This is my current written account of the last two days of Kraston’s life. I have been unable to write it down until now. It is raw and unedited. For whatever reason, it was time to let it out and it has just poured out over the past few hours. I don’t know when I’ll feel like editing it, so I figured I just go ahead and publish it. it kind of feels like the time for some reason.
You will notice there isn’t a lot of feelings or emotions. I was in shock/numb for most of these two days and for the following 3 months. It wasn’t until July that the shock / adrenaline wore off and I started sleeping more than a couple hours at night.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The day started much like any other day. We got up and did a haphazard morning routine to get the kids out the door and loaded up in my van. I took the two big kids to Saint Catherine School and the two little kids to Play and Learn. I dropped Gabriel off in his class first. When I took Eleanor to her class, I realized she had thrush. So I took her home and Kraston helped me apply the Gentian Violet purple medicine on her tongue and inside of her cheeks and took her back to school. I guess I wasn’t supposed to work until after lunch because I remember being back home on the computer for a while while Kraston watched TV. His friend Bill was due to arrive shortly, so he gently reminded me I was supposed to go into work.
Later that afternoon I got a call from Bill. He was at the allergy doctor with Kraston and Kraston didn’t want to leave. He explained that they had gone to a Drillers game and Kraston had gotten tired toward the end, so he took him home for a nap. After the nap Kraston had been out of sorts, but had insisted that he keep his appointment. I talked to Kraston on the phone and told him he needed to go home. That he might have had a seizure and needed to take some of his steroids.
Knowing it might be a rough evening (but never imagining exactly how rough), I decided to leave work early. I asked my dad to pick up the two big kids and I went to pick up the little kids. I went through the Chick-fil-a drive through on the way home.
As I pulled into the driveway, Kraston was throwing up on the front porch. Shit. Throwing up meant brain swelling. He had been puking in the hospital the days before his first surgery. I couldn’t remember if he had been throwing up when we tapered his steroids too quickly after his first surgery and he landed back in the hospital, but knew this wasn’t good.
I left van running with the little kids in their carseats. I got the food out of the van and put it on the picnic table. I went over and checked in with Bill. They had just gotten home and were struggling to unlock the front door when he started throwing up. We got Kraston to sit down in the chair on the front porch to rest while I unlocked the door. Bill got a bowl for Kraston to throw up in if it happened again. I got the number for the surgeon and called. I had to leave a message with the paging company. I figured we were probably heading to the hospital, so I quickly threw some clothes in a bag for the kids and packed my small purple rolling suitcase knowing we would likely be going to the hospital.
I got to talk to whatever doctor was on call since it was after hours. He had me ask Kraston if he had a headache. Kraston said yes. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last thing I ever heard him say. The doctor told us to get him to the hospital for some fluids, he was probably dehydrated which was causing some swelling.
My dad rolled up with the big kids. I had him put the big kids in my van with the little kids and take the kids, the food and the bag of clothes to his house. Bill pulled his car up in the grass so we could get Kraston into his car easier. Only by this time, Kraston was very sleepy and not responding to our prompts. We got him to standing, but he wouldn’t go down the stairs.
We sat him back down and called 911 for an ambulance. The fire truck pulled up first. A few very friendly firemen came over to discuss what was going on. After the ambulance arrived. two paramedics brought over a stretcher and the fireman gave his synthesis of my report to them. It took 3 or 4 firemen to lift him up on the stretcher and start strapping him down. I had never ridden in an ambulance, but I guess there is a first time for everything. I gave Bill my suitcase and he followed us to the hospital.
I don’t remember much about the ride. They asked me a lot of questions. Kraston was trying to roll back and forth. He didn’t like the straps. When we got close, I asked how long it would be before I could see him. They said it usually took around 45 minutes to get him admitted and settled into an ED room. I was supposed to wait in the waiting room until they called me back.
So I made my way to the waiting room. Bill arrived shortly and my mom came by soon after with Eleanor. Eleanor was only 9 months old and still nursing regularly. I had left what breastmilk I had pumped that day at the preschool and didn’t have any extra, so Mom said she would just bring Eleanor by whenever she needed to nurse.
They didn’t call me for over 2 hours. When I went back, I was in for a shock. When he arrived, they could tell right away that his incision was infected. He was so uncooperative they couldn’t do a CT scan to determine the extent of the swelling. They tried valium, but it didn’t work.
So they had to sedate him, intubate him and put him on a ventilator to get the scan. This was the most “medical” that I had seen him in the hospital. I got this fuzzy feeling behind my eyeballs. I now know that this is how I physically perceive grief. I still get this feeling regularly.
They explained that he his incision was infected, which generally meant meningitis. They didn’t know exactly what kind of infection, but they could do a culture and know in three days. However in the meantime, they would just give him pretty much all of the different antibiotics they had. They would keep him sedated for a little while to let his body rest while the antibiotics ran their course.
I didn’t know much about meningitis. I just heard a culture in three days, so I figured we were in for a hospital stay of at least three days. Gabriel’s birthday party was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, so I hoped maybe we would be home before then.
Somewhere around this time is when I called his parents. I told them what little I knew. They were already planning on coming to town on Friday night because of Gabriel’s birthday. It didn’t seem necessary for them to come yet. I truly still thought we were just in for more boring time, waiting around in the hospital.
I went back to the waiting room and told my mom she could take the baby home for a while, that we should have a room in ICU around midnight. Bill, bless him, stayed with me for a while longer. We sat making bad jokes and talking to Kraston, even though we didn’t imagine he could probably hear us. He would move around a little every now and then, but if he started to move too much, they turned up the drugs, because they didn’t want him to hurt himself.
I took a picture of Kraston to show him later. He had started complaining about me scheduling ‘babysitters’ even though he was 2 weeks post-op. I wanted him to have a very visual reminder of why I scheduled those ‘babysitters’.
Eventually we were told they had a room ready for him, but it would take about 30 minutes for the ICU nurses to do their intake. So Bill took me to the cafeteria. It had been a while I had eaten my Chick-fil-a chicken nuggets. I don’t remember what I ate.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Shortly after midnight, Bill dropped me off at Kraston’s new room and told me he would return the next evening (that evening?) so I could go home to be with the kids for a few minutes. I settled in on my ICU room sofa, checked my facebook and generally tried to wind down a bit.
Mom called after a while and brought Eleanor up. I met her in the waiting room. We made plans for her to bring me lunch the next day (later in the day?). It is hard to use relative time frames when it is the middle of the night.
After that I was able to lay down and get a few hours of sleep. The next morning a parade of doctors came though, one of which was the infection control doctor. She said they were planning on reducing the sedation a little bit and adding the next round of antibiotics.
I don’t remember when I texted me boss telling him I wouldn’t be in that day. It might have been the night before, but either way, I wasn’t leaving the hospital. “Never leave a loved one alone in the hospital.” My friend Jennifer instilled this in me while I was in high school. Those words never left me.
Somewhere late in the morning, Kraston’s blood pressure started increasing. The machines were beeping and 4 or 5 nurses came fluttering in. The doctor came by and they decided what to give him to bring his blood pressure down.
So I was just sitting around, starting to get hungry for lunch, scrolling on facebook, when Kraston’s lovely, quirky nurse came and got my attention. “My nurse spidey senses are going off.” Huh? She made some strange gestures with her fingers around her head that didn’t look at all spiderman like and continued on. She told me she was a little concerned about how things were going. That his blood pressure had gone down, but too much. That she had called the doctor to come by.
Oooookaaay. I could feel the adrenaline started increasing and I put my phone down.
The doctor came in and looked Kraston over. He pulled up Kraston’s eyelids and his face lost a little bit of color. He looked over at me.
“I need to call his parents, don’t I?”
“Yeah, yeah you do.”
So I called Butch. He was in OKC but he’d get back to Fairview to collect Kathy and Katy and be there as soon as he could. It would be several hours. I think it was after that call that Karnesa called me. She asked if she could talk to Kraston. I’m not sure what exactly I said, but conveyed that no, no she couldn’t.
My mom texted me that she had arrived with my food. I stopped by the doctor’s desk as I walked out.
“Um, I just want you to know. He isn’t going to make it out of this.” What??
In my fuzzy eyeball fog, I went out to the waiting room to tell my mom. I watched the surprise and sadness in her face as she hugged me and called me baby. I tried to eat. But I couldn’t. I went back and talked to the doctor again.
“I know how inadequate this sounds, but I’m not sure exactly what happened. Either a stroke, maybe a couple of massive seizures. But I think he is brain-dead. There is a test we can do, to check for blood flow, to be sure.” I didn’t really understand what that meant. He still had blood pressure and a pulse. This wasn’t anything television had prepared me for.
I agreed that it sounds like we should do this test. I told him that I was going to bring the kids up. He said that there were some child life specialists in the Children’s hospital that he could call. That they could help with talking to the kids.
I went back to the waiting room to tell me mom the update. I asked her to call my dad to get the 3 big kids even though school wasn’t quite out yet. I wanted them to get there before everyone else started pouring in. I didn’t know how to call and tell anyone what I now knew. I felt like it shouldn’t be done on the phone. I think I called Lacey though and asked her to come.
I then called Father Jack. He was surprised to hear from me, because he was already downstairs waiting for the elevator. He thought maybe I had seen him walking in. After he arrived on the floor, I told him what all was going on. He went with me to Kraston’s room. The child life specialist arrived and started visiting with me about my beliefs and what we had and hadn’t told the kids. She said she thought we should introduce the word tumor before they heard it from someone else. She had a good way to describe tumors using play-dough. I said that would be great.
Somewhere along in here we also discussed cemeteries. I hadn’t thought about it before. Kraston hadn’t wanted to make any funeral arrangements. When Father Jack offered up that Calvary was the cemetery owned by the Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, I agreed that, yes, that is what we should do.
Dad showed up with the kids and we met with the two Child Life Specialists in a smaller private waiting room. They spent about 45 minutes talking with the kids about what was going on. I don’t know how I could have told the kids without them.
One of the few times Kraston showed me his sadness during his illness was a time when he thought about me having to tell the kids what happened to him. I am so very grateful to those two women for helping me though that. My parents and I would draw on the words they spoke many times over the following few months as we helped the kids, especially Gabriel, craft their narrative and understanding of what had happened. They also recommended therapy for them.
I think it was about the time we finished up with the kids that I came out and David and Angie had arrived. I told them where we were at.
“So there is a chance?” they asked.
“No, no, there really isn’t.” I answered.
I couldn’t have them saying that in front of my kids. Lacey was here by then. I don’t remember when she arrived. I think Butch and Kathy arrived shortly after this.
And then the nurse told me the doctor was ready to see me, that the test results were in.
“It is official,” he said. “There is no blood flow above the neck. I am calling the time of death now, at 18:18.”
And that was it.
Less than 48 hours after things seemed relatively normal, I became a widow.