Monday, July 18, 2011

120 petals I could not catch

I remember it like it was just three hours ago:
a hot Sunday---July 17th,
we were at the neighbors' for a cookout
and my son was being a nuisance, eating anything orphaned, however briefly,
and bumping into anyone with a dish full of anything
so I walked him home and left him to play in the backyard
I came back twenty minutes later to make sure he wasn't getting sunburned
and found him lying on the slate patio, blowing bubbles in his throat in short muddy breaths
like a genetically deficient pug,
trying to get something up that would never come.
I picked him up to gently Heimlich him
and his stomach was notably distended
like he'd swallowed a bowling ball
I tried to coax the ball up his throat but it was stubborn
He drooled thick white foam on my flip-flops and refused to drink anything
I called the Emergency Room and they told me to bring him down
so I put him in the back seat and raced across the Freemont Bridge
talking to him calmly about how funny it would be when they diagnosed it as a bad case of gas
and how they would still charge me an obscene amount of money
and how I was going to make him work it off all summer
but his eyes were shifty like a caught rabbit
and his breath was quieting,
so I didn't dare turn on the radio.

The waiting room was a tragedy menagerie: a cat with a broken tail, a Pomeranian with whooping cough, a Boston Terrier who hadn't pooped in days.
At the front desk I was very calm
I told the woman that my son was choking and she interrupted the Roseanne Arnold-look-alike accosting her about an overweight labrador to call out over the PA, "Triage needed immediately!"

A young vet tech with a skater cut burst through the double doors and took my son
I tried to explain his entire medical history in a sentence or two
she nodded and nodded and they disappeared through the double doors

I was given a clipboard
with all sorts of releasing on there
I filled it out with a shaky hand
and blotted the ink with some stray tears
I signed and initialed everywhere
check, check, check, check - make him ok

They delivered me to a small room
where a surprisingly young doctor came in
---either she was still in college or I'd aged ten years in that waiting room---
she told me he was suffering from gastric dilation, which lead to torsion (wherein his stomach flipped and cut off some important blood flow)
and that they'd anesthetized him, put him on an IV,
and poked a hole in his stomach to let all the excess air out
He was stable now, but they needed x-rays.
Yes, yes, do whatever it takes - Can I see him?
"Unfortunately that's against policy"

She left and I thumbed my phone
I wanted to call my way out of that moment
share the wealth, as it were
but it seemed cowardly
so I focused myself on a spot between my shoes,
watching tears settle there,
and cut my breaths into halves:
inhaling was the Birth of All Things
exhaling was the Death of All Things
I dreamt a time-lapsed film of a flower's life cycle
and I tried to watch it
But still my fingers crawled into my pocket, hoping to spill my fear onto someone via text message
I pushed my cheek into the wall,
watching the flower in the black spots I made there
and tried to breath in time with its whole life

The girl came in again with the x-ray results
and I pitied her, always in the position of corralling the distraught customer towards an inevitable solution
I asked her to call my son's regular doctor
I wanted to hear someone make a case for the $8k surgery
She promised to try to find his number, and scooted out of the room

Once alone, I cracked faster that time
it was becoming harder and harder for me to compose myself
I could not find the flower, and I couldn't find enough tissue to keep my eyes clear
I could not control my breathing
I held my chest like my heart had come loose
"What is the lesson?" I asked myself.
"Sometimes you must make a decision without the time it takes to understand how you got there," I answered.

My son's doctor called me and tried to put a positive spin on things.
He said I could think about it as an "Easy way out," since we were already struggling with other medical issues.
I thanked him and hung up, called the girl to make plans for euthanasia

She quickly walked me to my son and told me, "Take as much time as you need"
He was really drifting, though, breathing laboriously, he wasn't looking anywhere
every minute he was alive, he was in pain
so after two minutes of rubbing his head and trying to remember every thing he ever did,
I told her to proceed

It was 9:35

She told me to talk to him while he went and I even joked
"His ears haven't worked for a long time."
"He knows you're here," cooed the sympathy girl, pushing a needle into his arm
I wanted to tell her that I didn't need a Death Coach
and I know what he knows
but I felt every second of those two minutes drip off of us
down a dark passage through the sterilized floor
120 petals I could not catch
I cursed myself for every moment that I looked away from him
because I didn't want him to see his dad broken

"He's gone," she told me

but he was still warm and I felt a pulse so I asked her, "Are you sure? His heart stopped?"
"Yes... I'm sorry for your loss."
It occurred to me that it was my heart pounding through my fingertips and onto his neck
and for a moment I believed I could bring him back that way

then I snapped to, rushing things - I knew that my coherence was subsiding
so I asked for the remaining paperwork.
They put me in a gentle room with tissue boxes everywhere,
soft lights and free bottled water.
Everything calligraphied, cross-stitched, and beige

When the money woman came,
I refused the Commemorative Handprint option
the sealed lock of hair (as there was still plenty strewn about my house),
and the $390 cremation.
"I will bury him myself"
She spoke to me like I was an egg-shell, nodding her head before I finished my sentences.
She gave me a pamphlet about coping with loss

I was very polite,
I thanked the doctor for being so frank with me about my lack of choices
I thanked her for giving me time to hold him
I thanked the money woman for charging my credit card $479.30
I apologized for using so many tissues
I apologized myself out of existence
I wanted to be the greatest ex-dad this Emergency Room had ever seen.

Two thick women wrapped my son in a white blanket and wheeled his body out to my car
"Sorry for your loss, sorry for your loss" they sang in a round, as I closed the back door and drove home.

When I went in our house, I picked up each of his things and put them in a closet
so I wouldn't see them when my feelings came back
I took the shovel out of the garage and cut a hole in the earth outside my studio window
I went inside and shined the desk lamp out there so I could work into the night
my dear friends walked over and helped me dig
each more reverent than I
I was exempt
We set him down there in the white blanket
and placed his favorite toys around him
Then I covered him with dirt and went inside to shower

I left the lamp on so that he would not be afraid in the night


johnsonyourfired said...

This is beautiful and so heartbreaking. I wish I was as strong as you.

Anonymous said...


Lorna said...

I just wanted you to know I read this and felt it. We already miss him.

Brett said...

my condolences. i started to tear up at the end. you've always had a powerful way with words.

AriesGhost said...

What could be said after that? What words could ever fill the spot that is obviously tender to the touch? I wish I and Jess could reach across the miles and share our love, but it seems you have plenty around you now.

I would share a story, an anecdote, but I have none. My loses have never been like yours so I don't feel qualified to try to bandage the wound with words. I will tell you that while the flowers petals are dropped the spring will come. The seeds will sprout with the petals to nourish them. And as surely as spring comes summer will follow. Always remember that and the winter will be much less cold.

ricfl10137 said...

i'm sorry. stay strong. heaven will be glorious. thanks to Jesus. eternity with joy is so daunting compared to this hard toil of life. beleive in Him and that he died for us to be seen as righteous taking our judgement away. hold on and keep going through faith. peace. i'm sure you were a wonderful parent and you child passed loving you very much. thats a great test you succeeded in to complete the job of being a good parent. you guided him to the devine Father safely and without him having to go through all the pain this world brings. stay strong. peace

Lisa said...

This brought tears to my eyes and memories of mine that have passed. Made me as a vet tech think about all parents I have consoled and been part of their childrens passings. I really want to hug you right now. I am sorry for the loss of your son...

Erin said...

Thank you for sharing the story. He will be missed dearly. Love to you.

Sydney said...

this brings back too many memories, I'm sorry you are going through this. I appreciated your description....of having to make a decision without the time to digest how you even got there, I hadn't been able to verbalize that feeling before...staring at my horse with a dangling leg, knowing logically what should happen, but everything inside rebelling against it.

Syd said...

I'm so sorry you are going through this. So sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Gavin, this was incredible. I went through this process not but three weeks ago; and while I'm sure our bonds with our companions, sons, siblings, or whatever we see them as are very unique, I want to thank for putting to words a feeling I could not articulate. This helped make some sense of things for me. I hope that you were able to help yourself the same way.

Thank you.

BexHart said...

This is a beautiful, agonizing account. There is nothing like the heartbreak of losing a pet - your companion, your partner, your best friend. Lumas is in our hearts, always.

Sophya Arielle said...

Hey Gav. My little dog Olimpya is about to pass in the next few days..
Aunt Syd told me I should read this...thank you for caring about your boy. it makes me feel a little less crazy for loving my little girl so much. sometimes i feel like my body is weightless from my lack of emotion. But at least I was blessed to have a few days to hold her. Love you Gavin thank you again.

Anonymous said...

I legitimately wept through 2/3 of this account. This is an absolutely riveting, painful, real account of losing someone you love. I know it has been ages since this happened but it's just as moving and beautiful now. My heart still goes out to you over a year later.