A night to remember

Missy, Suzy, Mila & ChrisFor those of you who knew Missy, this will no doubt be a tough post to read. I won’t be offended if you decide to skip it. I can’t sleep, I feel like writing, and after nearly 11 years, this story still resonates in my mind. Details are fuzzier now, which I suppose is a good thing. The mind has an amazing ability to block out painful things.

I may have blogged about this before, the words seem to be repeating. Then again, I’ve laid out this post so many times over that it could just be for that reason alone that it all sounds familiar.

I was in college when this all happened. It was, in fact, the week before I was scheduled to interview for internships with some of the leading firms in the accounting world. Ten years prior, Missy had followed this same path. Jumping through the same hoops, schmoozing with the same type of people, basically just trying to get your foot far enough in the door to get remembered. As such, I’d been emailing her and trying to coordinate a time we could meet to discuss interviews. February was a busy time of year for her, given it was tax and audit season. But she carved time out for me regardless, agreeing to meet that Saturday afternoon when I planned to come home for a visit.

Thursday night was nothing out of the ordinary for me. I went to class, then work, came home, had dinner, then sat down to do some homework. The business program seldom had Friday classes – most were scheduled Monday through Thursday. This was an awesome thing for us business students, giving us a three day weekend most quarters and making us the envy of the other areas of study. It was unfortunate for me, however, that I was stuck in the one Friday class that everyone had to take at some point in the duration of their stay. Thursday nights were still popular for going out, so there were many, many days my fellow students and I stumbled into class quite hungover from the night before. But, I digress. I was signed up for said Friday class, so, homework awaited. I pushed through the lesson, uninspired to finish it. Because of the low attendance in Friday classes, the instructor made homework and attendance mandatory each week, and weighted each heavily to boot. You could secure 30% of your grade simply by completing the homework and showing up. Still, I couldn’t muster up enough desire to finish this assignment. Maybe I would wake early the next morning to complete it before class, but it was 1am, and I just didn’t care anymore.

I went to bed already packed to head out the next day. This was unusual for me, given that I usually waited until the last minute to get things done. Most trips home meant I rushed around after class, hastily throwing things in a bag and running out the door. Tonight, though, I was packed and ready to go.

I set the alarm and climbed into bed, expecting to clock about 6 hours of sleep before class the next day. I don’t remember if I dreamed or not. I usually did, but it must not have been monumental, because it slipped away the moment my phone rang. It was 3am. My parents were calling. This couldn’t be good. I can’t remember now if it was my mom or dad on the phone. Strange how that detail is gone. I think it might have been my mom. I remember getting the call, and someone telling me that Missy was in the hospital and in a coma. My response was immediate, I’ll leave right now. No, no, they said. Wait until morning to come. But I insisted. I was already awake, and wasn’t going back to sleep, so I’d be more tired 3 hours from now than if I just left then. This made perfect sense in my already sleep deprived brain.

Grabbing my bag, I was out the door by 3:30 am. The air outside was cool and crisp. The weather in my college town was always amazing, and the coastal night chill couldn’t be beat. It was refreshing to my tired and now frantic mind. Just what I needed to get moving. I climbed in to my white 1991 Acura Integra and got on the road.

The drive home was usually a solid three and a half hours. Four if you were being conservative, three fifteen if you really pushed it. I did it that night in three.

All sorts of things ran through my head as I drove. I really had no idea what had happened or what condition Missy was in. I had this theory that if I played out the worst possible scenario in my head, then it couldn’t possibly happen. It would wipe it from existence somehow. Part of me felt guilty for thinking of this possibility that she could die. A big part. I couldn’t bear to think about it. But I did. What would play out in the days that followed, how would life go on after she was gone. Maybe this was my brain’s way of preparing for the worst, even if it was done under other pretenses.

I called my cousin, Missy’s sister, around 6 am. I remember asking her what happened, and her telling me that Missy’s heart had stopped the night before. They’d gotten it started again, but she was in ICU. I remember thinking, although I don’t know if I said this aloud, But, she’ll be fine, right? There was no other option in my mind. Although I’d played out the alternative, it wasn’t a realistic option. It would never really happen.

I arrived at the hospital around 6:30 am. It was sunny by the time I got there. The sun was peeking up from behind the hospital building. I hated the sun that morning. Bright and blaring against my sleep deprived and over caffeinated pupils. The waiting room inside was much darker and more forgiving on my eyes. I think they dimmed the lights to allow sleep for anyone who could manage it. I was upset to find out that visiting hours in the ICU were not allowed between 6am and 9am. Damn. I’d just missed them. I was crushed. Already in a fragile emotional state, this just topped it for me.

Making things worse, the hospital had a policy that immediate family could supersede the visiting hours and go in as desired. Missy’s sister in laws used their "sister" title and were able to come and go as they pleased, while I was left out in the hall agonizing over her condition. I suppose I could have just lied to get in, but, honestly, the thought never crossed my mind.

The waiting room outside ICU was rather posh. It was somewhat unsettling to be in this "better than average" waiting room. A fish tank with tropical fish adorned the wall, providing a calming and tranquil effect. A circular couch in the center of the room, foliage protruding from the center. Even odder, just outside this VIP waiting area was a standard hospital waiting room. Separated by just a hall. It was as if we were divvied up by mortality rates. You people, visiting those last likely to die, over here in these substandard, poorly padded chairs. Don’t stay too long. You people, visiting those most likely to die, come to our oasis spa room. Pedicures to the left, massages to the right. We want you to be comfortable while coming to terms with the likely loss of your loved one.

Left with several hours to spare before visiting hours reopened, and going off too little sleep already, I took my parents suggestion that they drive me home with them and we come back later that morning. I remember the drive home vaguely. Mostly I was tired and upset. I didn’t think I could sleep, but I’m pretty sure I did. There wasn’t anything we could do at the hospital anyway, so us being there really had no value beyond our own personal feeling of comfort it brought to be near her.

I went to get a haircut that morning. I needed one before my interviews, and now seemed like as good of a time as any. I went to a place downtown that I’d been to once before. They did a good job previously, but, mostly, they were cheap, and that appealed to my anemic college bank account. I went in asking for a shorter cut with some layers. Too cheap to pay the extra five bucks to have my hair blow dried, I went on my way with wet hair, outcome unknown. Thanks to the open windows in my car and the chilly February air, my hair was mostly dry by the time I got home. Unfortunately, when I saw the results, I was less than happy. Short cut? Yes. Layers? Definitely not. What should have been a mildly upsetting experience became a devastating one. My mom suggested that I go back and see if they would add the layers as originally requested. A reasonable solution. I dried my tears and headed back to the salon. The hairdresser I’d worked with didn’t seem too happy with my coming back, but obliged my request. Sitting me in the chair, she said, "You want layers? OK, I’ll give you layers." And grabbing a piece of hair from the top of my head, chopped it to no longer than 3 inches. Gasp! Not quite what I was going for, but she knew that, the vindictive witch, and continued on her merry way. What a jerk. Had she known everything else that was going on, she might have acted a little kinder. Instead, she behaved like a 12 year old kid who hadn’t gotten her way. A bad haircut gone worse. It took an incredibly long time to grow that out. Headbands and clips became my best friend for months.

Much of the rest of the weekend is a blur. One day blended in with the next. I think I went in to see Missy shortly after the failed hair cut. I remember talking to get about the horrible haircut I’d gotten, and telling her she needed to wake up so she could tell me it didn’t look that bad and help me fix it. I remember going to Walmart and putting together a goodie box for when she woke up. Lip gloss, shower sponge, playing cards and the like. I put it all in a small clear plastic tub with a purple lid. I bought a matching one for myself, which I still have today. I was so sure she was going to wake up, and would be missing those little luxuries from home. I remember sitting in the waiting room… a lot. I remember her doctor (who was also her brother in law) talking to us. I think we got a more frank story because of his connection to our family. Missy’s husband asked what her chances were. He responded 70/30. I think this was Saturday morning. I took that to mean she had a 70% chance of survival… I guess I heard what we wanted, though, because when I discussed it with her husband well after the fact, he was certain it was clear that the stats were stacked the other way.

By Sunday, things had gone from bad to worse for Missy. Her body was retaining an incredible amount of fluid as they tried to pump more medicine in to her, but she  started to excrete the meds as quickly as they gave them. She had little to no brain activity and her organs were taxed. It seemed to be a losing battle.

Sometime on Sunday, her immediate family had to make the heart wrenching decision of whether or not to continue life support. We were unaware this was happening in the background. At least, I was unaware. It was for the best, but I still felt shocked when, shortly after we’d returned from the hospital, we heard the news that life support would be turned off that night. We had just been there, why didn’t anyone tell us then? No matter, we piled back in to the car and drove back the thirty miles to the hospital.

They turned off life support around 8:30 pm. She held on for nearly four hours after, taking ragged, shallow breaths by the end. Her friends and family surrounded her in that tiny ICU room. We sang to her and said our goodbyes. I think I remember her husband and sister were to my left, up near her head and arm. I had my hand on her shin when she stopped breathing.

We stood there in silence. I suddenly understood what was meant when someone says the silence was deafening. I started to feel claustrophobic, as if there wasn’t enough air to breathe in that tiny room. My chest felt like it was collapsing… my heart was crushed inside, and everything ached. All I could think of was getting out of that room, and fast. I pushed my way out and sprinted down the hall. I realized there was no where to run to. The crushing feeling was still there. Grief overwhelmed every one of my senses.

My brother hadn’t been there when Missy passed away. He’d needed to return to school that morning. I found myself sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall in the main waiting area… the one without the fish tank. I couldn’t go back in to the place we’d spent all those hours hoping Missy would pull through. I pulled out my stubby, bright green Nokia phone and called my brother. When he answered, I blurted out, "Missy’s dead." and broke down. I didn’t care that people were staring. I didn’t care if I was upsetting anyone. I didn’t care that I was getting odd looks from people as they exited the elevator. I don’t even know what else we talked about on that phone call. Or how long it lasted. I don’t remember going home, or sleeping that night, although I know I did.

The funeral was later that week. I went back to school for interviews Tuesday through Thursday, then came home again for the funeral on Friday. Wednesday was Valentine’s day. Years earlier, my grandfathers funeral was on Valentine’s day. Needless to say, that’s not my favorite holiday. I remember one interviewer asking me about the most difficult thing I’d ever had to do. I told him that my mentor and role model had passed away Monday morning, and I came back to school for interviews because she would have wanted me to. I got the job.

Months after her death, I searched through my email account looking for that last message from her. I was crushed to realize that many of my old emails had been purged from my inbox, including the last message from Missy about our Saturday meeting. Maybe it was a standard thing back then for email providers to delete old stuff – I never would have realized had I not specifically sought out that last message from her. Maybe it was just a fluke that all my emails prior to a certain date were gone. It’s never happened again, so I can’t be sure. It was heartbreaking nonetheless.

Sorry this one was long. It felt good to get it out, though.


1 Response to “A night to remember”

  1. 1 Ben December 16, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    Powerful story. Heart-wrenching and touching. Thanks for sharing.

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Mom to "C", wife to Ben. I'm a part-time blogger, cook, organizer, seamstress, house cleaner, taxi, nurse (the mom kind), accountant... I could go on, but really... it's all in the blog. Read away!

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