doctors and all felt it would be prudent to revise it under the strange circumstances that he was improving. (It was an absolute Relief to be able to have his say in his medical decisions again. A Relief.) They took the DNR order off.
A Doctor said: “This has never been reversed. I will be honest and say that we don’t understand it. We are meeting every morning (like, 8 doctors…and if you include the residents, well, it’s ALOT of doctors) to decide where we go from here.” I could feel the doctors being more “careful” with what they said to us. There was some dissention in the ranks and they became cautious not to pass that on to us, which we appreciated, but could still sense. Until…
He got a new round of Fungal blisters early October. The month-old ones from the first round were drying up, healing. These new ones came in with the same vengeance and pain that the first round did, only this time we knew immediately what they were. The doctor teams rotated in that day, one by one at different times in the day. They upped the Anti-fungal, they upped the pain meds. Once again, he couldn’t be touched or moved without off the charts pain.
Cory said to me when I asked him if he wanted another ‘push-of-the-button’ pain medication hooked up to his IV, “I want to be Awake.”
I said, “You need to be comfortable, not in pain. There is no need for you to suffer.” He said again, “I want to be Awake.” He did not want to go again into the abyss of pain medication.
“Then we will take the pain meds slow. Can I give another push…you are hurting.” I said. The moans and the groans and the crying out when we or the nurses had to touch him to care for him. There is NOTHING like seeing your child in this level of pain. Nothing.
But, this was not about Me. And as long as he was capable of giving intelligible instruction on his care, we would all respect it. He was my son, but had grown into a man through his cancer journey. If possible, things would be up to him.
“Yes, push the button.” , he finally said. Through the day we figured out when to give him extra pain meds if certain procedures were occurring, and to back off when he was at rest. So he could be Awake when he wanted to be, and somewhat comfortable when he had to be touched.
In came Kidney, and ENT, and Cardiology teams…..one by one coming in to lift the sheets and look at the new blisters and say, “mmmm, mmmm, mmmm. ” and purse their lips, and then look up at us with the hopeless look in their eyes we’d seen the first time around.
Then, in came Team Infectious Disease. New Face on Rotation that was on last time around, and this is what he had to say: “We can save his life.” He said the magic words. He was like….20? (not really, but that’s how anyone under 35 looks to me these days). “How?”, I say. “He needs Ambisome…..” then rattled off some statistics that I didn’t even hear because I was having a flashback to the Oncology unit when Cory had an Anaphylactic reaction to Ambisome and blew up like a balloon and his lips turned purple and he couldn’t breathe and they slapped a Big Red bracelet on his arm that he still wore that said AMBISOME on it. Aaaaaaand, I was like….see the bracelet? without saying it, just pointing, like duh, don’t- these-bracelets-mean-anything-to-you? He CLEARLY can’t have Ambisome….it could kill him. Yeah, and? “The fungus will kill him.”, he said.
Here we are again. My head is literally spinning. I can’t even manage to put a simple postage stamp on the 25 addressed Thank-you cards (in my junk drawer at home that I wrote 2 years ago) and place them in my mailbox…..and this doctor wants me to understand his point from the 10 words he’s just given me??? I simply said, “I don’t understand.”….which it turns out was exactly what he was waiting for me to say, because then he started to explain….
There was an Allergy team of doctors….another team….that could do this thing called “Exposure Therapy”. From my understanding, little by very little, they introduce the allergen to the body under supervision, giving the body time to develop immunity and accept it instead of rejecting it. He said we should do this, because the digestive anti-fungal we’d been giving him has been halted by many digestive issues blocking absorbtion. Ambisome would not experience this problem in the bloodstream. And the exposure therapy would make it that he could receive it. OK, great!!!…
But then….In came team Bone Marrow Transplant team (these were the Cheerleaders, the positive, glass 3/4 full docs…..I imagine, because BMTransplants are a relatively new lifesaving discovery (like 30 years)….it’s all hopeful. Just surviving is hopeful.) They’d been with us from the start, we trusted, and they felt like family. Buuuut…..they were not my go-to cheerleaders in this circumstance. They didn’t buy the Infectious Disease Team’s strategy. “He might not survive the Exposure Therapy. I don’t feel comfortable signing off on that. It’s UP TO YOU.”
(Wait, can we have a debate? With both teams in at the same time? I will provide podiums….please??!!!)
I wanted to say, “WHAAAATTTT??? Up to us? How is this medical decision up to us?? You are the doctors! TELL me, collectively, what is best for my son, and I will believe you becauseyouareDOCTORS!!!!!”, but I didn’t say anything. All the panic was safely in the confines of my head.
With￼ concern in her voice, she said, “Call me when you’ve decided.” I can still remember the moment of realization that Doctors were human. Praise God for them, praise be…they are the only reason my son was with us, but they are Human. My heart went out to their struggle. I stared at the phone for a couple minutes, shut my eyes and said a little prayer. I breathed and breathed when I wanted to scream and scream, but I was in the room with Cory, so I didn’t.
“Not happening” was what my brain said, but it was. I googled and googled and thought, “There is 1000 years of education in this hospital and I am googling a Cliff-notes version to help DECIDE what path of medical treatment to head down for my son???”…..HUH? At that moment, I felt that my life, as I knew it, was a scam.
I was still the Power of Attorney because of the amount of pain medication Cory was on. I was still the final say. But I knew when Cory was Him, so we made a commitment to make his opinion all we would ever vote for, even if we felt differently (which thankfully never happened). We made a commitment to being His advocate. HE was in charge of HIM and I wanted him to know that.
We had to get Cory’s opinion. I waited until it seemed the meds had mostly worn off and he was somewhat clearminded. I explained at 1 in the morning everything all sets of doctors had said. I said, “What do you think?” He was quiet for what seemed like 10 minutes, but I’m sure was only 2 min. He said, “Let’s Do It.” “Do what?” I said, just to clarify. “The allergy thing.”, he said. He was willing to risk his life to save it. I agreed. His other parents agreed. To be honest….it was worth a try. The outcome, if it failed, was the same outcome if we never tried.
This life thing…it’s a team effort. No one does it alone.
See the relaxed look in everyone’s eyes? It’s the look of relief and expectancy. Not unlike the feeling of expectancy when small signs of Spring appear after the winter. Seeing with our own eyes the trees budding brings the promise of leaves and fruit, seeing little stems break the earth knowing a tulip will soon follow, or that first day you can take off your coat outside after a frigid winter, because it’s finally warm and sunny…THAT feeling. Because you are at Peace that Spring has finally arrived after all that snow and ice and slippery roads.
In this picture, we are showing Cory all the Love Cory Day posts and pictures that everyone sent in….because we can.
We are surrounding him with love and all shades of Happy because he is communicating and pointing and Here. Simply basking in his Aliveness and Responsiveness.
It’s this day that this All Smiles picture was taken. We are smiling because it’s Spring, smack dab at the beginning of October!! We’ve taken our winter coats off and can’t wait for things to bloom.
The Vigil retreated. And rightly so. Cory was evidently going to be around a bit.
It was confusing to family and the medical staff alike as to what to do next… Leave? Wait? Treat? Wait and see what happens?…….What now??
Family-wise everyone, over about a week’s time (by early October)….went home. To work, school, families, and ordinary life. They still visited, but visited like they were visiting someone in the hospital who was getting Well……not moving in because someone was dying.
And Cory and I created a semblance of an “ordinary life” in a hospital room 5 floors up in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He was still bed-bound, but bound and determined to get better, get up and get going. He made progress everyday.
Medical-wise, things weren’t as clear. There was dissention. Cory literally had about 8 doctors, and each doctor had another doctor working with him/her. One Team for each body part. The Kidney team, Bone-Marrow transplant team, Intensive Care Team, Infectious Disease team, Ear, Nose and Throat team, Pain-Management team, Urology team, the Nursing team, etc.
[I want to precede the following details by saying that we have NO complaints about the medical staff. None. These were human beings trying to save our child with everything they knew and didn’t know. I am just reflecting some of our feelings at the time, which were obviously filled with emotion. I am sharing these details and feelings with the mission of being Real. But EVERYONE, regardless of disagreements at times, were acting in what they felt was in Cory’s Best Interest. I have NO doubt in my mind or heart about that. Only Grateful, only grateful, that every single medical professional cared SO much ❤ ]
They attempted to keep a United Front, but it was evident there wasn’t.
One of the Doctor Teams was reported by a nurse to Someone, Somewhere, and was under Some investigation-of-sorts for Something in regards to Cory’s case. That’s all I knew and wanted to know…..I still don’t. We trusted them to work it out, and said so….And apparently they did.
In another situation, we got the impression that One Doctor Team often believed, it seemed, that another Doctor Team was too “polly-anna” with us, using words like “very optimistic”and “miracle” and consistently focusing on improvements. This May Be, but we really did hear Everything….the hopeful, the hopeless, the good, bad and ugly. We did not have our heads in the sand. We took in the facts and chose to look at the cup half-full (that was Cory’s way…), and that’s all that’s to it. Encouraging us and Cory wasn’t always viewed as a good thing by All the doctors, but we really did appreciate the doctors who did. We also appreciated the doctors who didn’t. It gave us a very Real sense of the situation.
Regardless, though, we would still be hope-full and fill that room with love and not “give-up” on Cory, regardless! Because that is exactly what Cory verbally told us he wanted.
And as parents, one wouldn’t naturally do anything else. You cheer your kid on in spite of the odds, right? At their soccer game or their hospital bed-side. That’s our job. When your kid is fighting for a goal, a touchdown, a degree, or his life, he needs to hear his parents cheering him on….Plus, it was a win, win. If he were to live, he would recover with positivity and love. If he were to die, he would die surrounded by positivity and love…. Would anything else make sense for a family To Do in these circumstances??? My experienced mind and heart says, “No”. I’d approach it that way all over again and would hope my family would do the same for me.
Yet, Another Two Doctors (of like 16) wanted us to blatantly tell Cory he was dying, now that he was more responsive, so that he wouldn’t “misunderstand” his improvements. (But…..No One understood his improvements.) These very select doctors spoke about it to us Daily, which felt like Pressure and we resented. (We ultimately felt that this had more to do between them and the other Doctor Team’s different opinions than it had to do with Us, but we were the ones hearing about it.)
We knew Cory. They did not. We expressed this very sensitive information of what he had been through, how life threatening things were, and what some doctors saw his chances to be, to Cory in Cory’s way and in Cory’s time. We slowly told him Everything, as he was slowly gaining his mental and emotional footing….which, frankly, Cory didn’t want to discuss further….so, he acknowledged it, then went on. This was his way throughout his entire Cancer fight. Good or bad, it’s how he wanted to deal with it. He didn’t want to talk about it, give energy to it, or worry. His response was precisely what it had been all along….OK, now let’s keep truckin’.
Because of this, a Particular Doctor (who we had never met before and didn’t know Cory personally or professionally AT ALL) was still not convinced Cory understood the gravity of his situation and this Dr. continued to address it with Charlie and I regularly. It was a priority of our family to treat the medical staff with the Utmost of Respect and Courtesy at all times….. until we could not take his harping any longer. Charlie told him in no uncertain terms that Cory had indeed been informed, but we were not going to remind him Every Day of this this particular doctor’s prognosis that things were Hopeless. And we didn’t need to be reminded Every Day either that he thinks things are Grave. We Knew. And so did Cory. But, we followed Cory’s lead in focusing on the Living Moment at hand, and Hoping. The End.
We were glad when this Dr.’s rotation was over….
Now that Cory had a say in things again, this was his rodeo and we advocated for all to respect how he wanted to ride. He wanted to Live and that’s what he focused on, so, so did We.
Living: Holding a cup and putting a straw to his mouth by himself. Drinking a milkshake. Swabbing his own gums and teeth. Picking his leg up and down 4 inches with the Physical therapist. Pushing his own buttons to move his bed up and down. Typing a single message on Facebook. Listening to a Tom Clancy book-on-tape. Having a daily routine even though 3/4 of it was still sleeping.
He was too busy trying to Live to worry about dying.
Cory was doing better (relatively, of course). “Well” meant, first and foremost, he was Alive…..weeks after they said he wouldn’t be. He was showing signs of healing. He was cognitive and clear-minded. We had just written a “schedule” of our daily routine on a white-board, made up of waking up, sponge baths, prayer/meditation, reading, physical therapy assignments, occupational therapy assignments, times of ENT doctors coming in, times of BMT doctors coming in, times of Infectious Disease doctors coming in, times of rounds and visitors, times of meds.
I met Amy in the “parent-room” of Floor 5, Pediatric ICU at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. A place where there was constant coffee, on Tuesday’s pizza provided by LaRosa’s, and lots of Tears on cell-phones. It didn’t even phase you to see a parent on a couch in the Parent Room Sobbing and sharing on their cell phones the all familiar words of blood counts & breath counts & open eyes & words said & inputs & outputs….. Sometimes, we talked to one another, sometimes we didn’t. Usually, you just walked by to fill your coffee like you were walking in the mall seeing anyone on their phone, because it was just the way it is in the ICU. But everyone had the same Despondent look in their eyes….it’s like nothing else, and we (Cory’s Parents) would talk of it often. Passing parents in the hallway…everyone had the same Look. A look of sadness, desperation, hopelessness and hopefulness all mixed up.
Anyway, Amy was actually more upbeat than others (she’d just arrived, that’s why)…her son was 24 (a year younger than Cory), had a bone-marrow transplant 11 days before (Cory was going on 74 days), and had lung issues, so was sent to ICU because needed to be on a ventilator. They were from Kentucky, and her husband and she shared their pans of Lasagna and Tuna Casserole with me. They had the cutest Kentucky accents with a smile with every word they said. They uplifted me just while they talked.
We passed each other daily for about a week, in the hallway, the cafeteria, the elevator, or the Parent Room. “How’s he doing?”….and we would get all the STATS(which we both completely understood because we had a crash course in nursing against-our-will).
Then one day, an ordinary PICU day,
Cory had just fallen asleep. I got up to go get more warm blankets, to refill my cup with ice, simple things, opened the sliding doors to Cory’s room and sensed EMERGENCY. Nurses from who-knows-where and doctors and lots and lots of people were flooding the room next door…(in the same room they all came flooding in when I’d arrived with Cory in the ICU.)
Bur this was Amy’s baby. Everyone running, machines rolling in….I knew to shut our sliding glass door and stay in. It’s slow-motion from this moment on…..
I turned to the right, and through the small rectangle window that connected our rooms, or maybe it was just outside our room? I can’t remember exactly, but doesn’t matter….
My eyes wide open and shocked seeing the mass of people in that room and the doctor take the paddles and place them on his chest and the words I couldn’t hear. His body jerked and arched, then relaxed, then jerked and then relaxed, and again jerked and relaxed. I turned away, sat on the floor and cried.
How is my child still alive after 82 days and hers is dying after 18? How? Why? Whaaaat? I prayed the Our Father 3 times. I prayed, “Let their baby live” 12 times. I panic-prayed.
It breaks my heart still. I would give those days to any parent, sibling, or person in an instant if I could. Really would give my whole life for that.
And seeing the paddle stuff in real life on a real human being, on a real Amy’s child….is NOT like seeing it on TV.
I stood back up. Thank Be that someone shut those blinds. I went and stared at Cory with my heart racing and tears flowing for at least an hour. I was afraid to step back out of the room.
He died. Take that in….Jonathon died. He lived 24 years. Twenty-Four. I was barely getting started at 24. Thanks, Cancer.
I knew he died, because the next morning the room was empty, the bed was made to crisp, and there was no Amy or Jonathon to be found. I missed her, I wanted to hug her, and she was just…gone…and I only knew her first name–Mom.
The “survivors guilt” was overwhelming. And still, in a way, is. I had over a month more with my son….30 more days of conversation, and touch, and physical therapy, and prayer, and hugs and kisses….that she didn’t.
I had told Cory about his neighbor when they were admitted. To give him a sense of Solidarity or that he wasn’t the only 20-something year old in the pediatric ICU of a children’s hospital that had cancer, then a bone marrow transplant, then complications that sent them to the PICU.
I didn’t tell him about his neighbors outcome, and I prayed he wouldn’t ask. He never did.
It was almost October, 2013
Cory had made a turn from the brink of Death to the brink of Life.
Just so happened to coincide with his transfer from a typical hospital room to a spacious, light-filled, sunny hospital room (still so grateful.). Which was a perfect place, as far as hospital rooms go, for Cory to be, because he was an outdoorsy guy through and through. Venture to say he spent an entire 1/3 of his life outdoors….camping, climbing, cliffing, biking, caving, on trails, off trails….he had no need for material things, just a need for Nature. So it was no surprise that we saw him open up and blossom a little when he could once again see outside and soak up some Sun.
This is what he looked like from the Outside:
His body and face and bald head were covered with purple lesions and sores (but they were just beginning to dry up and show signs of healing)….and we put his glasses on him during the day, no matter what. . Because if he was alert (he was alert and awake longer and longer every day), even if momentarily…at least he could see. The glasses barely balanced on his nose, that he was sure to lose, due to the fungal blister that draped over the whole of it. And he had a feeding tube fed down one of the nostrils, that was only used for medications that had to be absorbed orally. His stomach couldn’t handle food or drink yet.
He now had a PICC Line in his neck, the vein of his existence…literally. It had been moved from his arm to his groin to his neck because of infection (Forever fighting bacteria that would take up residence in the plastic of the lines)…yep, just stuck right there in his neck. 3 lines that went into one place (that artery headed directly into the heart)….and branched off what looked like 20 lines that fed into the 3. Watching the nurses “change the lines” looked like the wiring of a computer, with electrical lines long enough for them to get tangled in the web of at any moment. And they all fed into this one hole in Cory’s neck.
His PICC line fed him nutrition (because he couldn’t eat or drink), hydration, blood, platelets, numerous antibiotics or anti-virals or whatever the medication of the day was. And all of these things were in bags hanging on his pole, but couldn’t be all at once….so those blessed nurses had to have a “line up” of what to hang, send in, order, take down, and when. See, they could be football coaches, too! — “Send in the red-blood cells, take out the anti-viral, send in 2 antibiotics and in the Second Half, we’ll send in nutrition….skip the digestive system, go for the tackle and time the Platelets!”— (…and I’m hearing that college football announcer voice right now….) These nurses were totally winning this game in my eyes.
Seriously, In Awe, all. the. time. Nursing isn’t for sissies.
Anyway, he also had an IV in his wrist where his pain medication was administered as well, or whatever additional medication they determined he needed.
He had stickers all over his chest that attached to wires to monitors for his heart and breathing rate, and a pulse ox (like a band-aide) attached to another line that monitored his oxygen. And we could watch it all on the monitor from where we sat….just like on TV.
And he was adorned with different machinery daily….EKG machines or Dialysis machines or photosynthesis machines or respiratory assistance machinery if needed, or x-ray machines when his line would go awry near his heart, or even a portable cat-scan machine when he was thought to have had a seizure.
He wore a hospital gown like a sheet that often ended up around his waist, because it was too difficult to fasten or dress him with all the tubes and lines attached.
He hadn’t been out of bed in a month, he couldn’t sit or stand.
We sponge bathed him in bed, we gauzed his teeth and gums (because the sores in his mouth never left and couldn’t handle a brush), we held cups to his mouth for sips of water through a straw that we held in place for him as he gradually was able to handle drinking, we applied a honey treatment to his 100+ sores that covered his body, we pushed the buttons to move his bed and head and feet up or down to his liking, we hand-syringed his stomach through his feeding tube to empty it of whatever might be building up in it if he was nauseous. He was 25 years old and could do nothing for himself at this point, and we were his pinch hitters.
And he was BEAUTIFUL.
He was responding with conversation and slight smiles and better “numbers” and signs of healing instead of signs of death. He was still Alive when he shouldn’t have been.
And this is what he looked like from the Inside:
In one of the first few days in the Light-filled hospital room, Cory said in his raspy voice,
“Don’t give up on Me.”
“No way”, I said.
And we didn’t.
From an outsiders point of view, the brink of death and the brink of life might not look all that different, but we could see the Resolve in Cory’s oh-so-tired eyes…THIS was the real Brink of Life. It was in him.
This time, I didn’t have to sign anything on his behalf— He signed off on his Will to Live all on his own.
Late September 2013:
…..We had actually admired this room from next door for weeks before, and once stated to a nurse who was attending to Cory,
“Wow! That is a magnificent room! The light, the windows!” , I said enviously as I walked passed it and into Cory’s room that was half the size, dark and seemingly cramped in comparison.
The nurse replied, “Ohhhh, you don’t want that room.”
“That’s the room that goes ‘into the light’, …if you know what I mean…. Patients who go in, don’t usually come out.”
So, when, a couple weeks later, when Cory was actually getting better (a very relative term) and we were filled to the brim with hopefulness….her words couldn’t help but enter my mind as we rolled his bed into that grand corner coveted room on the floor that he was transferred into.
It was double the size, quadruple the windows. The Sun blessed us all…..it was like arriving on a beach after being in a basement for weeks. We all soaked it up and were SO grateful for the light and space. It was a gift.
“I’ve spent my life searching for spiritual meaning…” Cory was telling the visiting female pastor that happened to be with him as he changed rooms. They had bonded. He opened up to her when she visited him daily. “I’ve found it in Nature most of all. And in Solitude. I love solitude.” She was a beautiful and peaceful and accepting soul. She was exactly what he needed. Funny how God always Provides so precisely and timely.
This room allowed Cory to come back to life in Glory. In sunlight, with many family members around him, with room to Breathe and Work and Rest and Heal…. And come back he did, mentally and emotionally at least.
Physically, well….that was another story. That would be a long, long road.
End of September 2013:
We were waiting, counting days and moments and temperatures that Cory couldn’t shake.
Cory’s dad, Charlie, was the expert temperature taker and our moods would rise and fall according to .5 movement up or down the thermometer reading. If there was movement either way, we would take it again and again within the same hour.
We were told he had days or maybe a week. We were looking for signs of a miracle or signs of death. No gray in those days….black and white, hope or despair, up and down the rollercoaster operated by a fungus.
I was either praying and bargaining with God or googling “signs of death”. Like we might miss it.
Desperately wanting control when we had none.
I googled many sites over and over…looking for a site where he didn’t meet every “sign”. For a tangible ray of hope. Couldn’t find one. Check, check, check, check—-all physical signs were there.
But I didn’t (or couldn’t) believe it. I yelled at myself in my head and said words like “reject!” or “no!” to any sign of acceptance or negativity in my thoughts. I was Believing God for a Miracle to save my son. I wanted to talk with him again, hang out with him… this all happened so fast. I wasn’t ready and didn’t believe he was either. End. Of. Story.
Then one night, he sat up in his bed (yes, Sat Up). I asked him what he was doing as he picked at his sheets at first and then was clearly reaching over one side of his legs and looking like he was grabbing things and moving them to the other side of his body.
“I’m packing”, he said. “I have to go.”
Thinking he was talking in his sleep, we tried to lay him back down, but he was insistent. So we let him pack. I watched with tears rolling down my face with my first real thoughts of, “He’s leaving us.”
The next day, family came to visit. He started telling everyone where he was….”I’m at the ocean.” and he was so content and happy. To which someone asked, “Who is there?”….”Well, there’s that Lion over there, lookin’ all regal!”– “Where?”– “Over there on the beach.”…And when Jimmy walked in, Cory looked straight at him and said excitedly, “Hey! How’d you get here? By boat??” He apparently had arrived.
I googled again….a phenomena known as “nearing death awareness” seemed to fit the bill psychologically. Spiritually speaking, a common occurrence of “One foot in, one foot out” where they are somewhere else, but able to communicate it with us here. Often involving relatives that have passed or descriptions of heaven.
“If I had a boat
I’d go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I’d ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
Me upon my pony on my boat”…Lyle Lovett