Chapter Two: The Helicopter of Hope
The first time I felt reality slip away was the sixth day at the hospital. I had driven home, a 20 minute drive, to get more clothes and take a shower. This was my first time alone after arriving in the ER that early Sunday morning six days earlier. I didn’t want to leave my husband, but I needed more clothes. The trip home was more emotional than I could bare as I walked into my empty house, so I quickly grabbed my things, forgot about showering because it would take too long, and headed back to the hospital as quickly as I could.
When I arrived, my mother in law met me in a waiting room as I was walking to Steve’s room. She told me a new doctor had come in, a kidney specialist, and had talked with the family while I was away. We had been told earlier that day that Steve’s diagnosis was advanced lupus which had caused acute kidney failure as well as liver failure and he had pneumonia. And, now to add to the severity of his condition he had developed a blood disorder that was causing his body even further harm. His chance of surviving was now very slim. They needed to airlift him to a larger hospital that could address the blood issue immediately, but because he didn’t have insurance most hospitals were refusing to take him.
My world crashed around me. I could not believe what they were saying. I kept looking at my sister in law, mother in law, and a close friend who had quickly come to the hospital while I was away, and I kept repeating to each one, “This isn’t real. This isn’t happening. Does this feel real to you?” They simply looked at me, not knowing what to say. I then learned that the doctors had told them to call my children, it was time to say our goodbyes. There was a strong possibility that Steve wouldn’t live through the night. They were moving him to the most critical part of ICU where they would eventually put him on a ventilator to help him breathe. During this transition we were told to wait in the waiting room outside the ICU. As my family gathered, no one knew what to say. It was all happening so fast. Steve was only 43 years old, much too young to be leaving us. I became numb. I was in total disbelief. I couldn’t hear what people were saying to me. I could only stare at the floor and wonder why and how this was happening.
I remember walking into his ICU room when we were allowed in. At this point, he still only had an oxygen mask on and he was awake. He was scared, but calm, and he was having trouble breathing. I don’t remember much after that. The severe fatigue and the weight of the moment caught up with me and I lay down on the little bed they had made for me and quickly fell into a deep sleep, the kind of sleep where you don’t dream.
When I woke up, the room was quiet. It was 3:00 in the morning. A nurse was in the room and Steve was awake. I walked over to his bed and held his hand and began to talk to the nurse. She was a comfort to me, someone I could talk to while we tried to make Steve comfortable. We chatted about various things, Steve’s illness, where she lived, how long she had been in Sedona; normal, everyday things. I never once felt the need to tell Steve goodbye. We were told this could be the last night of his life, but I didn’t feel I needed to have that “last moments of your life” talk. It was strange to me months later after leaving the hospital, that I never had that talk. What if he had died that night? Would I have always regretted not telling him how much I loved him? I just simply never felt the need to have that conversation. There was still a large part of me that just couldn’t believe what was happening.
The next morning his family and I gathered outside his room while the doctor inserted the breathing tube. Again we were told to say our goodbyes because once someone goes on life support, they usually don’t come off. I still could not say goodbye. After a brief time with Steve, they heavily sedated him and we waited in the hallway outside his room while Dr. Verk waited with us, phone in hand, waiting for the call to see which hospital would accept Steve. The helicopter was outside ready to go the moment we got the word that Steve had been accepted somewhere. Call after call came in with refusals. Each time Dr. Verk’s phone rang, we would jump, our hearts pounding, hoping this was the call that would save him. It was the longest wait of my life as we heard time and time again that no hospital wanted an uninsured patient.
Finally, after several intense hours of sitting in the hall as Dr. Verk anxiously stood by us, the call came. Flagstaff Medical was willing to take him. They had a bed available and they had the special blood machine that was needed to save Steve’s life. The helicopter was readied and I raced to my car to make the hour and 20 minute drive to Flagstaff. There was now hope, even if it was a sliver!