A Misplaced Zero

May 11, 2016

“The past few days have gone well. I feel like I am starting to get back to myself. We went to church on Sunday. It was wonderful. I do feel healing is coming. It will take time. My heart aches over Hunter’s death. I still cant believe he is gone. It feels more tangible now that I am recovering. It makes me want to push back. The void is too great. 

We found out there was a mistake in Hunter’s chart. Hunter was receiving 2 mg of Dilaudid instead of 0.2mg. The doctor didn’t write the “0” first. They, also, pushed it all at once, instead of over 5-10 minutes. His BP was dropping in the hours before he died, but they ignored it. Heartbreaking.

Symptoms: 

10lbs. weight gain since starting Saphris

loss of taste (as it dissolves orally)

memory trouble

constantly thinking of new projects

racing thoughts

increased anxiety

wanting to work out for hours

wanting to buy everything

I am stressed out, anxious, and not doing well. After I got home from the Griffith’s (dropping off the kids), I was not doing well. All day, I had been working on tasks around the house, moving busily from one thing to the next, not wanting to think obsessively about projects, vacations, or financial needs. Right before Brian got home I weighed myself. I had gained almost 10 lbs. in a week and a half. I tipped my mood. I was anxious and wanting to stop eating and go exercise. I don’t want to stay on a medicine that damages my ability to taste and causes weight gain. I decided to use the elliptical for 30 minutes, after an hour and a half of yoga. Then, I went to take care of the baby. I can feel my mood tipping from anxiety to depression. I am fearing going back to UNC. I am afraid I might not get better, though I feel like the Lord revealed to me heal me.”

Changing medications and finding the right combinations is incredibly stressful and anxiety provoking. Each one giving hope of feeling better than on the last but also waiting until it reveals what side effects it will give you. Psychiatric medication prescribing is not a science. It is not as cut and dry as other specialties. There is so much trial and error. As well, the medication is chemically changing your brain. This leads to your entire body reacting. The side effects are sometimes tolerable and other times distressing. Saphris was horrible for me. It was more distressing than tremors and not being able to walk. Uncontrolled weight gain with loss of taste and not enjoying food was terrifying. I couldn’t wait to get off of it. Luckily, my psychiatrist saw how it was affecting me and changed my medication immediately.  To anyone trying to find the right combination of medications. Be patient, document symptoms and side effects so you can really see how things are affecting you. Be honest with your psychiatrist or medical provider about how these medications make you feel. Their job is to help you find the right combination so you can begin healing. I know it can feel so distressing that you actually feel worse than before you started, but the right combination will give you the life you dream of, push through.

Finding out some of the truth about Hunter was both refreshing and crippling. In the months to come, we would find out details that would let us know that the perfect storm of events had taken place to lead to Hunter’s death, However, it was sickening to find out the misplaced zero was all it took to take my brother’s life. As a nurse, they give you tests where all you have to do is write in a zero to remind you how important it is. That someone could be so careless when writing the prescription and reading the results led me to such frustration. As well, his blood pressure was decreasing and they ignored it. It confirmed what we had thought, his death was preventable. If you still have more questions about what happened, you should. It would take months for us to find out all of the details. 

Rainbow Colors

1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 – “Brothers and Sisters we do not want you to be uniformed about those who sleep in death, so you will not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

Since Hunter was a fallen airman, he was transported just as anyone killed in combat. When loading and unloading the plane, we would go down to the tarmac for a ceremony. It involved his family and friends watching as he was transported out of the hurst. The first time they loaded him on the plane, there was no grand flag over the casket or presentation, simply a box that said, “This End Up and Handle With Care.” It felt so inhuman. He was officially cargo, he no longer needed to be up with us, he was already gone. He no longer needed air, warmth, or safety. They loaded him on the plane as an honor guard from base presented the flags. We boarded the plane and flew to the next airport. We had a ceremony to unload him, this time they unboxed the casket. It seemed to honor him better, and I was grateful. This time, the honor guard was a group of tarmac workers. They had served in the military and wanted to present in honor of Hunter. These big burly men were highly respectful and emotional. It was a honor to have them join the ceremony. The USO took Hunter’s body while we had a lay over. Then, it was time to board the plane. This same group of men presented the flags again and the USO had provided a flag to cover the casket. Finally, he looked respected. I was heartbroken to see my brother this way, but honored he was being treated so well.

When we arrived in Washington, we had another large ceremony with honor guard. This time, our whole family was in attendance. I broke down as I rounded the corner and saw them all standing there. It was amazing to have such support, after being in such a small group during our grief in Alabama. I rode to my parents house with my aunt and uncle. Uncle Bruce told me a few things that have stuck with me until this day. He affirmed my grief. He reminded me that even Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, he was going to raise him from the dead but he still grieved. As well, death comes for all of us eventually. All of the people in the bible that God healed or their life was spared ultimately would die. It made the loss not feel so difficult, knowing that we all eventually experience loss and pain. As well, my Savior knew the pain of grief. He hurt and it was okay for me to hurt too.

The next day was the viewing. The funeral home had done a lot to fix Hunter’s presentation, and he looked more like himself. Most signs of the autopsy were covered. He looked more like himself. It was a honor to experience the viewing. I did not really get emotional that night, except when my best friend from high school came. She had known Hunter so well, I collapsed in her arms. Besides that, I shook everyone’s hand and smiled when I could. This part was not for me. It was for them. They needed to see, they needed to know what happened. So, they came to support us and we them, as they viewed the remains of their friend, neighbor, and family member.

The following morning, we got to the church early. I wanted one last chance to say goodbye. I was the last one to have time with him alone. I told him how much I loved him, how much I would miss him, how terrible he looked after embalming, and how mad I was to spend the rest of my life without him. I placed one of my rings in his hands. Sending him away without a token to keep with him felt lacking. I felt like part of my soul was being ripped out. It was an out of body experience. During the funeral, I changed my mind about speaking. The rest of my family spoke, but I did not think that I had the strength. In the moment, however, I knew I would regret it if I didn’t stand up there for him one last time.

I had not planned a speech and had no idea what to say. Then, it came to me. My brother had a difficult childhood. He had grown up with ADHD, he was sensitive, and he was caring. That made it hard for him to identify with my father and with myself. We are strong, independent, minimally emotional, and driven. I was always brought up to think it was the best way to be. That type of personality made for highly successful people. My brother had taken a different path. He was not afraid to make mistakes, and he did. He partied, drank, smoked, smoked weed, lost jobs, became addicted to video games, and failed out of college three times. In the end, however, he was highly successful and made us so proud. He was a great husband and father, he was highly skilled and successful in his job, he was willing to sacrifice his life for his country, and he was a great friend. He had reached the peak of his existence. If my dad and I were black and white, my brother was a rainbow. My father spent a lot of time trying to blot out the color from his life, to give him the straight-laced successful life. He believed that is what was best for his child. In the end, Hunter taught us. He taught us that color is beautiful. Color can lead to success and that path can still be good. Life doesn’t only have one destination. It is full of twists and turns and curves, and all of them can lead to the good life. We should have been there for him more, been less judgmental, trusted the Lord to turn him into the man he needed to be. So, from now I, I resolve to add more color to my life. I will add more color to my children’s lives. We ended up learning something from him and we couldn’t have been more proud (for goodness sakes, a general even flew in to speak at his funeral).

We went to the graveside and another honor guard was present. These individuals come for free and dedicate their time. They carried flags, did a twenty one gun salute, played taps, and gave flags to the family members. I stayed with him that day. I sat by his graveside and watched them place him in the ground, clutching his flag to my chest and crying. I refused to move until the very end. I had met Hunter the day he was born and I wanted to be there the day he went into the ground. It took awhile, but I finally felt ready to leave when they sealed the casket. We continued on to the church to have a meal and visit. By the end of the day, we were worn out and empty. We thought we were grieving, processing it all. However, looking back, we were all in shock. We were going through the motions. The grief and trauma would come weeks and months later, as the dust settled and the hole in our hearts threatened to swallow like an abyss.

The Walls Came Tumbling Down

John 11:25 – “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

I was pregnant with my fourth baby, Johnathan Judah. I was on heparin injections, weekly ultrasound appointments, and progesterone. The baby grew well and, besides precipitous labor, it was a smooth pregnancy. I had decided to take a year off to have my fourth child, as of November 1st. This was something my work had approved. Resting was helping reduce the preterm labor symptoms. I was progressing well. I was laying on the couch resting at 36 weeks, when I got a call from my sister-in law. Hunter was in critical condition at the hospital.

Rewind a couple of days, my brother had gone into the hospital two days prior for an elective tonsillectomy. I had warned him that this was a bad idea. All surgery has risks, there is no such thing as a minor surgery. He had assured me that the tonsil stones he had warranted the surgery. He was willing to accept this risk and write me off as an overprotective sister. I would hold onto the warning for the rest of my life, wishing he had listened. The surgery did not go well. They stopped taking out his adenoids because there was too much bleeding. Why you take out adenoids, when tonsils are the source of the problem, I will never understand. He had been in serious pain after surgery and they were keeping him for twenty four hours to observe him. I had called that day and he had written a note, “I <3 U.” That would be the last communication I would ever have with my brother. His voice was too strained to speak and the next day, he was too out of it to call. We would, later, find out why.

My sister-in law was hysterical. I immediately went into triage mode. This was going to be fine, Hunter was going to be fine. He was fine just the day before, and was supposed to have left the hospital. They would have transferred him to another hospital, if his symptoms were really severe. He had just texted me earlier that day, they were odd texts, but responses none the less. I would later find out he was texting me “I can’t text and drive, it is not worth a life,” because he was almost completely incapacitated. But for now, that was unacceptable, he was okay. He had to be okay.

I got a call from my dad forty five minutes later. “He’s dead,” was all he said. I became hysterical, screaming “No,” over and over again. Then, “This is not real life, this is not my life.” My dad has no recollection of that phone call. I was in shock, he was in shock. After that, I called my doctor to get medication to help me sleep. I was sure I wasn’t going to survive this. Brian wanted me to go to Montgomery that night, but I wasn’t ready. I would regret not seeing Hunter in the hospital that night, not being there amongst his friends. I regret not seeing him for every minute that I could. My mom sent me an image of him lying dead in the bed. This image was traumatizing and would haunt me for awhile. It would be one of the first components of PTSD that would consume me for months.

That night, we still had to assemble my daughters bike for her birthday, the next day. My sweet father-in law came over to help. As they assembled, I walked outside. I am not typically a hyper spiritual person. I don’t believe in the paranormal or ghosts. But something wrapped its arms around me that night. I don’t know if it was an angel, the holy spirit, or my brother. I will say it felt like him. It felt like one of his warm bear hugs, and to this day it brings me comfort to reflect on those moments, after he died. I wasn’t alone.

The next morning, we threw a quick birthday celebration for my four year old daughter and flew out the door. That was the last time I would be home for over nine days. It would take us nine days to view him, autopsy him, fly him home and bury his body. It would take almost a year for us to find out what really happened that night.

We drove to Birmingham, Alabama to meet up with my Uncle, Aunt, Cousin, and my parents. Seeing my parents was one of the most difficult parts. That first time you all make eye contact, and the unspoken loss hangs in the air like thick fog. It took my breath away. I almost collapsed into their arms and cried. My dad wanted to see my brother’s body as soon as possible. So, we went to the morgue. My brother was Air Force. So, his body was set up for autopsy, before we even were able to request it. His body was being transferred from the local coroner, who we later found out was on his first day as coroner. Hunter would have been his first autopsy. Instead, he was being transferred to the University of Alabama Birmingham for autopsy by an actual M.D. The Air Force like F.B.I. (I will call them the FBI from here on out, to make it easier to explain) was in charge of Hunter’s case and was opening a criminal investigation.

We arrived at the funeral home to view my brother’s body. Nothing could have prepared me for that. My parents were in there as they removed the body bag, but I was didn’t see him until he was fully exposed. This was the best he would look until his interment. He just looked like my handsome, strong brother but asleep. I found it concerning that his shirt was not ripped open, he didn’t have any bruising from CPR type movement. He looked like he was sleeping, but he was cold to the touch. That wasn’t the most alarming part.

I didn’t know exactly what happens to a body after death. I now know the bodily fluids start to seep out. He was surrounded by a puddle of yellow liquid mixed with blood. This image would prevent me from eating steak for awhile. I developed a PTSD effect from seeing liquid blood on a plate and would fall into anxiety attacks in restaurants. As well, he had blood and vomit draining from his mouth. It was my brother but a broken shell of him. I collapsed under the weight and pain of him being gone. I fell down on the table and sat on the floor. I cried so hard, I couldn’t even breathe. I talked to my brother in my mind and asked him to help me get back up.

I couldn’t explain it, if I tried, but something said, “Look up.” Now, my brother was a joker. He loved to make people laugh and would definitely be cracking a joke, had he been in the room. I opened my eyes, and screamed. There, inches from me, was another dead person. No bag, just laying there. This person was old and, as my sister-in law joked through her pain, ready to go. I jumped back and everyone rushed to make sure I was okay. I told them what I saw, and we all looked down. We laughed so hard. We said Hunter had to have been there too. He would have been tickled to death to make us laugh though our pain. We could feel his presence. We were grateful to the Lord for his grace in helping us laugh in our agony. It gave us the strength to leave the morgue that night, and for me to get up off that floor.