2013 STARTED OUT AS a great year. So, I never could have imagined that, before the year was over, I would not want to live or that every breath I took would be a struggle, a difficult decision, rather than an unconscious effort.
We ushered in the New Year in Hawaii. It was our last chance to spend a vacation together at my dad and stepmom’s house in Kona before they sold it and moved to the mainland. Justin, my blond, handsome, kind, and witty oldest son, and Wesley, the curly-headed life of the party who was also extremely good looking, were entertaining us with their general goofiness. Our kids took SCUBA lessons while we relaxed on the lanai, hiked, and planned our future as parents of young adults.
We had so much to look forward to. While our friends were dealing with empty-nest syndrome, my husband Randy and I were high-fiving each other that our hard work and love had paid off! Both of our sons were healthy and happy. Justin was going to graduate from Texas Tech University, and Wesley was doing well at A & M. We were feeling very free. Randy’s property management company was providing income without our having to work too hard. We had put in our eighty-hour weeks when we were younger, working in our previous business, and now it was smooth sailing.
We heard stories from our friends about how sad they were because they were now alone. We missed our kids (when we weren’t vacationing with them in Hawaii), but we were definitely not miserable. We chose to give up a lot of our freedom to be around our kids when they were growing up, sacrificing many chances for adult activities to hang out with them. We’d loved it, but now it was our turn.
Randy had started his newest career as an artist sculpting and painting beautiful and highly creative pieces, most with a spiritual theme. I was helping run the Palm House, a neighborhood outreach center that helped at-risk women and children, and had started writing a novel. Since I was a little girl, I had wanted to write a book. Finally, I had created a story about a teenage girl who was homeless because her single mother had died suddenly.
We worked, we traveled, and we designed. It dawned on us we were alone in the house for the first time in twenty-two years, and we acted like newlyweds all over again. We always made each other laugh. He was the king of corny “Dad” puns. He understood my dry sense of humor and liked it. The only hint of storms approaching came in April 2013, when Randy began limping from the escalating pain in his hips. He managed it with ibuprofen, though, and wondered if all the time he’d spent playing football had been worth it.
Compassion is not my strong suit, so when he began to complain, I assured him he could wait to address his pain until after Justin’s college graduation. So, he had an epidural to mask the pain and was told he needed both hips replaced because they were bone on bone. He was only fifty-three years old, however, and no one could explain why this was happening so early and so dramatically.
The epidural bought us a little time to concentrate on Justin. We were very proud and excited when he graduated at the top of his engineering class that May 2013. Then we helped him move to Houston, though by then, Randy was in pain all the time, so mostly he was just there for moral support.
We’d helped Justin look for a place to live, but when we finally found one, he couldn’t move in for a couple of months, so he stayed with a friend’s parents and commuted to his new “adult” job plus graduate school at Rice University. Justin and I were anxious at first, but Randy knew our son would put 100% into his work and school and be just fine. Randy was never a worrier. He had a fantastic balance of caring and not caring too much.
Finally, no matter how much I tried to delay the inevitable, it was time to address Randy’s pain. The doctor suggested he go to Ft. Worth for the hip surgery because he was afraid Randy might have a limp for the rest of his life if he had the procedure done in Abilene. The local surgeon only did posterior hip replacements, but our doctor believed Randy would have better success with an anterior hip replacement. Also, since Randy was so young and active, the doctor believed he shouldn’t settle for anything less than total mobility, and so he referred us to his colleague. I will question that decision to go out of town for surgery for the rest of my life. If my husband had stayed in Abilene, would the outcome have been different?
The first surgery was scheduled for the end of August 2013, after I went on an Alaskan cruise with Randy’s mom, Carolynn, his aunt, and sisters Shelley and Susan. The trip was a girls’ trip a present from Randy’s delightful eighty-five-year-old Aunt Norma. She had been taking us on a cruise once a year for years. Every year, Randy begged to go, and every year, she refused him, joking that we needed a vacation from him.
If I had to describe Randy with one word, it would be an adventurer and his pain was preventing him from his typical wanderlust. So, when good friends asked us to get on their boat in June of 2013 and take a trip on the Intercoastal Waterway, he immediately wanted to go. He wanted to squeeze this trip in before his surgery. Justin was settling in and getting to know Houston, and Wesley was working out of town as a camp counselor, so we were tempted. It didn’t matter that he was in pain. He knew he would be in pain at home, also, and this was a place he had never been before. Looking ahead, once August came, we wouldn’t be able to do much adventuring for at least the next half year, not with two hip replacement surgeries scheduled. And the thought of him being cooped up, recovering, was worse than the physical pain, so we agreed to go on the trip.
On the day after Memorial Day, I woke Randy up early, because we had to drop his black, hybrid SUV off for repair because it kept stalling. Also, we had been excited about packing for the boat trip. Randy was unusually groggy and didn’t want to get up, but finally, he did and got in the shower. He never would do much without a shower.
After he toweled off, I went into the bathroom and found blood on the floor and counter. I asked him what had happened. Did he fall? He was acting funny and said he had passed out.
I insisted we go to the doctor or the ER. He didn’t argue or act like his usual gentle macho self. He just agreed. He was dazed and confused—and not in a Led Zeppelin sort of way. He did say he felt fine, though. I called his doctor of twenty years and was told there were no appointments available, but that we could come to the lobby and wait. They would try to fit him in.
We waited, and I begged them to look at him. They were rude and busy and overworked, and they even asked if Randy had been drinking, because he was so out of it. He admitted to having a couple of drinks the night before, and then they pretty much wrote him off as being hung-over. They suggested, if I was so concerned, I take him across the street to the ER.
I have to live with the fact that I did not take him to the ER. Randy didn’t see the point of a substantial medical bill, since our deductible was very high. Rationally, I know it wasn’t my fault, as he was fully capable of making his own decisions and he wanted to wait at his own doctor’s office. If I could turn back the clock, I would have insisted he go to the ER. Maybe I would have called an ambulance instead of driving him to the doctor. I know it wasn’t logical to think this way, but logic comes from the front of the brain, while guilt, regret, and grief come from the middle of the brain, the emotional center, and I was operating emotionally; honestly, a little hysterically.
Finally, the PA saw him and said Randy had probably taken his blood pressure meds too close together late the night before and again early that day, which caused him to faint. He had had high blood pressure for about ten years that was controlled by medication. It was genetic; his sister Susan and father, Travis, also had it. Because he did hit his head on the way down, though, the doctor ordered an MRI, to rule out any head injury. So, Randy got the test, and we went home.
He kept telling me he felt fine, that it was his blood pressure meds, and not to worry. Then the doctor called and said Randy needed to see a neurologist because there was something on the MRI. It could be scar tissue from an old head injury, or he could have had a stroke. The earliest appointment available was at the beginning of July.
In typical Randy fashion, he took the news in stride, saying he was invincible, and insisted we go ahead with our plans for the boat trip. In fact, he took the mechanic’s report far worse than the news from his doctor. His car could not be fixed without replacing the engine.
It was not worth it, so, even though he was in too much pain to drive, we had to buy a new car. We didn’t get much for the trade-in, and it was a significant expense we hadn’t planned on, but we had no choice. We bought a Jeep for him to drive when he recovered and parked it in the driveway.
We went on our brief boat trip and saw beautiful scenery, all a great distraction from Randy’s pain. My anxiety about the upcoming neurologist appointment was more of an annoyance than his hips, though they hurt him a lot. As he waited to see the neurologist, he insisted he was not concerned at all and did not believe he had had a stroke. He was worried that the doctors might insist on delaying the hip-replacement surgery.
After what seemed like months, although it was only a few weeks, Randy met with the neurologist. First, the doctor asked him about any previous head injuries because there was a spot in his MRI. They were trying to figure out if it was scar tissue or a new issue. As a little boy, he had fallen out of a tree. Coupled with the fact that he knew the current president was Barack Obama, the neurologist said Randy did not have a stroke. The neurologist was friendly and funny. Randy tended to judge a doctor’s competence based on whether or not he liked his attitude. If the neurologist had had a lousy bedside manner, Randy would have found another doctor. Randy truly believed you better have an excellent reason not to smile.
The doctor confirmed the spot on the brain scan must have been scar tissue, because Randy didn’t have any clear signs of having had a stroke. However, to err on the side of caution, the doctor ordered a halter monitor test. Randy wore it for twenty- four hours, ruling out any possible cardiac reason for his passing out. His first hip replacement surgery was still on.
Randy had the choice of doing his pre-op tests with his doctor in Abilene, who could send the results over to the surgeon, or, he could have them done at the hospital in Ft. Worth. For convenience, we opted to do them in Abilene. That is decision number three that I have to live with. Maybe the other hospital would have found something during those tests. One of his pre-op tests was an echocardiogram, and he passed it and all the other tests that they ran.
In late June, Randy confessed to me he didn’t think he could endure the pain in his hips for another eight weeks until the surgery date in August. He was afraid to be alone while I went on the girl’s cruise because of his loss of mobility and the increasing need for pain management. I told him I wouldn’t leave him and would cancel the trip, even though I knew it would disappoint his family and waste his aunt’s money. However, before I had the chance to cancel my trip, the surgeon called and said he had a cancellation and could get Randy in sooner.
The first surgery was now scheduled for July 17, his dad’s birthday, and I was nervous. The night before we left for Ft. Worth, I admitted to Randy how scared I was that the surgery would not have a good outcome. The closer it got, the worse my “feeling” was. He assured me he knew he would live to be 100, and I believed him. We talked about what would happen when I died (first), and I got him to promise he would wait at least a year before getting remarried. I knew women would come out of the woodwork to help him in his time of need. I even had a few friends in mind for him. Thankfully, I was wrong.
The first total hip replacement was a breeze. Justin and Wesley came to the hospital to see their dad, and he was doing really well; we left him to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Joe T Garcia’s. Our very close friends, Paul and Kathy, were with us in the hospital and joined us for lunch.
We came home three days later, and Randy did his physical therapy. The home health nurse who was monitoring his mandatory blood thinners noticed his heart rate was low and called the doctor. The doctor reduced his blood pressure meds, and none of us thought about the issue again. No one asked to see him or ordered any cardiac tests.
Randy rehabbed quickly. He was so excited to be pain-free in his new titanium hip that he could hardly wait for October 21, the date of his second hip replacement, so he would not hurt anymore and could get on with his life. He had a lot to explore.
In the middle of August, I left for the family cruise. Wesley agreed to stay with Randy for a day. Then Randy’s dad, Travis, enthusiastically agreed to come to Abilene and “babysit” Randy after that, since he still was not supposed to drive, and I didn’t feel comfortable leaving him alone even though he felt fine.
Then, on my first night away, before we had actually boarded the ship, I got a call from Wesley that Randy was recovering from another surgery. Wesley and Randy had decided to see the new Wolverine movie and sat in the row with a handrail in front, which made a great ottoman.
Unfortunately, Randy lifted his leg to watch the movie and realized it was a wrong and painful decision. He wasn’t supposed to lift it higher than his knee. His artificial hip, which was not yet fully healed, came apart. In other words, his leg fell off, but his skin was still sutured, holding it in place.
When the movie was over—and not a minute before, because Randy insisted, he wanted to see the ending—Wesley and his friend, Patrick, carried Randy to the car and drove him to the ER.
In the ER, they tried putting the hip back in place without having to put him under general anesthesia but could not, hence the next surgery. By the time I heard about all this, Randy was at home feeling a little embarrassed for not following the doctor’s orders about lifting his leg. He insisted I not come home from my trip, assuring me I should not worry.
I continued with my plans. Randy’s dad arrived, and they enjoyed spending quality time together, playing the piano, eating out, and visiting. In West Texas that summer, we were in a drought, so they also drove to the lake north of Abilene, to see how low the water level was. On the way there, they drove around the brand-new veteran’s cemetery just because it was there. Randy had not seen it yet.
The rest of the rehab time was uneventful, and the better Randy felt, the more he did and the more he looked forward to October 21. Since the second surgery was within ninety days of the first surgery, no pre-op tests were done. They approved the operation based on the previous results. I was not nervous this time, because the first hip replacement had gone so well.
On the day of the surgery, he was to arrive at the hospital at 6 AM that morning. He was congested and needed to clear his throat. This was not unusual; he’d had allergies his whole life. He told me not to inform the doctor he was congested, because he was afraid they would postpone the surgery, and he wanted it over with. He said he was really good at having surgery.
The first two hours I waited were easy. However, then another two hours passed, and I grew very nervous because he’d been in and out of the first surgery in less than three hours. Eventually, they came out and told me the surgery had gone well, but he was having trouble in recovery. They were monitoring him closely because he hadn’t woken up in a reasonable amount of time.
Finally, they let me see him, and he was sitting up and drinking juice, joking around, and in a great mood, as always. I immediately was put at ease. Friends came and stayed with me for the three days he was in the hospital, and it was kind of fun. We talked and laughed and worried about another friend who had taken a turn for the worse battling cancer. I told the kids not to travel to Ft. Worth from College Station and Houston because their father was doing so well. They could see him at Thanksgiving.
On October 24, we were ready to go home to Abilene. No more hospitals or pain in the future, just recovery. While we waited for the doctor to release him, Randy was coughing. I found his nurse and told her about it. She said something about getting a chest X-ray, but she was swamped. She came into the room, listened to his chest, and decided all he needed was a Benadryl, which she gave him.
My dear friend of twenty-three years, Maria, came to drive us home. My close friend, Mandy, had been at the hospital, waiting and keeping us company for two days, but had left the day before. On the way home, we stopped and got lunch. Randy had his favorite meal—a cheeseburger and fried okra; he walked into the restaurant by himself and had a great appetite. During the entire two-and-a-half-hour drive home, he talked with Maria while she drove and I slept in the back seat. I hated driving in city traffic, and I hated going over overpasses, so Randy drove us most of the time. I was grateful Maria was there because I was so worn out. I think I finally gave myself permission to rest.
Even though Randy was the one who had been in constant pain, the last three months had taken a toll on me, too. I had to watch him in agony, and every time he winced or groaned or needed a pain pill, I felt it, also. He couldn’t get comfortable, and for the first time in the thirty years I’d known him, he had not been happy. Seeing him like that had been horrible for me, the world’s worst caregiver. So yes, I was so glad it was over, and we could go back to our routine, fun, active life.
When we got home, we both looked at the four days’ worth of mail and greeted Bagel, our dog (we always named all our animals after carbohydrates). Then, Randy wanted to take a nap, because he didn’t get much sleep in the hospital. The night before, the alarm attached to his finger had kept going off; each time, the nurse had come in and told him he needed to keep the monitor on his finger. He’d always assured the nurse it had been on his finger, but since his vitals were normal, nothing was done.
I lay down with him and slept for about thirty minutes. At 5 PM, I asked him if he wanted to sleep some more, and he said he did. I was glad he was getting some good and needed rest, which I figured would help with his healing process.
At about 6 PM, I ordered Chinese food and had it delivered. When it arrived, I looked in on Randy, but he was still asleep.
I didn’t wake him to eat, because he’d had a big lunch and I figured he still needed the rest. At about 8 PM, I checked on him again, and he was still sleeping. My mother called, and I told her he was fine.
Finally, at 9:00 PM, after I’d watched the episode of Grey’s Anatomy I had recorded, I decided to wake him to give him a pain pill.
I went into the bedroom, turned on the lamp, and told him to get up and walk a bit. He didn’t respond. I shook him. Nothing. I had taken his cell phone and the house phone out of the bedroom, so he wouldn’t be disturbed. Had he wanted to call for help but been unable to? I will never know.
When I couldn’t wake him, I ran for the phone and called 911, screaming that my husband was unresponsive. I performed chest compressions for an endless amount of time while the operator assured me the paramedics were on the way. Finally, what seemed like twenty police officers and EMS personnel arrived all at once, telling me to get back. For a while, I sat on the chaise lounge in the bedroom, the same one the kids had slept on when they were little whenever they’d had a bad dream.
Then the police had to restrain me because I wanted to go to Randy, and I was screaming. The first responders asked me if there was anyone who could take me to the hospital.
I called my friend Donna, who lived down the street. I went into the bathroom to put on clothes. I distinctly remember how complicated the process was of putting on my bra. I wanted so desperately to hurry, and yet I was moving in slow motion. The only reason I was even getting dressed was that someone had told me to do it. My own rational thought was gone and until then I had been only wearing a nightshirt.
I came out of the bathroom and saw so many emergency medical personnel as well as the police, I started screaming again. Why were they still there? Why hadn’t they left with Randy in the ambulance? When I say screaming, I don’t mean barking orders; I mean hysterical, guttural screams I had never heard before from myself or anyone else.
But Randy was en route to the hospital, the police assured me, and we left in Donna’s car a minute or two behind the ambulance. Though Donna had lived in Abilene the same length of time I had, about twenty-five years, she took a wrong turn getting to the hospital. I didn’t correct her because I was unable to speak.