‘The Rebar Is Cut Wrong’
Those are the words my best friend whispered to me as they prepared him to be life flighted for emergency brain surgery. The doctors told us he was dying, and his chances of surviving were very small. But, the moment he whispered those words to me, I knew that my Dave wasn’t going to die that day or the next, if he had anything to say about it. He had a house to build, and I obviously couldn’t be trusted to cut the rebar correctly 😉 .
The First Thursday of the Rest of Our Lives
It was August 18th, 2015 and like most days that summer, the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was hotter than normal. Dave had been taking off every Thursday from his regular 4 day a week job, to work on the house, giving him 4 days a week to make some forward progress. It had been a tough couple of days and the stress of the build was starting to take its toll on us. We’d had a disagreement that morning before I left for work, and it was weighing heavily on my heart. Around 10:45 I messaged him and told him I was sorry, that I loved him and that there was no one else I’d rather do this life with. He messaged back the same, and the weight was lifted from both of us.
Dave is a creature of habit, and his lunch is always at 11:30 during his work week, and so at 11:30, he sent me his normal daily lunch check-in message telling me he was working on the rebar for the railing and that he loved me. All is well with him.
At 11:48am I received a phone call from Dave – not typical of him to call me, and even if he does, I rarely answer my phone when I am at work. But something told me to pick it up, and so I did. The moment I heard his voice, I knew that something wasn’t right. He, barely audible, said that there was something wrong with his arm and he couldn’t hold onto his phone. He said he kept dropping it. I told him to just hold on, that I was on my way. My heart dropped – with my limited knowledge, I was sure he had had a heart attack based on the way he sounded and that he couldn’t feel his arm. He was just 46, how could this be happening?
I rushed from my office, calling my employer on the way, telling him that something was wrong with Dave and I had to go check on him. He asked me if I had called 911 and I said, ‘no, but I will right now.’ Thankfully he instructed me to do that, because in my panic, I hadn’t even thought that far. I dialed 911 as I raced towards our home, which is about 10 minutes away from my work on a normal day – that day it took me about 5 minutes. I told the operator that my fiance had just called me and he couldn’t feel his arm and said he didn’t feel good. They said that they would send an emergency vehicle immediately, and asked me to stay on the line with them until I got to Dave.
The crazy thing is, we don’t have cell phone service the majority of the way to our home. There is a huge dead zone, but I never dropped that call. The 911 operator was with me the entire time as I raced through the valley and up our long gravel driveway, trying to stay the panic that was threatening to wash over me, praying silently to make it in time. I could already hear the emergency vehicle in the background and I knew that they were only a minute or 2 behind me; the benefit of living in a small town.
I flew down our hill, as fast as my car would allow and pulled into our driveway. The sight that met me was worse than I had imagined. There stood my boy, in the driveway, with his pants unbuckled, struggling to get them closed. When he heard me, which seemed to be a very delayed response, he looked up and I knew – I knew that something was terribly, terribly wrong, much worse than a heart attack.
The entire right side of his face was completely drooped – his right eye almost sagged shut, his mouth hanging drooping, his right arm hanging limply at his side. His right leg half a step behind his left and at a funny angle. He didn’t even seem aware that his body was betraying him.
I raced to him and the words he stuttered to me, shook my world and broke my heart simultaneously, but where yet another miracle. He leaned against me, flung his good arm around me, with his pants still hanging around his hips and said, ‘I’m glad you made it. I was waiting for you before I went to sleep.’
I put my arms around him and helped him struggle to a lawn chair we had set up nearby. I eased him down, and prayed silently that the ambulance would hurry, because he was deteriorating before my eyes, and I didn’t even know what was wrong, but I suspected he’d had a stroke. I held him, buckled up his pants (he had to go to the bathroom and couldn’t figure out why his arm wouldn’t work to buckled back up his pants.) He struggled to say that he couldn’t hold onto his phone, and he didn’t know where it was. I looked down our hill slightly, and there it was, on the ground where it had fallen out of his hand that he could no longer feel. I am not sure how he was able to hold onto it to call me, except sheer will power, and another miracle!
I leaned into him as he sat in that chair, fading quickly, whispering words of encouragement, wrapping my arms around him, comforting him, reassuring him that I was here now and I wouldn’t be leaving him. His left eye was glazed over with fear, his right eye, barely open. His speech was getting worse; he could barely whisper to me. He kept saying over and over, thank you, thank you, thank you. I thanked him for waiting for me. I held him until the emergency vehicles pulled into our driveway. It was only a couple of minutes, but to me, holding my best friend as he faded so quickly before my eyes, it seemed like an eternity.
The EMT immediately started evaluating Dave, and transferred him to a gurney and within a couple of minutes, we were racing down the road. They put me in the front seat of the ambulance, not telling me anything. The driver again asked me the timeline and what had happened. By this time, we were about 12 minutes from the time that Dave initially called me. How could 12 minutes feel like 12 hours? I tried to relay what I knew, Dave’s health status – healthy as a horse, no pre-existing conditions, no high blood pressure, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, very active. We were building this house, working 100 plus hours a week – I am not sure you get more active than that. The ambulance raced towards the small hospital that was in the next town over, about a 10 minute drive. I could hear that the EMT’s in the back were calling in details to the waiting emergency room, but the driver kept trying to make small talk with me, distracting me, I am sure and I couldn’t tell what they were saying about Dave.
When we pulled up to the emergency room, there were doctors and nurses waiting for us. I looked over and the Chaplin was opening my door and helping me out – and that was the minute that I knew. That was the exact instant that I realized that this was way more serious than I had even imagined in the past 20 minutes. The Chaplin took me to the side while the emergency personal evaluated Dave and started to rush him inside the ER. But then, the emergency vehicle driver asked for a signature for the patient, and my strong Dave caught my eye and I knew that he wanted to sign. Time felt like it stood still as the attendant walked over to Dave and Dave, took the pen and every so slowly, in his long hand signature form, wrote out his name. It seemed like it took forever, but in that moment, I knew my boy was going to fight as hard as he could to not leave me. He was fighting to sign that form the same way he had fought to stay awake until I had arrived at our home, just a short while ago. You see, Dave had heard what they were saying in the back of the ambulance – he knew how serious he was, even though at that time I didn’t. And because my Dave is the strongest and most stubborn man alive, during that ride, he made a decision that he wasn’t going to sleep. He was afraid that if he went to sleep, he wouldn’t wake up. He realized, even as his body completely gave up on him, that his will was stronger than his body. And so, he showed his will to survive in that signature. Once he was done, he handed back the pen and they proceeded to rush him through the doors of the ER.
The Chaplin didn’t leave my side as the nurses got as much information from me as they could about Dave. His age (I accidentally aged him 10 years by giving them the wrong year of birth, whoopsy 😉 ), health status – they ask the same questions, over and over. I just kept asking them if I could see him and to please tell me what was going on. After what seemed like forever, but was probably less than 10 minutes, a doctor came to me and the Chaplin grabbed my hand – I still thought that was weird. The doctor then in a quiet calm voice told me that they had just completed a CT scan on Dave and that he had suffered an Intracranial Hemorrhage, a bleed, deep within his brain that was still bleeding and he needed to have emergency surgery. Unfortunately, they aren’t equipped for that kind of surgery at that small hospital, so he then told me that they would be life flying him to Portland immediately for the surgery. It took all of 30 seconds for the doctor to give me that life altering news, and then he rushed back into Dave’s room. I stood there, all alone, except for the Chaplin that was holding my hand still. She asked if there was anyone that I would like her to call, and I told her my sister, Shannon. She asked for her number and I gave it to her and she immediately turned away to make the call. I stood there in the hallway, holding back the panic, holding back the fear, holding back the terror that was rushing through me. How can this be happening? He is healthy – this doesn’t happen to 46 year old healthy people. The Chaplin returned within a minute and said that my sister was on her way. I asked her if I could see Dave and she asked and then took me to his room. There were machines and lights and people everywhere, but he was sitting up and as soon as I walked in the room, he looked to me and I could see that the terror I felt, was matched only by the terror he was feeling. I walked over to him, leaned in close because by this time, he could barely talk and he whispered to me – ‘The rebar is cut wrong.’
What did you just say to me, dear man that is lying in a hospital room, dying??!? Oh, my heart sang – he wasn’t done fighting, he wasn’t done living, he didn’t care what they were saying, he wasn’t done. He whispered, ‘I don’t have time to die, I have a house to finish.’ That is right, my hero, we have a house to finish, and you aren’t going to die. We are going to fight together and make sure of it. He then whispered, ‘I need you to be in charge.’
We weren’t married, and so his next of kin, his mother would be relied upon to make all of his medical decisions, if Dave became incapable of making them himself, and Dave didn’t want that. He wanted me to – and so, I looked to the Chaplin that was standing at my elbow and told her what Dave had said, and how can we make this happen? I needed to be his medical power of attorney. She told us to hold on, she would be right back and rushed from the room. Probably, she should have said that there was nothing that could be done, because Dave’s brain was already compromised, but she didn’t. She saw what we had together, even in the few short minutes that she stood there observing us. And so that sweet Chaplin moved heaven and earth for us in the 5 minutes that we had before life flight arrived to airlift my boy to brain surgery in a hospital an hour away. She was back in minutes with the forms, and a witness. She asked us to sign and again, Dave slowly and painstakingly signed his signature in his beautiful script long hand. The life flight crew was standing behind us waiting at that time, waiting for Dave and me to finish this important detail. The detail that gave him peace of mind that I would move heaven and earth for him too – that I would do everything in my power to get him the very best care possible.
I looked him in his eyes and told him I would be waiting for him in Portland, leaned in and kissed him for what may have been the very last time and stepped aside for the flight crew to place him in a flight bag, strap him to the gurney and whisk him to the roof. By this time, my sister had arrived, although I don’t remember, just realized that she was at my side on the elevator ride to the roof. They let me follow and Dave never took his eyes off mine. In the last 30 minutes they had told us that Dave may not live through the surgery, they made me sign releases for the liability of the life flight (yes, he could crash and die on the way), they told us that his prognosis was very poor. But, looking into his eyes, I knew that if he had anything to do with it, he would survive and thrive. With my eyes, I told him the same thing – if I had anything to do with what happens next, he would not only survive, but he would thrive.
I watched with tears streaming down my face as they loaded him into that helicopter, knowing by this time, that it may be the last time I saw him alive – there are no words for that depth of fear and pain I felt in that moment. My only peace came from my constant prayer for the last 35 minutes, ‘Please Jesus, save him. Please.’
And then, with the same fighting spirit that Dave had shown in the last 35 minutes, he looked out the window of the helicopter as it started, lifted his hand and blew me a kiss. Be still my beating heart!
We later learned that had Dave succumbed to the sleep that was calling his name, the chances he would have woken up, were about 15%. If he had woken up, the chances he would have had the recovery that he has experienced over the past 4 years, less than 3%. The long term survival rate for the type of bleed that Dave had is less than 13%, and that is a recovered survival rate, that is just the survival rate. There are no studies past 7 years, because there are very few survivors.
It would have been so easy for my boy to just go to sleep because that was his initial thought, that he was so tired and maybe he would just lay down in our 5th wheel that was parked at the property and take a little nap. Later, I also learned that he didn’t want to bother me at work, so he didn’t initially call me. He called both our daughters first, but as they were in class, they didn’t answer his call.
HE ALMOST DIDN’T CALL ME – HE ALMOST JUST WENT TO SLEEP WITHOUT ME. This is the most amazing miracle of all – that he waited for me. For as long as I live I will never forget him uttering those words to me as he fell into my arms. Even now, as I am writing this, tears are on my cheeks as I remember the memories and feelings of that day.
Our brains are like very complex computers, and like a computer when you shut it down when it has a bad virus, it doesn’t always boot back up. Because Dave never let his ‘computer’ shut down, his brain started to make alternative routes of communication around the bleed and the damage that the bleed was causing. These alternative connections/rewiring of his brain started to happen almost immediately. The brain is an amazing organ, and when stimulated correctly, can do amazing things. If it is even a possibility, don’t go to sleep when you think you might have experienced a stroke or brain bleed. Try not to let your ‘computer shut off’, but instead allow your brain to start rewiring itself. This rewiring can start to happen within as little as 20 minutes of injury.
I know this is a long, emotional post and there is much more to our story and build, but for myself, I need to get this part of our story documented. Dave is my hero. Our story is hard, complex, and full of joy, hope and love. So much has changed for us since that sunny day in August 4 years ago, but I am not sure we would change any of it. It has molded us into the people we are today. His bleed has defined our journey and build in a way nothing else could have. His bleed allowed us to see and recognize miracle after miracle taking place, not just that day, but every single day since. God saved Dave’s life and our shipping container home build have him a reason to get up every day and fight to regain our life back. Our journey and Dave’s bleed allowed us to let love shine, to let perseverance prevail and let hope take flight ~
To be continued…
All our love,
Jaimie & Dave