As teenagers, my younger brother and I joked we didn’t want to live to thirty, like thirty was a magic number where people forgot how to enjoy life and started the plunge toward death. What we didn’t know, is that life keeps going, and while our age matures, it often becomes easier to appreciate the beauty in our lives.
My brother didn’t make it to thirty. Today, October 28th, he would have been 34. I’ve lost four years of life with him. More importantly, my nieces and nephews have been robbed of his back breaking hugs, echoing laugh and unique point of view of life and love. And he loved absolutely, even when the recipient didn’t always deserve it.
In four years, while I’ve talked about him and have celebrated the moments I had with him, I have not talked openly about his death since it occurred. I aim to talk about that now. It is emotional and so I apologize if I’m not eloquent in the delivery.
It was May. The sun was shining and I was enjoying the air conditioned office of the mortgage position I held. My phone rang, it was my mom, but I ignored it. At lunch I finally checked the messages and found my brother was rushed to the hospital. I was concerned, but I thought, he’s young, he’ll be ok. But that isn’t what occurred.
My brother had been recovering from either a sinus infection or cold. He’d been taking Sudafed to keep the congestion at bay while he worked in over a hundred degrees in his electrician position. He stayed hydrated but with the combination of the anti-congestants and weather, he began wandering around the construction site aimlessly until he passed out. He was rushed to the hospital with a fever of over 109 degrees. When the body gets that hot it starts breaking up materials in the body, clotting the blood and forcing organs to work overtime until the end result is that they started shutting down. One organ shut down after the other, until finally the liver gave out. The doctors were able to stabilize him but was forced to place him in a self induced coma. It took a week, maybe two, before he woke up. He was scared. Strapped to machines. A catheter down his throat. In an unfamiliar environment. It was overwhelming to see a man who fully enjoyed life and was active to be look so feeble and frightened.
We had days where he was good, where the doctors were optimistic. We had days that were bad, where the doctors talked about decision making and hospice.
My family and I met to talk over his care and possible decisions we would have to make. We decided the decisions regarding his care would fall to me. It was a responsibility I thought I could handle. And I did, but not without some turmoil after.
Week four my brother got the tube taken out. He talked a little, if a bit hoarse. He joked with the nurses and enjoyed watching Cartoon Network. Everything was looking up, but there was one concern the doctors had, his liver wasn’t regenerating. They discussed a transplant and we signed the waiver to get him transferred to Tucson to get the transplant, but then things got worse. He became septic. When it was controlled they did surgery to his stomach to remove part of the intestine. It wasn’t an easy procedure because it was so brittle that the doctor described it as trying to stitch together gauze, it just kept unravelling.
After the procedure my brother was back on the feeding tube. When he was conscious, he was but a glimmer of what he normally was. He shook his head against his pillow restlessly until his beautiful jet black hair began falling out.
Week 6 (maybe 7), the doctors called us in for a meeting. My brother wasn’t getting any better. His liver wasn’t bouncing and other organs began systematically shutting down. Everyone in my family still had hope, but I knew we were prolonging the inevitable. We had lost him the moment the liver transplant was no longer an option.
I walked down to the garden to take a break and reflect on what the doctors said. Everyone aside from them wanted to keep trekking along. It was the beginning of monsoon season, the sun peeked through the gray clouds but it rained any way. Not a thunderous pour. A calming drizzle that sparkled in the gleaming sun. I picked up the phone and called my dad. I booked the earliest flight to get him there to say his goodbyes. My sister called my older brother.
Making the decision to take my brother off life support was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but it was the right one. The doctors held off turning off the machines until my older brother got there, but asking to wait for another two hours for my dad’s flight to get in was too much.
It wasn’t two weeks, two days, two hours or even two minutes after he was pulled off the machines that he passed. It was almost instantaneous. Almost immediately after the nurses told me there was no morgue at the hospital so I had to begin the process of figuring out where his body was going, what kind of funeral services we would have, etc. And I had to make those decision before my father’s flight landed. I was also the one who picked him up and had to break the news he was two hours too late. It was too much, but I did it.
The hardest part about the whole ordeal, is I became the conduit for many peoples misdirected anger and grief. Why? Because it was ultimately me who made the decisions. I was called cold hearted. Accused of murdering my brother. And so many other things. I understand now it was misplaced emotions, but for a year I barely left the house because I felt I was that person.
I write this not to garner sympathy but because I hope to reach at least one person who will make the decision to talk and put their wishes in writing when it comes to the what ifs….because death is inevitable. That doesn’t mean we need to fear it. Think of your loved ones who will be by your side in that “what if scenario.” If you have a plan of action now, there is no guessing and uncertainty because they will be honoring your wishes. Personally, when the day comes, I want to leave this world knowing I made the tedious details and decisions of my passing easy for my loved ones. I hope you do too.