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On Thursday, August 4, 2005 when I walked into the hospital room, something was distinctively different. Besides the fact they had covered her eyes with gauze to prevent the fluid from dripping, she just looked different. She was more yellow, more lifeless. I looked at the heart monitor and saw that for the first time since she had been in ICU, her heart beat had dropped below 100. It was hovering at 135-140 since she went into the coma 6 days before. Seeing her like that made my stomach churn. I knew the inevitable was upon us. After all, the doctors had been telling us for days that we should make a decision because we were just prolonging her death. But as a 39 year old mother of 9, her role in our lives was just too important to make that kind of decision. I was secretly hoping she’d make it herself. I leaned over her, kissed her and said, “Joanne, its ok if you want to go. I really don’t want you to because we need you here but I understand if you need to go.” I cried and caressed her hair and face and repeatedly kissed her forehead.
When her mother and 3 brothers arrived I could sense their uneasiness. We requested a meeting with the doctor who told us they had stopped one of her medicines that kept her blood pressure up because it was making her extremities purple. He said if they stopped the other one she would surely die, although he didn’t know how soon.
Chris asked the doctor if they had learned anything from Joanne’s situation. He said, “We learned how to have faith because of the belief that you as a family have displayed.” That was an awesome thing for him to say and attested to our power of faith as a family.
As the day progressed we discussed our options. There weren’t really any options at all but to take her off the second medicine and hope she would recover. We decided that we would stop the medicine at 6 p.m. Looking back I have no idea why we made 6 p.m. the time. Maybe to give ourselves enough time to say goodbye.
Her brothers called their wives so they could say goodbye and I called my family and Joanne’s best friend Steve. I knew Joanne would want him to be there.
At 7 p.m. we were sitting in the family room waiting for others to arrive. I was agonizing over the decision we made to stop the medicine. Looking at my watch, I stood up and said to Steve and Joanne’s brother Chris, “If we’re going to do this, we have to do it now before I change my mind.”
I walked down the hall to Joanne’s room like I was taking the last walk of my life. In a sense, it was the last walk of the life I knew and loved. The walls, floor, doors and windows of the rooms and waiting areas all seemed to go by in slow motion. In her room, there were people around her bed. I wiggled my way through them and stopped and looked into her face. I remember how orange the sky was out her window. It was a mixture of orange with a purple hue. The sun was setting on more than just a day.
I bent down, gave her a gentle hug and nestled my face in her brown hair like I’ve done a thousand times before. I breathed her in deeply one last time. I stayed there forever. I told her how much I loved her, how I would miss her so much and how I didn’t know what we’d do without her. I cried hard for a long time drying my tears in her hair. I didn’t care who heard me or what they were thinking. This was my time with my baby and nothing else mattered. Just me and her, alone again.
When I was done crying, I stood up and wiped my eyes. I breathed in a great, shaking breath. I looked at Chris and said, “Go tell the nurse to stop the medicine.” He asked me if I was sure and I told him I was. I turned to sit down and when I did, Joanne’s heart beat dropped from 80 to 38 to zero. In a matter of 15 seconds, without the nurse doing anything, she was gone and my life was changed forever. I said to the nurse, “Did you stop the medicine already?” She said, “No, I haven’t done anything. She’s doing what she knows she needs to do.”
Joanne gave me the greatest of all gifts that night by making the decision on her own, as I had hoped, by waiting for me to say goodbye. This also confirmed that she could hear us while she was in her coma as we all talked to her and expressed our love to her. She knew it was time to go home. Goodbye my love.