The death certificate says that Mark died was November 19th, but it’s wrong. The real date is October 19th. My Mom and I were getting ready to go to the hospital and my phone rang. When your husband is in the hospital, and not doing well, you don’t want your phone to ring at 6:45 in the morning. Nothing good can come from that.
The voice on the phone said, “Mrs. Deer, your husband is on his way to ICU. He had an episode where he was choking and he’s not breathing on his own. You need to get here as quickly as you can.” The baby was wearing his fuzzy footy pajamas, the ones with two shades of blue stripes. They were too big on him, but he was growing so fast that I had gotten the next size up so he would grow into them.
As soon as Mark’s parents got to our apartment, we all left for the hospital. The motel where they were staying was only a block away, it only took a few minutes for them to get there, but it seemed like hours. I had forgotten to ask the voice on the phone which floor ICU was on, so we wasted precious moments going to the floor he had been on to find out where he’d been taken.
There was a doctor in the elevator. It turned out to be the baby’s pediatrician, making his early morning rounds for the women who had just given birth. Checking on his new patients, the newest lives in the hospital, while I was making my way to my dying husband. Just 4 months earlier the same doctor made rounds in a different hospital on the other side of town to check on our baby after he was born. Strangely, my manners kicked in, and I introduced him to Mark’s parents and my Mother. He said, “What are you all doing in the hospital so early?” I said, “My husband is here.” He just looked at me. I think, now, that it was shock or confusion. He got off the elevator on the floor before us and I was mad that he made the elevator stop again.
There was nobody in the lobby of the ICU. Nobody to ask what to do. You aren’t born knowing how to navigate a hospital. The ICU doors were closed, locked. I think I banged on the glass window. A crazy woman holding a 4-month-old boy in blue footy pajamas. The doors opened, I rushed inside and told them I was there for my husband. I can imagine how I looked. Panicked. Resolute. Stupidly hopeful that if Mark was in the ICU they could save him. The nurse said, “Mrs. Deer, your husband just got here, we’re getting him settled in. We need you to wait in the lobby for just a few minutes until he’s all set up. And you’ll need to leave the baby in the lobby with someone.” But Mark needs to see the baby.
They called me in. Just a few minutes later, but it’s amazing how often you hit time warps when you are waiting in the hospital. They called me in and my Mom stayed with the baby so Mark’s parents could come back with me. “As you know, Mark was having trouble swallowing the past couple of days. At the shift change this morning, when his day nurse came in, Mark was blue and breathing shallow, quick breaths. The nurse performed CPR. He is intubated now, the ventilator is breathing for him. We’re assessing him now, we’re not sure how long he might have been without enough oxygen.”
Too long. He was without oxygen for too long. His brain was damaged, there would be scans and tests and more scans. Twenty-two days of trying to figure out what was wrong with him. Why he wasn’t waking up when his body was perfectly healthy. Fighting off lung infections that would have killed older, less healthy patients. Twenty-two days of fighting.
But it was that first day of the coma that he slipped away. It was that first day, when Mark’s eyes were still mostly focused and were tracking us still, that I held up our sweet baby so he was eye-level with Mark and said, “You see our son? He is so lucky you are his Daddy. So lucky.” Mark smiled a little. It was that first day, when I told him, “You know how lucky I am that you are my husband? You *know* how much I love you?” Mark smiled a little and squeezed my hand.
He never responded again after that first day. Twenty-two days of scans and tests and biopsies and pissed-off doctors, and none of it mattered after that first day. His body was alive for 30 days after that first day, but Mark was gone. But he squeezed my hand and smiled at his son before he left.