Like most other scary things in life, you don’t expect them to happen to you. When you hear about someone getting sick at a young age or someone getting into a car accident, you don’t think that it can happen to you or someone you love. And it was no different with Coronavirus or COVID-19 or whatever you want to call it.
I stopped watching and reading the news heavily a while ago after Trump became President. I would check in periodically for the big things just so I could stay up to date, but it was better for my sanity to not read each and every news article and make myself crazy about things I had no control over. So, when the stories came out about this disease, I was aware but not fully aware of what it was all about. It felt like some distant thing that only affected people from that side of the world. My point is, I wasn’t worried. Even when the first person in NY was diagnosed, I wasn’t worried. I was even guilty of saying “What’s the big deal, the flu kills more people”. And I was wrong. Boy was I wrong.
Luckily, my office implemented working from home early on before it became mandatory and I was able to stay home and safe. My mom worked in NJ, only drove to work and had a small office of 5 or 6 people. I wasn’t worried about her either. Until one day when she told me she wasn’t feeling well. You see, her boss went out to dinner the Saturday before with someone who ended up getting sick and testing positive. That person ended up in the hospital on a respirator. I hope they’re better, but I don’t know. And one by one people in her office started feeling ill, including her, on March 22. The first few days were manageable. She had a fever all day every day but when the fever went down she was fine. No breathing issues. No coughing. She had a televisit with her doctor and they gave her a prescription of antibiotics in hopes that she only had an infection and it would help. Ofcourse, it didn’t help at all. Then it became more intense, she couldn’t get out of bed. She slept almost all day and felt nauseated and was vomiting. She stopped answering people’s phone calls and texts and could only manage to communicate with me.
Day 10 was the first full day without fever but by no means was she in the clear. The breathing symptoms had now surfaced and with it brought more worry than ever before. I had spoken with her at one point that day and she could barely carry a sentence. She called the doctor to let them know and do you know what their response to her was? “If you can speak to me now, your breathing isn’t bad enough”. I couldn’t believe it! So, as she got worse and worse every day, she never wanted to get help. She felt like it was pointless and wanted to stick it out. It wasn’t until Thursday April 2 that I realized there might be something wrong. She texted me a few things that didn’t make sense during the day and when I asked to facetime with her, I noticed that she couldn’t really focus her eyes on me. She was able to speak though, and I just chalked it up to her not having eaten a real meal in almost two weeks.
The next day was Friday April 3. She would normally text me on the early side to let me know she was up but that didn’t happen that day. I texted her to check in and noticed that she had seen my text but didn’t respond (we had read receipts enabled for each other). I gave her more time in case she was half asleep and just didn’t respond. Then after a while I texted again. When she finally texted me back, it made no sense. She kept sending me one-word responses to my questions that made absolutely no sense. So I called Wayne. I told him what was going on and he said she was sleeping. So again, I think, “Ok. Maybe she’s sleeping and not making sense”. I ended up speaking with Diana at some point. I really don’t remember when exactly that was, and after telling her what was happening, she told me that I should call them again because it sounded like maybe she was having issues from lack of oxygen. Having just lost her mom a year ago, unfortunately Diana was familiar with those things. My mom then texted me again. So, I called her. She picked up the phone and it sounded like she dropped it. So I hung up and called Wayne back. I told him to put her on the phone immediately and what I heard was horrifying. My mom couldn’t speak. She sounded garbled and she couldn’t get a word out. I immediately told him to call her doctor. I think in regular times I would have just suggested to call 911 but with COVID, it was ingrained in our brains to call the doctor first before heading to a hospital.
This is the part that gets messy. Her doctor was no help. He told Wayne that she should go to the hospital if she was worse, meanwhile SHE WAS WORSE. Why didn’t he say, “Take her now!” or “Call 911 now!” The only thing I can think of to that is the doctor is completely incompetent. They didn’t think her breathing was bad enough during the week to go to the hospital. ANY breathing issue combined with her current medical conditions should have prompted a visit to the hospital.
I tell Wayne “Call 911 now”. He agrees and we hang up. I wait approximately 30 minutes to allow for enough time for him to call and them to arrive and assess her. I text him again “Are they there yet?” And he proceeds to tell me he hasn’t called. WHAT?!?!? Apparently, my mom was yelling at him not to call. I pick up the phone and call him. This time I’m screaming “DO YOU WANT MY MOTHER TO DIE?!?!?!?!” We hang up and he calls. I really didn’t think that would ever happen. I only said that to light a fire under his butt.
The ambulance arrived and assessed her. Her oxygen was at 50%. 50%!!!!!! Unbelievable! I don’t know what was going on when this happened but she managed to get out a final text to me. I’m assuming this was right before the ambulance arrived. It said “I miss.” I took that to mean “I miss you”. I replied “I miss you too. I love you”. They took her to the hospital and then the waiting began. It took several hours before I could get a hold of someone. Finally, the doctor came to the phone and told me the news. “Your mom is in critical condition and in the ICU. She is very very ill. We had to put her on a ventilator.” He kept repeating it. “She’s very ill”. “She’s critically ill”. I felt like my heart stopped. Hearing the words “critically ill” and “ventilator” was like getting shot in the face. I hung up the phone and called Wayne and Gina to let them know. I couldn’t even believe what I was telling them. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. I left the room I was taking the call in to go and tell Noelby. And that’s when it really hit me. I was going to lose my mom. I knew in that moment that was it. I was never going to see, hear or speak to her ever again. She was gone. I wept in Noelby’s arms as I fell to my knees on the kitchen floor in agony. It was the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life. Later that evening I spoke with another doctor who gave me even more bad news. He informed me that on her way to the hospital, she had coded in the ambulance. Her heart stopped and it took them approximately 10 minutes to resuscitate her. Had Wayne not called the ambulance when he did, she would have died at home. I went to the living room to tell Noelby and this time, he wept in my arms.
The next few weeks were a blur. I would call the hospital multiple times a day hoping for some positive update. I don’t think I ate or slept for those 3 weeks she was in the ICU. We facetimed her a few times and each time I told her how much I loved her and how we were there for her. She got progressively worse each day. She suffered severe brain damage from the lack of oxygen when her heart stopped in the ambulance and she was completely unresponsive. Her eyes were opened at times, but they were void of any life. My beautiful mother was no longer there.
As the weeks went on, the doctors informed us of her declining condition and wanted to know what her end of life wishes were. End of life wishes? I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation about my 52 year old mother. I knew she would have never wanted to live that way, especially since we knew she would most likely never recover from her pulmonary condition let alone her mental status. She would most likely have needed to live in a home if she were to miraculously improve. But Wayne wasn’t ready to make that decision. I think part of the reason was that he truly didn’t understand how bad she was. Every conversation with the doctors resulted in him only hearing the minuscule positive news they were giving us and completely ignoring everything else. But I knew better. I’ve worked with doctors long enough to know that it’s just as uncomfortable for them to deliver bad news, as it is for us to hear it. Doctors try to weave in positivity when they can to “soften the blow” so to speak.
I was relieved because the doctor said that they would allow us to go see her when the time came. That was something that I didn’t think was going to be possible. So many people have died alone in the hospital from this disease. I was so scared that was going to be my mom. Wayne had it in his head that we needed to wait the full 21 days before deciding anything. He had been told about an article that said someone recovered after 21 days on the ventilator. Even though I knew he was wrong and delaying the inevitable, I acquiesced to his request because legally, as her husband, he made the final decision. The doctor reluctantly agreed but said that should her condition worsen, we would need to make a decision sooner. And it did.
It was almost the next day that we received the call she was declining. Wayne wanted to wait, and we agreed to meet at the hospital at 11am on Friday April 24th to say our goodbyes and take her off the ventilator. Mommy had other plans. On Friday morning, as I laid in bed thinking about what was waiting for me at the hospital, my phone rang. It was one of the nurses calling. The nurse let me know that he knew we were expected to arrive later that morning, but her condition was declining fast and he wasn’t confident that she was going to make it long enough for us to get there. Then I began to panic. I immediately called Wayne and let him know that we needed to go to the hospital right away. I didn’t even let the kids get dressed. I packed up some water and snacks for the kids and piled them into the car in their pajamas. The nurse called another time and once again told us to hurry.
The drive to the hospital was like a scene in a horror movie. It was raining so hard we could hardly see. I was so scared of getting into a car accident and so scared that she would die before having the chance to say goodbye. There was just no winning. I finally arrived, mask on and hands shaking as I ran into the hospital. It was so quiet. There was no one there except Wayne who had just arrived moments before I had. He looked just as bad as I felt. Together we walked the long walk to the ICU. Or at least it felt like it that way. I felt like I was walking the Green Mile.
I can’t explain to you how it felt to walk into the ICU. After spending over a month not seeing friends and family and trying to do everything possible to protect myself from the disease, I was walking into the belly of the beast. I was walking into an incubus of disease but at that moment, it didn’t matter because I just needed to see her one more time. We met with the nurse, suited up with PPE and headed into the room. And there she was. Laying there, hooked up to machines. Tubes connected to her everywhere. Her poor legs were so swollen from all the fluid buildup and not moving in over 3 weeks. They told us we could hold her hand, but we couldn’t go anywhere near her face for fear of us dislodging the ventilator tube and exposing ourselves to her saliva. Her hands were like little sausages. And dry. Her skin was so dry and not the soft, supple skin I frequently cuddled. Wayne and I stood there, on either side of her bed holding her hand. We barely spoke except to tell her we loved her and share some messages that people had for her. Little by little her heart rate slowed, and her oxygen levels decreased. They gave her some medication to make her comfortable and they turned off the machine. It was only a few minutes before she passed. I was looking at her the moment it happened. Her skin turned gray and I knew that was it. My mother was dead.
I caressed her hair, blew her a kiss and thanked her for being the amazing mother that she was and giving me a beautiful life. And just like that, reality set in. I quickly moved towards the door and got someone’s attention to let us leave. We took off our protective gear and washed our hands. I washed my face, and rubbed sanitizer all over my hands, face and hair. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.
It’s been a little over a month since she died. We had her cremated but haven’t been able to have a service. It still doesn’t feel real to me. I cry from time to time but not the way I should. I think that’s just because I haven’t accepted that she’s gone. A part of me thinks she’s on an island somewhere without a phone and she’s going to show up at my door any minute. If only that were true.
My mother was not just my mother. She was my best friend. She was my soulmate. She was my everything. And now she’s gone. I don’t know how to live life without her. A part of me died along with her and I will never be the same.