It’s May 15th.
Today marks a full year since the last time I heard Tim’s voice. Since the last time I was able to hug or kiss him with his arms wrapped tightly around me. Since I smelled his scent or looked into his inhabited eyes.
May 15th 2017 seemed like a normal day. Tim woke up not feeling well. His left arm was bothering him. He was having allergy symptoms. We were on the road, visiting family in the Northeast, and we had stayed with his grandmother the night before. We assumed it was travel and sleeping in different beds. He must have slept on his arm funny. Maybe it was his grandmother’s cat causing the wheezing. I sent him out to take a drive and get some fresh air away from the kids.
I was irritated with him. Here we were, visiting his family, traveling with a three year old and a 9 month old, and he wasn’t feeling well. His grandmother suggested that he would go to a local urgent care, but Tim had a tendency to over-react to illness. The common cold might as well have been ebola to him…so I rolled my eyes and focused on packing up our belongings, wrangling and dressing our kids, and prepping for the next leg of the trip. All the while being annoyed by the allergy symptoms that always had a way of popping up when he was stressed or over-tired.
(I’m sorry, Tim.)
He got back from running errands. I started loading out suitcases into the car and asked him how he was feeling. We were standing in the driveway of his grandmother’s condo development. He stood before me, his eyes wide.
“RoseAnna, I’m scared. I feel really weird.”
All my irritation melted away. I grabbed him around the shoulders and hugged him close for a long moment.
“Ok, go to the urgent care clinic. I’ll take care of the kids”.
So he got in his grandmother’s car, with her, and they went to the clinic ,while I brought the kids to a local raptor preserve to look at birds. An activity we had planned to do together.
I felt concerned that morning. But I was distracted. By my kids. By my timeline. By the stress of travel and family dynamics. By all the things that don’t really matter anymore.
Tim told the clinic his symptoms. He was a healthy 34 year old man experiencing chest tightness, wheezing, and left arm pain. They did an EKG, it was normal. They gave him a nebulizer treatment, he responded well to it. They sent him away. They didn’t do any follow up tests. They didn’t send him to an ER…but according to the standards of practice, they did what they were supposed to do. Even if it wasn’t enough.
Tim and his grandmother met us at a playground I had found in my desperate attempt to keep my kids occupied in an unfamiliar town. We went out for lunch. Tim was feeling better. He ate. He talked politics. He was tired, but he was Tim. We got in the car, and he asked me to drive. After the eventful morning, this seemed normal. We talked and listened to music as our kids napped. We stopped to pick up some beer and wine to bring to our friends in Brooklyn, our next destination. Tim took a short nap. This was not unusual. We drove across Staten Island and the Verrazano Bridge into Bay Ridge Brooklyn, and found parking just steps from our friends’ building. Tim’s arm still hurt. We carried our things upstairs and settled in for the evening.
We were staying with our friends that night and had plans to visit the Museum of Natural History the following day. Our friends, Matt and Adam, are musicians, and the kids were having a blast dancing around Matt and his wife Molly’s living room as they played piano, accordion, and emptied the storage bench of rhythm instruments. Tim was dancing around, laughing. He had some coffee, then a couple beers. We ate cheese and grapes and placed an order for take out. Tim ordered a “Cardiac Burger”. Huh.
It was time for bed, and Tim was exhausted. He asked me to bath the kids and get them in their jammies, and he took a short nap. He woke to read them books in the spare room and tuck them into bed. The kids settled quickly, and for the first time all day, Tim and I had a chance to sit in the living room and chat. I asked him how he was feeling and rubbed his back. He said he was feeling fine. His arm still hurt, he was tired, but he was fine. We talked about the Urgent Care visit. How thankful we were that it was “nothing serious”. We wondered what the bill would be. It didn’t matter, I said, “At least you’re ok”. For 15 minutes we just talked and laughed and reconnected after a long day.
Then, suddenly, Tim’s head snapped back. A horrible snorting sound came out of his mouth. Matt came out of the bathroom. We thought he was fake-snoring at first, but he didn’t respond when I called his name. Matt was on the phone with 911 immediately, I rushed to Tim’s side and cradled him in his arms. His face had an expression of shock, his eyes fixed to the ceiling as he desperately pulled for breath. I rubbing his chest and whispered “I love you, I love you, it’s going to be ok. I love you”. Over and over again. I told Matt what I was seeing. Was it a seizure? A stroke? Then his lips started to turn blue. He stopped breathing.
Something in him left. I felt it.
I pulled him to the floor. I will never forget how heavy his lifeless body felt in that moment. The CRP classes I had taken for 4 years kicked in and I began robotically tilting his chin, breathing into his mouth, compressing his chest. I went totally numb as a counted. My friend appeared in the doorway, I didn’t recognize her. The sick feeling in my stomach grew as I heard my own breath rattling violently out of his flaccid lungs. His body moving up and down with my force. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…mentally willing him to breath.
Then I felt a presence in the room. A man’s soft, firm voice, “We’ll take it from here.”
I pulled back as a mass of NYC first responders flooded the room with bodies and equipment. They started asking questions. “Does he have any health conditions?” “No, he’s healthy.” “Has he taken anything?” “Some Tylenol? He might have taken a muscle relaxer”. “Has he taken any drugs?” “He smoked some pot last week, but…”
They took turns working on his body. They injected him over and over with Epinephrin, Narcan, anything that might revive his heart. They intubated him as I sat and watched, numb. Matt’s arms around me. They shocked him with the AED. Over and over and over. I sat and stared. Powerless. They started to wonder if they should “call it”. Then another EMT volunteered “I’ll try”. The large, muscular men pressed on his chest, sweat running down their faces. For 20 minutes I watched.
Then a heart beat returned to the little portable screen at his feet.
“He has a pulse. He has a pulse. Matt, it’s been a long time…”
They lifted him on a stretcher and began debating how to get him down narrow elevator and stairs. Nobody would look me in the eyes. I grabbed my purse and his sweater, slipped on my shoes. I gave my friends directions of how to care for the kids. “Claira has never had formula…I don’t know if she’ll take it…she gets up a few times a night…” They reassured me. I trusted them. Thank goodness for them.
I walked down the three flights to the ambulances parked out front. I climbed in front with the driver. I could tell from the conversation in the back that Tim was not stable. He had been gone a long time. The driver and I sat silently. I watched the lights blur and heard the sirens wailing as we careened through the streets of Brooklyn. I marveled at how skilled his driving was. How surreal this family vacation has suddenly become. I didn’t feel a thing.
I held Tim’s hand as they rolled him into the waiting emergency department. They knew he was coming. The nurses looked at me with sad eyes as I walked past. They put me in a small room next to his and offered me water. Matt had come in the other ambulance. Tim’s twin sister, Kelli, arrived shortly after. We sat and waited.
The police came to ask me questions. Doctors came in and out, with few updates. They were just trying to get him “stable” they said. They were just trying to keep him alive. They asked me about his health history. His family history. I would be bombarded with questions, then left in silence for long stretched of time. Only one doctor looked me in the eyes. I thanked him.
I left the little room to return a nurse’s phone charger. I saw them working on Tim again, doing CPR up on his gurney. I stood and watched with the crowd of medical professionals around me. “You might not want to be here”, the social worker said. I went back into the little room. She came in. “It’s not looking good.” “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!” “It’s not looking good.” She was cold. I called her a bitch as she walked away, because she was.
They came to tell me that they were going to bring Tim to the Cath Lab to run a catheter into his heart. They didn’t know where to bring me, so they brought me to activity room on the stoke unit. Tim’s family arrived and joined me there. The massive TV was blaring CNN and I turned it off. I looked in the cupboard marked “Art Supplies” and only found a box of broken tiles. It all made perfect sense.
We waited for over an hour. Nobody was able to tell us anything. Everyone told me to be positive. But I knew what I knew. Finally, the cardiologist came into the room. Tim was stable, he said. His body was fighting…but he had gone a very long time without oxygen. They were worried about his brain.
I let out a primal scream that filled the room and echoed down the corridor.
A nurse came into the chastise me for yelling, so I screamed at her too.
All we would do was wait.
They brought Tim to the trauma unit. They let us see him. He looked bloated and pale. He was unconscious. He was hooked up to machines. I rubbed his feet and sang “Dream A Little Dream of Me”, the lullaby I always sang for our babies.
We went to another waiting room. There were no windows. We sat for hours, waiting. There were no updates. He was barely alive. That was it. So we all just sat.
Morning came. I needed to see my children. So I left the hospital and stepped out into the early morning sunlight, barely able to function. Matt hailed a cab. We rode back to his apartment. The kids were up, waiting for me. Byron wanted to know where Papa was. He’s at the hospital, I said, he’s sick. I cuddled them. I took a shower. I took phone calls. Later that morning, Tim was moved across the river to Tisch NYU on 1st Ave in Manhattan. Groggy and shaken, I got on the train and went to him.