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Sunday, July 1, 2012
The day began like all the previous days of our family vacation in Orlando. The only exception was we were getting to sleep in since we only needed to pack up and get to the airport! Mike, of course, was the early bird that tried waking us up early! I begged him to let us sleep, which he did. He sat at the computer and checked his email and Facebook -- commenting on the photos that were taken the day before when he got to do a ride-along in a race car at the Daytona Speedway. He was still on such a high from that saying it was one of the biggest rushes of his life!
When I woke up, I began the job of packing. I remember feeling some frustration that our family vacation was over and that I was doing all of the packing. Now, Mike could only lay with his foot elevated because of the open wound on his foot, but it didn't prevent me from feeling frustration at doing all the work! Packing to go home is never a fun job!
We got all packed up and got to the car. We had promised our 11-year-old daughter Renee that while in Florida, we would eat at the Golden Corral since we had never been to one before. After checking out, we headed right over. We had a fabulous time at the Golden Corral! We were so impressed by all of the food to select from, and we ended up spending at least an hour and a half to two hours -- eating and talking and laughing. Mike chatted with the busboy about where he was from and where we were from, and we loved how nice everyone was being to us. It was a fun meal together, and amazing for me to think it was our last family meal together.
We drove to the Orlando Airport and returned the rental car. We had rented a satellite radio that worked intermittently the entire trip, so Mike wheeled himself right up to the Customer Care and they refunded the price of the radio without any problems. Everything was going so smoothly!
We got our bags checked at curbside and went to security. We were prepared this time through with the wheelchair, etc., unlike how going through LAX had been. Security was fairly painless, and off to the monorail to go over to our gate. We joked on the monorail system how it was our last thrill ride of the trip -- completely unaware of the ride that was awaiting us ahead.
We got to our gate with just over an hour to spare, got the wheelchair tagged at the counter and the attendant indicated that she would try to get our seats changed to give Mike more leg room, We headed over to the coffee shop and got coffee and Danishes. It was nice to sit together and talk and laugh. We began talking about what the next trip was that we were going to save up for. This trip had been our daughter's idea (since she loves Harry Potter), and she had taken a butter container, cut a hole in it, wrote Vacation Fund on it, and over the months, we all put money in it to save up for our first all-family vacation. All our trips in the past had always been tied to my husband's union where he was there for a conference and Renee and I tagged along. That made for a lot of fun for Renee and I to share, but very little time for all three of us.
When it was time to board the plane, the attendant apologized that the flight was full to capacity with everyone checking in, so she could not adjust our seats. We were fine with it since our seats were close to the restrooms -- a plus for Mike who couldn't walk for any distances due to the open wound on the bottom of his foot. The crew got the special assist chair to wheel Mike back to his seat, and the three of us got boarded first. Renee's television in the seat was not changing channels, so prior to taking off, I switched seats with her allowing her to sit between Mom & Dad.
Exhausted from the trip, I reclined back and tried to take a nap. I could hear Mike and Renee chattering and laughing as they always did. When the stewardess would come by with food or drinks, Mike would wake me up to see if I wanted something. There were a few times he reached behind Renee to rub my shoulder or just put his hand on me since he knew I didn't really like flying and would usually keep my hand on his leg or arm for comfort and support.
Then my whole world forever changed.
Renee woke me up saying, "Dad said to wake you up. He's having trouble breathing!" I looked at him and thought he was having a seizure. His eyes were staring straight forward and he was slightly shaking. I patted his chest, his face, pinched at the skin on the inside of his arm and kept saying his name. Renee was trying to help and saying over and over in a panic, "Daddy!" I noticed the passenger across the aisle turn and look. Then my husband's head fell forward. I immediately called for the stewardess who was right in the back and said that my husband couldn't breathe.
Pandemonium. The call went out for any passengers with medical training to come to the back of the plane. It seemed like dozens of people rushed back. I grabbed Mike's blood monitor to see if possibly his sugar was low. No. It was high. Questions -- what medical conditions does he have, etc., etc. He's still sitting there, non-responsive. They finally pull him from the chair and lay him in the aisle. I see urine in the seat. Immediately my heart sank that I had just watched him die.
Renee and I sat and held hands while I'm hearing the efforts of the passengers trying to do CPR. All I can see is Mike's feet and hear the counting, the yelling to clear, hearing over and over that there is still no pulse. I have Renee looking at me asking if Dad is going to be okay. I can only shake my head and say, "I don't know."
The pilot announced that we were going to do an emergency landing for medical reasons. It seemed like right after the announcement that we went into a nose-down position. Again, flying scares me, but I was numb. I didn't know what we were going to do, what was going to happen. I just kept praying for God to let him breathe and have a pulse again.
When we landed, our plane fishtailed all over the place. I could see all the flashing lights of the emergency personnel, and the way the plane fishtailed, I thought we were going to flip it. I just remember thinking, "This is it. We are all going to die." We didn't flip. The plane eventually came to a stop, and the EMTs were on the plane. More questions and away they took him with Renee and I following in the aisle behind. I remember as we walked not making eye contact with anyone, but of course, I could see everyone was turned around in their seats watching us leave the plane.
The crew was there to give their prayers to us as we exited the plane, and we were told we would be taken by fire truck to the hospital. I don't really remember the ride. I remember logging in to my Facebook from my cell phone and typing that I needed prayers. I thought if I got thousands of people praying right away, Mike would be okay. I called my parents, and Renee asked if she could call her best friend.
We got to the hospital and got put into a doctor's dictation room. Within a few minutes, a doctor and two nurses came in, with one nurse saying she'd take my daughter to get something to drink. I immediately began to get sick. The doctor said that Mike had suffered a myocardial infarction and that despite the efforts on the plane, in the ambulance and there at the ER, they could not get his heart started again. They were going to call it. I refused. I felt in my gut that this was not over. The doctor disagreed and said that even if they got him back, the amount of time without ample oxygen to the brain could make him brain dead. COULD. I repeated that back to him and said, "But not 'he will be brain dead.'" The doctor agreed and then asked if I wanted to see what they were doing. Maybe he thought it would frighten me into saying "Let him go." He didn't know he was dealing with a person who had been a Court Reporter on death penalty cases and a person who had dealt with Mike's sicknesses and wounds for MANY years!
We went behind the curtain and I saw the EMTs pouring in sweat as they rotated doing chest compressions. I just stood there and watched. Within minutes, the doctor detected a pulse with the doppler at the groin. Then the nurse said they had a heartbeat. Everyone stopped and watched. The heartbeat kept going! The doctor looked at me with a thumbs up and said, "You did it. He's back."
I just went and sat down. The doctor came and sat next to me and I began apologizing profusely. He asked why I would apologize. I told him that I knew he wanted to give up but that he didn't understand who he had laying there. Mike was a fighter, and if there was any chance at all, he was going to be the one to survive this. I told him too many times in the past people gave up on him, and I couldn't allow this to be another time that someone gave up on him. Mike never gave up on anyone -- me, our daughter, the people he represented in the union for so many years, friends, family -- no one. I was not going to give up on him or allow someone else not to fight for him.
The staff began putting a cooling suit on Mike and packing him with bags of ice because research has shown in these types of cases that cooling of the body allows organs to not work so hard and the body to focus on regenerating the brain. Hours later, he was transferred to ICU where I began keeping a vigil of bouncing between the private waiting area where Renee slept and Mike's room across the hall.
As morning broke, the staff at Midland Memorial was wonderful and the patient advocate whisked Renee away from the hospital to spend time with her kids riding horses. Mike's organs were not working properly, so that afternoon, I had a priest come and administer Last Rites. However, right after the priest left, Mike's heart rate began improving! He went from the low 40s and gradually came up to the mid 60s! His potassium levels came within normal range. He produced a very, very trace amount of urine! I kept talking to him and guiding him through each of the numbers of his heartbeat, telling him how good he was doing and to just keep imagining his heart beating. I know the staff had given up on him -- I saw the whispering -- but I knew Mike was a fighter, and it seemed like he could hear me and was fighting!!
Before Renee had left, we had been told they did not expect him to live much longer and wanted me to sign a DNR. I couldn't do it. Renee spent time with her dad telling him goodbye. She was so strong and so stoic. She thanked Mike for being such a great dad for 11 years and told him how he was the best dad she could have ever asked for. She told him how she hoped that he had enjoyed the vacation because that's all she wanted, for all of us to have fun together. Then she asked if I knew any jokes! She is so much her father! She told some joke about a pilot and co-pilot, and then she got close to Mike and said, "And don't forget, Dad, it's Gryffindor!" Our entire trip revolving around Harry Potter, he had said the word every possible way but the right way. She then told him, "I love you," and she left.
That night, Mike continued with his heart rate in the mid-60s, and around 11:30, I crawled into the reclining chair to get some sleep. I told him that even though I was not right beside him, I was still in the room and to keep focusing on his heart beating.
Just after 3:00 a.m., a nurse woke me up to tell me that his heart rate had dropped into the 30s, they were bringing the crash cart and that I needed to leave. I walked to the private waiting room and just sat there. Then the alarms went off and they called Code Blue. I felt empty inside and knew he was gone. Then the doctor came to tell me they could not save him. My love -- the one I had gotten a second chance with -- was gone.
I sat there completely numb. I couldn't even cry. I was alone -- in an unfamiliar place, 17 hours away from home, with none of my friends or family anywhere close. My world had just come to a screeching halt. Mike didn't make it through this time.
I got up and went in to the room after they cleaned everything up. He just looked like he was sleeping. He had fought so hard with sicknesses and wounds for years, but he wasn't dying! So many keep saying, "Well, he had been sick and in pain for a long time." True, but HE WASN'T DYING! HE WAS SICK. He just needed someone to find the answers so we knew how to work with it and possibly fix it. We were fighting for answers to his illnesses. My Love had been talking and laughing on that plane and now he is gone.
My rock, my Marine had died. However, my Marine walked the Wall of Fire one last time and saved not only me & our daughter but a plane completely full of people from a landing in LAX that only can be assumed what would have happened flying for another two hours with leaking brake lines. For that, he is our HERO.