In memory of my son, because every life leaves something beautiful behind...
Monday, November 16, 2009
The Day He Flew Away...
Calvin remained unstable throughout the night. Dr. C had called a couple of times to let us know that Calvin was having problems with his oxygen saturation, a one point it was down in the 40 percentile. The doctors were fighting to get Calvin oxygenated and just as his sats began to rise, his blood pressure started to drop. On through the night it went like that, sats up, pressure down, pressure up, sats down. Finally at ten o'clock in the morning, Dr. C called to say Calvin was stable and we could come down to see him. No sooner had Shane and I arrived in the ICU than Calvin's pressure started to drop very quickly. I was horrified when I saw my baby. He was blue, his saturation levels only in the upper 60's, and his little mouth and tongue were swollen. Dr. C asked us to leave again, saying that he had to run some tests and that he would call us. Back in the room we paced. When it had been over an hour and we hadn't heard anything yet, Shane decided to run to McDonalds for some food because he hadn't eaten in a few days. He was gone maybe ten minutes when the phone in my room rang. It was Dr. C saying he needed to see us right away and that it wasn't very good news. I explained Shane was out but that I would call him and get him to come back right away. I called Shane and he had just pulled out of the drive thru and was on his way back. I called Dr. C and told him I'd see him in about fifteen minutes.
When Shane returned, we brought Georgia to the nurses' station and we walked down to the ICU. We were holding hands and I was scared. Shane told me not to worry, that he probably just needed to go back into surgery. When we walked into the ICU, we were immediately ushered into a small room. Dr. C, Dr. S and the pediatrician on call were all in there. They asked us to sit down and I started shaking. Dr. C explained that he suspected Calvin's falling blood pressure had to do with him bleeding somewhere but that when he checked his chest, it was fine. At that point, he had decided to do an ultrasound of Calvin's head and they discovered that Calvin had suffered a Grade Three bi-lateral brain bleed. I already knew that Grade Four was the most severe, so I knew right away our boy was in trouble. I looked directly at Dr. C and said, "So what does that MEAN?" The pediatrician on call leaned forward and started to explain that Calvin would most likely develop cerebral palsy, that he would be deaf, probably blind and profoundly retarded. I was crying hysterically by now and so was Shane. We asked if they could operate to relieve some of the pressure in his head and they replied yes, but that he probably wouldn't survive surgery. Suddenly, I realized what they were saying and knew they were asking us to let Calvin go. I blurted out, "OH MY GOD, ARE YOU ASKING US TO...Then Dr. C shhh'd me. He had not been able to look at either Shane or I the entire time we were in there and I realized he had tears in his eyes. Shane was shaking his head and crying as the doctors explained that Calvin would continue to bleed into his brain because of the heparin in the ECMO machine and that his heart couldn't function without it. "Please, my husband begged, Please save my boy." At that time I reached over and took Shane's hand and told him quietly, "Honey, they can't." We were both sobbing our hearts out as Dr. S passed me the paper to sign to remove Calvin from life support.
I signed the papers knowing Shane couldn't do it and then I asked the Doctors if we could bring Georgia down, because we didn't have any pictures of our twins together. They said yes, if her pediatrician would clear her to come down. We asked if we could hold him and they said yes and then I asked Dr. C if he would please sew up my baby's chest once it was over. With tears in his eyes, he nodded yes. We asked if we could donate any of Calvin's organs, only to be told no. No transplant team would take them because his chest had been open and exposed to infection. No one could have them because of the heparin. We asked them to call the chaplain and that we would go upstairs to get Georgia and Dr. C agreed to call the MFM doctor to get me some Ativan. They told us they would call when everything was arranged and they were ready. Back in my room, I told Shane that I wanted to keep Calvin's death private. Just us and Georgia and that we would phone and let his mom know afterwards. Greg, Trisha and Shane's dad were on their way back to the Okanagan to get back to work so they would have to be called later.
When the pediatrician cleared Georgia to go down to the ICU and when Dr. C called us, we headed down. Val, my maternity nurse was upset I was leaving just as I was supposed to be getting my daily checkup and when I explained that we were going to remove our son from life support, I don't think she understood that he was going to die. She snottily asked me how long it would take and was horrified when I answered back, "However long it takes my son to die." Crying, we walked hand in hand to the ICU, both of us taking a deep breath before we entered.
It started to feel like a dream as we walked over to Calvin's bedside and sat down in the rocking chairs beside his bed. They had curtained off his bed from view and as Shane held Georgia, they started to remove Calvin from all the tubes and wires that were keeping him alive and placed him in my arms. I was crying as he was handed to me. My handsome son was so blue and still. Unconscious, the only thing they left him on was the morphine drip so that he wasn't in any pain. Instinctively, Georgia reached back towards Calvin and the nurse, seeing her reaching for her twin, had Shane move closer and then joined their hands. My husband and I cried as our babies held hands and were together again for the first time since they were born. I was oblivious of the camera flashing, all I could see was my son, all I could feel was the pain. All too soon, I passed Calvin over to Shane and my husband said his good-byes. In all the years we had been together, I had hardly seen him cry. I saw him cry, I felt his heart breaking along with mine as we held our son, knowing he would soon die.
Spiritual care came and performed a benediction. We then had the heart within a heart ceremony, the chaplain tying a small heart around Calvin's wrist and then placing the larger heart around my neck. She explained that Calvin would always have a piece of my heart, and that the empty space in the centre of mine would signify the piece of my heart that had gone with him when he passed away. As I rocked our son, various people involved in Calvin's care came to say good-bye and to place a hand on Shane and I's shoulders. Many of the staff were crying with us. After checking Calvin's heart several times and knowing that our son was still alive, the doctors decided to move us to a quieter room, away from the hub of the ICU. As I carried Calvin down the hallway through the ICU, I felt the eyes of many parents on me, felt their pain and their fear as they sat beside their children's bedsides. I couldn't meet their eyes. Shane couldn't bring himself to hold him anymore, he was absolutely grief stricken so I sat with Calvin in the rocking chair in the private room. The lights had been dimmed but even in the low light, I could his face turning black from the lack of oxygen and I knew it wouldn't be long.
About an hour after Calvin had been removed from life support, he passed away quietly in my arms. As we sat there alone, Shane suddenly looked at me and said, "I think he's gone now, I don't feel him anymore." Wanting desperately for him not to be gone, I said, "I don't think so, I think he's still here..." Minutes later, the pediatrician came in and confirmed what Shane already knew, that Calvin had died. I cried and cried and cried, it was like a dam breaking, I knew it was over and that he wouldn't be coming back. Once my heaving sobs were under control, Shane and I left so that Dr. C could sew up Calvin's chest and so the nurses could give him a bath. They asked us we would like his hand and foot casts done in plaster to which we answered yes. They also asked if we had an outfit we would like to put on him when they called us back and I said yes, that Shane would go home and get something for him. He had to go tell his mother anyways and didn't want to do it on the phone.
Walking out of the ICU and leaving Calvin there alone in that room was the hardest thing in the world. I felt dazed, like my head was detached from my body, like I was outside myself. As we stepped out the doors of the ICU and into the hall, my head started to throb and within seconds I had the worst headache I'd ever had. By the time we reached my room I was shaking all over and as my nurse Val walked in to tell me how sorry she was, I threw up all over myself and the floor. I started crying like a child, I wanted my mother so badly. I just wanted to crawl into my mom's lap and have her hold me and rock me and tell me everything would be okay like she used to when I was younger. Val helped clean me up and helped me back into bed. Shane left to go tell Lorelei and his mom that our son had died and to pick him up a sleeper, we only had so much time. I lay down and cried great heaving sobs into my pillow as I watched the nurses tape a sign to my door, letting visitors and staff know to check at the front desk before entering my room.
Shane was back within about an hour with my bottle of Ativan and a diaper bag full of sleepers for Calvin. Together we walked back down to the ICU to dress our son and to say good-bye again. As I walked into the private room I saw Calvin lying on the table. It was like a miracle had taken place. He was no longer black, his colour had returned to normal and my son looked like he was sleeping peacefully. The ICU nurse Gabrielle had already started to dress Calvin and as we arrived with his sleepers she told me, "Go ahead and dress him, hold him all you want, but you need to know that he's starting to get a little stiff." Rigor mortis was already setting into Calvin's body but I didn't care. My son looked so beautiful and at peace. He was clean from his bath, Dr. C had sewn up his chest and every tube and wire had been removed. He was my baby and I wanted to hold him again more than anything. I carefully dressed Calvin and then picked him up. I rocked him and kissed him and told him how much I loved him and how my heart had broken when he died. I couldn't get enough of holding him. Shane couldn't bring himself to hold Calvin because of the rigor and he hadn't wanted to bring the camera down to take pictures of him. I wished with all my heart he had because Calvin looked so incredibly beautiful at that point, so pretty and at peace. All too soon, we left to return to my room, leaving our son behind in the ICU, leaving our hearts and hopes with him.
I have decided to write about my feelings following the death of my only son in November 2008. I'm learning that grief is a process with good days and bad, a lonely road with new beginnings and unavoidable endings. It is my hope that through writing I can come to peace with what has happened to us and our beautiful boy.