What started as a normal dreary autumn day, turned out to be the worst day of my life. Sunday afternoon watching TV when I received a phone call, my brother had collapsed, his heart had stopped. The paramedics had managed to restart his heart, he had been rushed to hospital, he was in a bad way. I rushed to the hospital, praying (why? I am not religious…) he wouldn’t die before I got there.
ICU – Day 1
It was a shock walking into ICU and seeing him with the tubes and wires everywhere. He was in an induced coma, they would keep him sedated and cooled for 36 hours, allow him time to recover. He had several broken ribs and his lungs had collapsed from the CPR. The Doctor advised a scan showed sever damage to the brain caused by lack of oxygen. Advised 5-10% chance of survival given the results. We needed to wait to see if he would respond when they reduced the sedation.
At this stage I prayed that he would survive, his chances were slim, but there was a slim chance he would survive. I wanted him to live more than I have ever wanted anything, all that mattered was him waking up. I never considered the implications of the brain damage, never entered my mind.
He was having seizures; his legs would lift up and his eyes would roll back. It was horrendous to watch. The nurses said he needed to rest, so we left the hospital in the early hours of the morning. The minutes ticked slowly by, as I lay on my bed praying once more that he would wake up.
ICU – Day 2
Monday, they had given him medication to reduce the seizures. His chest was moving like he was shivering. He was laid on ice, apparently the body heals quicker when the patient has induced hypothermia. It made it harder, holding his hand whilst he was literally freezing. He looked so vulnerable lying there, the tubes feeding him and breathing for him. I wanted to climb on the bed, switch places with him, he was worth twenty of me. He was worth saving, I wished I could die instead of him.
The ICU Nurses said he may be able to hear us, that hearing is the last of the senses to go when a patient is in a coma. I hope that he could, because for the first time I was able to be incredibly soppy and tell that man, just how much he meant to me, how losing him would rip my heart in two. I still clung to the hope, he would open his eyes, and all would be well. Tomorrow we would see the extent of the damage, see if the scans were right and he was severely brain Damaged. The hours tick by and it feels like a dream – or nightmare – it doesn’t feel like reality. It feels a bit like watching a film, you feel emotions, but it isn’t real. The pressure on your mind and body is so intense
ICU – Day 3
Tuesday am, I held his hand when they reduced the sedation. A few minutes in his eyes and mouth started twitching really bad, after another few minutes his legs started to move so they said they would put his m back under sedation. Wed am the consultant and two nurses came and spoke to us all. He explained Dave had Arrhythmia which had stopped his heart, it took some time to restart his heart and then it stopped again. They finally restarted it. The seizures were another sign of damage to the brain and the damage was at the top range for damage. He would never be able to do more than lie in bed. However, his heart was working and he had the ability to make respiratory afford and potential to breathe for himself.
ICU – Day 4
Wednesday morning the consultant and two nurses came and spoke to us all. They explained my brother had an arrhythmia called ventricular tachycardia which had stopped his heart, it took some time to restart his heart and then it stopped again. They finally restarted his heart, but his brain had been starved of oxygen for too long.
The seizures were another sign of damage to the brain and the damage was the most sever category. He would never be able to do more than lie in bed. However, his heart was working, and he had the ability to make respiratory effort and potential to breathe for himself.
Last chance to respond
The doctor agreed to give him one final chance to show a response such as open his eyes, squeeze hand or show reaction to touch. They said we didn’t have to be there, when they tried to wake him and despite not wanting to witness what I had the day before, I just couldn’t bear the thought of him being on his own. So, here I was holding his hand again, as they reduced his sedation.
This time he still showed no response, but he kept gagging which looked and sounded awful. I thought it was a positive sign, a response, he was still in the somewhere. They nurse informed me, gagging is a reflex and not a response, there was still no sign he was with us. I cannot express into words how it feels, watching someone who means so much to you in such a terrible position. I would have given anything for him to wake up and I do mean anything.
They had to increase the drugs to stop seizures, to give him the best chance. Epilepsy can render a person unresponsive and his seizures would be the very similar.
It finally dawned on me, even if he did wake up, his and the rest of our lives would never be the same. We would have lost the man we loved, and he would have hated to be so restricted with the brain damage. I had never considered this, until now I had only wanted him to survive, it was a stark reality to come to terms with. I now longer prayed for his survival, now I prayed he wasn’t in pain and his end would come quickly.
We were all called into the relative’s room, the doctor, nurses and transplant co-ordinators all come into the room. We were being told they were no longer trying to save my brother; they would now offer palliative care until he passed away. They wanted to discuss organ donation, the details too graphic for me, I wanted to leave the room but so many people were crammed into such a tiny space I couldn’t escape.
I had to hear about what organs they would consider and how the process works. I didn’t want to talk about his body parts as if he was a mechanical object, he was a human, an incredible kind, considerate, beautiful human. He wasn’t dead yet, I didn’t want to hear it, I needed more time to fully process that he was going to die. He was going to die! How could this be happening, he is so young, I’m not ready, I don’t want him to go.
When I left the hospital late that night, I knew that tomorrow I would return and sit with my brother when his life support was switched off. I sobbed so much my body ached. Your brain can be cruel because all I wanted to do, was phone my brother and tell him how I felt. This time I couldn’t turn to him for support, because he was no longer with us, his brain too damaged to communicate.
The only hope I had now, was that he would fulfil his wish to be an organ donor.
ICU – Days 5 & 6
Thursday morning came without actually having a Wednesday night, how can you sleep when the minutes until the death of your brother are slowly counting down. Arriving at the hospital I realised it had become my norm, how quickly I had adapted to spending the entire day at the hospital, my usual world no longer existed.
We were greeted by the donor team, today they would carryout more tests, before putting all his details out to locate organ recipients. Once they found a match a transplant surgeon would be dispatched, he must be on site when they switch off the machines that are keeping my brother alive.
The day passed slowly, I chatted to my brother. Told him once more just how much I loved him. Told him about memories we had shared. Told him not to worry, he would soon be at peace, knowing my world was going to fall to pieces.
A donor has been found
Finally, at eight o’clock at night we received the news a recipient had been found for his liver. A surgeon was on route to us and another had been dispatched to the receiver. By the time the surgeon arrived in the early hours, there were three recipients, all respectively waiting for a life saving transplant. I didn’t want to lose my brother or think about his body parts and yet I felt that if he saved three lives, his life wouldn’t be taken for nothing. He always said how important it is to be on the donor register.
I heaved as they removed my brothers breathing tube, felt like I couldn’t carry the weight of my own body. I thought I was going to run out of the room, could hear myself saying I can’t do this! But I stayed with him, slowly acclimatised to the awful sounds coming from his mouth, the awful site of him gasping.
I watched the three-hour limit looming ever nearer, after which time his organs would no longer be viable and he would not be able to donate. As the clock ticked ever closer to the deadline, I grew more and more sad. With less than thirty minutes to go, I considered the three families that would be devastated, I couldn’t stand watching my brother die in such an undignified way. I wished they could assist and let my brother go. When the deadline passed, I felt such utter despair and defeat. I had been awake for 36 hours, I had nothing left in the tank. I was mentally and physically exhausted and I couldn’t take any more, I had to leave the hospital.
My brother passed away the next day and I will miss him forever!
It doesn’t get easier
Writing this post has been the hardest and most painful to write, many times the laptop was shut, whilst I sobbed and sobbed and felt the pain of losing him as if it were yesterday. A pain so raw, so consuming, sometimes an animalistic howl surges from my body taking me by surprise. I hear the howl as if it were coming from someone else, someone in excruciating pain.