“I held my dad’s hand while he died.
I guess I’m going to go against everything I believe in when it comes to sharing private information. My family, as they read this, will probably not believe it.
It’s difficult to construct this post because I don’t want the theme to become a PSA for Coronavirus, even though my dad’s untimely passing was completely preventable. I don’t want to seem like I am soliciting condolences on a public forum that lacks any real semblance of human connection, even though that’s the entire premise it was built upon.
I am hoping maybe if I share my story, I can touch someone’s heart enough to help any way he or she can, with a donation or a share. I will do my best to share a small glimpse of what we went through.
My parents are my best friends. I know in the land of Facebook, we are conditioned to read sentimental posts constantly without any real depth, but in real life, my parents had a relationship with my husband and I that cannot be replaced. You see, we don’t really have friends. There was the rare occasion here and there when we would spend an evening with another couple, but day after day, it is my parents who we sought company from. On the occasional week, we would spend one day apart, but I’ve intentionally woven them into how my daily life functions. I have two children: a 5-year-old daughter, and a 2-year-old son. What my children have with their grandparents is absolutely priceless.
When the severity of this pandemic became abundantly clear to me and in hindsight, too late, I enforced a full quarantine. It was mid-March. I stepped down from running our business, I stopped having family watch my children, and I hunkered down. As I have done with every challenge (and some of them are so great you would hardly believe them), when my dad got sick, I stepped up. It’s difficult to convey the raw emotions that consumed every hour of his illness. My husband, my kids, and I hadn’t spent real quality time with my parents for several weeks prior to his illness due to social distancing.
I talked to my mom constantly when he was home at the beginning of his illness. To have the pressure she had, not knowing when to call 911, not knowing if he was doing alright in their bedroom alone at night, being quarantined from them in their own home… it is unfathomable.
There I was on the phone, ‘Mom, that symptom really concerns me,’ ‘Mom, check his blood pressure again,’ ‘Mom, I have to call 911.’ All from afar. He protested a bit. At one point, he told me, ‘Let me sleep on it,’ but I called 911 anyway. It wasn’t until two days after he was admitted, I got a text from my dad that read ‘thank you for saving my life.’ The hospital administered an IL-6 inhibitor to try to conquer the inflammation. There was no guarantee it would work, but what choice do you have? They had a plan. We thought this would be short and sweet, and he would be back home. Little did any of us know, we were about to embark on an almost month-long hospitalization full of the very scenes nightmares are made of. All the while, Facebook did what it did best: proving to be a litany of aggressive, ignorant, and insensitive sentiments. It’s amazing how in a world when technology affords us a non-stop connection at the click of a button, I was stuck, feeling more alone than ever.
I dove headfirst into researching anything and everything. I was his advocate, and I charged myself with bringing my dad home. Sleeping 3 hours a night many nights, eyes stinging from reading case studies on my cell phone in between hysterical break-downs, I was determined to find a way. That’s one of the most horrifying aspects of this in hindsight. I was trying to find a cure for a virus that our world has never seen. There was no precedent set. Medical books have nothing. I had a front-row seat in watching the world’s best doctors literally scrambling to find something that would save lives. Meanwhile, every day, people are dying. When my dad thanked me for saving his life, I promised myself at all costs, and with no medical background, I would become a pivotal part of his recovery. I leaned on a few close people, calling at all hours of day and night. I was frantic. I was scared. Some calls, I just screamed and cried.
The IL-6 didn’t do the trick. Plasma! The Mayo Clinic JUST rolled this out, and I read and read and read. How do I get it for him? In the end, he was transferred to another hospital for two reasons: his quickly deteriorating health and the golden opportunity to receive plasma.
In the first portion of his hospitalization, he was conscious, texting and video chatting daily. During every conversation, he would tell me how hard he is fighting, how hard it is to conserve his oxygen, how badly he missed us. At that point, my mother was still in their home with my nieces. Being alone with two small children only made the situation more desperate for me. We would get a call from someone at the hospital, sometimes my cell, sometimes my mom’s. We would conference the other in and discuss his latest progress (or lack thereof). Then, my mom and I would stay on the line and ‘debrief.’ These calls would come at random times, and I found myself throwing a bag of potato chips on the table for my kids to graze on while I ran outside and tried to be an advocate for him because I couldn’t be by his side. Our family is tighter than most. Someone WOULD have been by his side around the clock. My dad was fighting the most important battle of his life, and he was alone.
At one point, I made the conscious decision to bring my mother and two younger nieces here with me. They had been tested and came back negative. I was having a really hard time, as my husband was keeping our business going, and I was offering my children little to no interaction. I felt like constantly like my head was being held underwater, and there was no relief in sight. Once they got here, some pressure was lifted. I could care for them. I knew in the back of my mind if things turned for the worse, she was here. We could lean on each other. One night, I heard her phone ring close to midnight. I cannot articulate the things that run through your mind. The way your body trembles as if you’ve been out in the cold for hours. He had a bad night and the doctor was very concerned. Thank God we were together. Mom, my husband, and I sat at the foot of my bed, speechless. My mind was in overdrive, as it was the entire duration of this nightmare, processing EVERYTHING but feeling nothing. It’s darkness. There was one point when after discussing dad’s SATS and how his day went, the nurse we spoke to broke down in tears on the other line, joining my mother and myself in our desperate sadness. Having never met and fighting the same battle from different sides, the organic reaction and connection humans make when there is nothing else to discuss floored me.
Then, he had received the plasma. Day 1, no changes. Day 2, no changes. Days 3, 4, 5… no changes. Depending on which doctor we spoke to, we gained a different time frame for when effects should show. I don’t blame them. Dad was participating in a brand new trial. No one really knew. There is no rule book. The plasma didn’t work. What’s next? Back to the drawing board. Remdesivir had made waves around the world in the remarkable recoveries it was creating. Let’s get that, I told myself. As if I was the boss in the situation.
The very next day after that dreadful midnight call, my phone rang. It was around 2 p.m. Intubation. But wait. There are no other options? This is a last-ditch effort, right? What if we try this? What if we try that?
‘If I do not intubate him right now, he is going to crash on me.’
I replay over and over, in my mind, what those moments must have been like for dad. How brave he had been, and how hard he fought day in and day out. I created an Audible account for him and filled it with Dean Koontz’s books. He didn’t listen to them. Being prone for more than 16 hours a day, the only thing he wanted to do was ‘focus on breathing.’ As if he could control the increasing inflammation. As if he could focus hard enough to fight a monster that is ravaging human bodies in ways we have never seen in modern history. I am able to appreciate his willpower now, but I feel so overcome by sadness thinking about how he battled with himself in his mind to try harder, focus harder. In his mind, he was the one responsible for making a recovery. I wish I could have taken that weight from his conscience.
That afternoon, my dad was intubated and put in a medically induced coma. It’s a stark contrast, something tangible in the air, that changes at that point. Even though he was critically ill all his time prior, my mind wouldn’t consciously accept the severity because he was sending emoji-filled texts daily and making a point to video chat my mom at least once each day. In the depths of my stomach, a pit remained, growing and aching, refusing to let me forget the statistics I had memorized and the grim reality of the battle he was fighting. After that point, the air surrounding us remained dense and cold. The unit he was now on had no receptionist, as the risk for infection was so great. We were cut off. No more texts. No more calling in to just check on how he did that day. We were promised one call a day from someone. Cold, heavy, suffocating air fell on our home and settled in our hearts.
The only hope we had to hold tight was now he was intubated, he was eligible to enroll in the Remdesivir trial. We authorized his participation on his behalf on the phone. Two experimental drugs down, one to go. This one has to do the trick. This one WILL work. He began a 10-day cycle the very day he was intubated.
He was on a ventilator for 12 days. 12 days that felt like 12 years. Around 2:30 the day he passed, we spoke to his doctor. He had taken a turn for the worse. ‘Randy has a new infection,’ he said. These were all things we had heard SO MUCH through his journey, we didn’t really flinch much. Of course, any time we heard bad news, I would find myself curled in a ball, locking my kids out, crying until I couldn’t breathe. This time was no different. He was worse, but they were doing everything they could. That was our one call for the day. Just don’t give up, Dad, I silently begged, and don’t give up hope, I’d beg myself. After these calls each day, we just tried to reconnect with the kids, and try to pick up the slack we had created during the day while we waited for the call.
My cellphone rang at 6:01 p.m. that same day. Vassar. I was at one end of my house, about to call a family member to update her on my dad’s status. My mom was on the porch, talking to her brother about the day’s revelations. I sprinted. I swung my front door open, and I said, ‘Mom, it’s Vassar.’ I put the call on speaker, and we shut ourselves in the guest bath to listen together. That is what we did every call, every day. My husband was home at that point already. Unbeknownst to us, he and my oldest niece who was staying with us rushed to the other side of the door to listen. We didn’t have to say it out loud… we had already gotten our call for the day. This call was going to be monumental in one way or another.
The Nurse Practitioner on the other end was out of breath. Her voice carried a vibrato that I grew intimately familiar with during this — weakness and instability your voice carries despite your every effort to push the panic away. It’s unsettling to hear. It’s involuntary though, I get it.
‘Cheryl? Your dad is not going to make it through the night.’
A thousand waves crashing, hammering at my legs, compromising my ability to stand. A million knives, ripping skin, puncturing every inch of my body, exposing my bones and pounding heart. I looked at my mom. As these words made an impact with my ears, I looked at my mom. At that moment, a flare went up. A moment of clarity. Without a thought, my mouth formed the words, and my trembling voice delivered them to the Nurse Practitioner on the other end of the line.
‘How do I get my mom there?’
She didn’t know. She didn’t know if it was allowed. She didn’t know if it had been done. She told me, ‘I don’t even know if you can make it in time, Cheryl.’
The nurse who had facilitated the Zoom meetings we had while he was intubated showed up. Clutching her cell phone, mom did her best to comfort dad via Zoom while I raced to get her to the hospital. We watched this nurse hold his hand, sing to him, and tell him he’s not going anywhere. We were on the way. I don’t know how I physically drove the vehicle there. Sometimes, strength surfaces and grabs the proverbial wheel without you consciously choosing to be strong. We made it in time. And you know what? Every light on the way turned green as we approached it. We made it. First pair of gloves, a gown. Second pair of gloves, hair wrap. N95, face shield. Guided into what they call ‘COVID central’ and yes, it felt exactly how you can imagine it would feel in there. How do these medical professionals work 16-hour shifts this way? It pains my heart to imagine.
I’ve skipped many intimate details of the whole month-long ordeal. I’ve saved the almost 2 hours we were physically with my dad and the very traumatic moments. Suffice it to say, we were right next to him, for the first time in what felt like ages, when he passed.
In the agonizing days that spanned his sickness, my mom was the epitome of strength. On the way home from the hospital, clearly in shock from the horror I witnessed, I listened in silence as she called loved ones, one by one, to tell them they had lost their father, their brother. Without granting herself a moment to fall apart, or even a moment to scream in anger, she completed a never-ending series of phone calls.
What my dad went through was an absolute nightmare. What we went through and what we saw that night was like the sequel. But in the wake of all of this, my mom cannot grieve. My parents were raising their grandchildren, and there are two more at home. Their home has been everyone’s home for almost 30 years stands. My dad worked up until the day the illness took over him. He was the sole provider financially, and my mom cared for the home and all its inhabitants over the years. Lord knows, there were many. The other tributes you’ll read about him commend his work ethic and generosity, which are 1000% true. I felt compelled to share just a small glimpse of the behind the scenes of what is happening.
In the dark and stillness that follows our loss, my mom has to rise up. She needs help. If you’ve managed to make it this far, thank you! I left a lot out. Moments so traumatic, I can’t even write them. I’ve had to write an obituary, I will have to write a eulogy, and now, to plead for help, I’m writing what looks like the start of a memoir.
I’ll never forget the nurses and doctors: exhausted, scared, defeated, crying in stock rooms, and fending off nightmares. They have let me in their lives after our loss, and we forged a bond that will impact my life forever.
I will do everything in my power to emulate who my dad was to so many. I will take care of everyone. Wes and I will figure out a way to get through a day without him, which was rare. I will do everything in my power to make sure my children know the man who loved them so dearly. I will help my mother fight through her days as well. But if you can help too, if my parents ever helped you during a rough time, opened their home, gave you money, fed you a hot meal, please share this fundraiser.
And for God’s sake, hug your parents tight as soon as you are able.
This picture was taken in late March when our quarantine measures were in full effect. I would not let my dad in my house. To protect my husband and kids. To protect my parents. To just be safe. My kids wanted so badly to play with him. Thinking quickly, I tossed him a rag and a dry erase marker, and they played tic-tac-toe, and dad scribbled silly drawings to make them laugh. And they did.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cheryl Werner. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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