I have written this blog, a paragraph or a sentence at a time over the period of 5 and a half weeks. It was too unbearable to write it all at once. I didn’t feel I could continue blogging about my kids and my family without talking about the worst day(s) of my life.
On Wednesday, April 25, my parents were in Conway for a doctor appointment for my Dad (He had not been feeling very well and wanted to get to the bottom of it). I had just gotten home from dropping Kohen off at preschool. I had Saylor in her bouncer and had the radio cranked up because I was determined to get my house clean! At 9:38am, my mom called me and said "Stephanie, I don't want this to sound alarming...nevermind, this IS alarming...Dad is on his way by ambulance to the hospital because they think he's having a stroke- call Shelley and Scott". I think she hung up on me...or maybe I hung up on her...can't remember but I called Shelley immediately. She answered and I starting crying. Somehow I got out the information that Mom had just told me. I called Scott after that. They were both headed to Conway.
When I saw my Dad in the ER, his face was a little droopy and his speech was slurred. Dad was complaining of his shoulder hurting so they did an Echo. Not long after that, I was standing to the right of his bed. All of a sudden, doctors and nurses started piling into the room. The doctor said "He is also having a heart attack". They started pulling off his clothes, and doing this and doing that, and it was all going so fast, I backed up until my back was against the wall and I put my hand over my mouth and started crying.
They took Dad to do a heart cath. It took about an hour. We were called into the consult room where the doctor delivered the news. Summed up: "He has an infection of his aortic valve and pieces of the infection have broken off. One caused a heart attack and one caused a stroke. The fear is that more will break off and travel. He has to have aortic valve replacement ASAP."
Open Heart Surgery. Are you kidding me? My Dad??
Surgery was postponed for 1 day so that antibiotics could be given to him. During that day (day and a half) we lived by the visiting hours schedule. We could go in a few at a time. Dad had lots to say but we could understand very little. HE knew what he was trying to say and would get frustrated the words would come out as gibberish. Every now and then he would be able to communicate something more clearly and we would understand. He wasn't able to write because the stroke affected his right hand as well.
The day of surgery we got to spend about 40 minutes with him before they took him back. He seemed to be anxious to get the surgery done. He just wanted to feel better and be out of pain. When they came to get him, we said our good-byes, and gave hugs and kisses.
We all headed to the CVCCU waiting room. By this time the waiting room was full of family. After surgery we went in to see my Dad. He was still on the ventilator. The tubes leading from his surgery area were full of blood. I was at the foot of his bed and my Mom was on the left side of the bed holding his hand. I could tell that she was about to cry. I asked the nurse if the blood was something to worry about and she said "It's concerning". "Normal" bleeding after heart surgery is about 50 cc's (I think it's measured in cc's...) per hour. My Dad was loosing 600 cc’s an hour. I walked over to my Mom and asked her if she was ok. She said "I just know too much about this [from work] and this is not good". The nurse said that she had her work cut out for her that day. Visiting hours were over. I went outside, to the very back of the hospital, and cried and cried and cried. I called Jason (he was having to take a bouquet to Terri in LR because I was not going to make it to Cindy's rehearsal for her wedding). He calmed me down enough so I could pull it together and walk back in the waiting room. Hours went by (about 4 hrs, I think) and my Dad was still loosing huge amounts of blood. They kept giving him blood and his body kept draining it out. A nurse came out at one point and asked my mom if she would come back to see my dad. She told my mom that they had FINALLY gotten his bleeding under control. THANK GOD!
We all took turns, going in two at a time, during visiting hours. I told mom at one point "Did you ever imagine we would just look at Dad for so many hours?!". My time with him was spent holding his hand, asking if he could hear me, telling him to please open his eyes and telling him he had a nice shaved chest and he was ready for summer, lol. For hours, we would look at Dad, look at all the machines hooked up to him, and try to figure out what all the information on the monitors meant.
That night my uncle and aunt, Stan and Kellye, offered to spend the night at the hospital to give us a break (he was stable and we knew it was going to be a long recovery at the hospital and at rehab, so we were grateful they had offered to stay the night while they were in town). The next morning around 5a.m., we were getting ready to head to the hospital. We got a text from Kellye that said Dad was OFF the ventilator!!!! AND sitting in a CHAIR!!!! We were SO excited!!! We quickly got ready and headed to the hospital. That day, Dad continued to do well. So well, that I decided that I was going to be able to be a bridesmaid in Cindy's wedding that night. Before I left to go home I sat with Dad and told him that I was about to go to Cindy Quinney's wedding and that I was a bridesmaid in it. He never said anything, he just listened/watched me talk. I was happy that his focus was on me. His blue eyes, looking straight at me. I told him I loved him and said good-bye. He mumbled something back...I like to think he said I love you too.
I left the wedding early so I could make it back before visiting hours were over. I was so tired. On our way back, I slept from Hot Springs to Conway. I woke up when Jason took the Dave Ward exit towards the hospital. I had about 25 minutes until visiting hours were over. I called my mom to tell her I was almost there. She said, "Stephanie, you can absolutely come see your Dad, but we have already said good-bye for tonight. She told me that he was so tired and they had a really good moment before she left. I asked her what happened and she said, "He was trying to tell me something that I couldn't understand, so I just nodded and said ok. He squeezed my hand really tight a few times and he even leaned in to give me a kiss." She kissed him, told him I love you, and said she would see him in the morning. I told mom that if it was ok, since they had such a good moment, could I just go ahead and go home and go to bed... She said yes, that the nurse had assured her that Dad was doing fine and even talked my mom into going to my house to sleep in a bed instead of staying at the hospital! We were all relieved. Finally we were going to get some sleep!
When we got to my house, my sister wanted to watch a recorded American Idol from a few nights back. My mom watched for a few minutes then told us good night and headed upstairs to go to sleep. About 5 minutes later we heard my mom scream... She said "SHELLEY! STEPHANIE! WE HAVE TO GO!!! THE NURSE JUST CALLED AND SAID THAT DAD TOOK A TURN FOR THE WORSE". Within two minutes we were all dressed and in my vehicle. I told Jason to call Tori to come stay with the kids and to meet us at the hospital.
I drove. My mom was in the passenger seat and Shelley was in the backseat. I drove so fast. I turned on my flashers, I passed cars in front of me, ran every single red light and every single stop sign. When we got to the hospital, there was thankfully a parking spot right in front of the ER. We jumped out and ran inside. We ran straight past the crowd waiting in the ER waiting room and through the double doors. We saw a lady standing there and she said "Are you the Wood family?". All of a sudden we weren't running anymore. This lady was talking to us and guiding us down the hallway...slowly. She told us that at around 11pm Dad was doing great. Around 11:38 he started thrashing...something, something, code blue...something, something, they had to bag him...something, something pupils blown...something, something couldn't find a pulse.... and then she stopped walking and looked at my mom, my sister and I and said, "Mr. Wood did not make it"...................
I can’t remember what we said or what we did. The world pretty much stopped at that moment. It was like an out of body experience... I was watching myself standing there with my mom and sister...it felt like the hallway was spinning... no words.
Next thing I remember I was in a bathroom throwing up while crying uncontrollably...
I don't remember where my sister was...I think she was on the phone with Adam, telling him to come to the hospital. My mom was sitting in a chair. I sat down beside her but I don't remember what was said. I remember she was crying and holding my arm really, really tight. My next memory was my mom and I in the hallway and I heard Jason's voice. I turned the corner to see him. As he was walking towards me he asked what was wrong. I said "He died"...
Jason stopped and dropped everything he was holding and said "No". He ran up to me and hugged me and we cried. He hugged my mom. I told him he had to call Scott. We didn't want Scott to know until he got to the hospital.
We waited outside by the fountain in the dark for Scott to get there. My mom's sister Christie, my uncle David, and cousin Natalie got there first. We delivered the devastating news to them.
I don't remember a lot about when Scott arrived. I just remember watching my mom tell him and him crying and hugging mom... My aunt Connie and cousin Laura showed up soon after this.
The same lady that met us at the ER was now walking us to the CVICU where I last saw my Dad. We entered through the Employees Only door... The nurse that was taking care of my Dad met us. The CVICU was very low lit. The only people present was my family. I think my Dad may have been the only patient that night... not sure. It was eerie. It was like we were the only people in the whole hospital. The nurse hugged my mom and my mom asked her to tell her what happened, again. She then lead us to see my Dad.
My mom, brother, sister, Jason and I entered the room. He was laying there. He still had part of the ventilator tube in his mouth...We all just cried. I was on the right side of the bed. I grabbed his hand and squeezed and squeezed it with my left hand. I had my right hand on his shoulder. I squeezed and squeezed his shoulder. He was warm. Like he was just sleeping. I remember telling Shelley and Scott, that it "felt like him". I guess meaning that he wasn't stiff or whatever...you always hear people talk about dead people being stiff? I don't know. But it DID feel like him. I couldn't stop squeezing. I just kept telling him "I love you so much Dad"...
We left the room and let my mom go in alone...
By this time my sister's husband, Adam, had arrived from Bryant...
We re-entered to say our goodbye's and I grabbed his hand again. This time I could tell the warmth had gone away. He wasn't cold... just different.
The ride home was awful. I drove my mom. This time I obeyed speed limits, stop signs and stop lights... longest. drive. ever. I don’t remember what Mom and I said to each other...I think we just asked each other if this was really happening or if we were having a bad dream.
Mom, Shelley, Adam and Scott decided to stay the night at my house. I took 10 mg of Melatonin to help me sleep. I’ve never taken Melatonin before...why not start out with 10.
I sat upstairs with my mom before she went to bed. I sat outside her door the next morning (and the next, and the next) so I could be there the second she woke up.
The next few days were filled with going to the funeral home in Arkadelphia to pick out a casket, a vault, confirm the obituary and other things you never want to do in your life. We (Mom, Shelley, Scott, Adam, Jason and I) were all sitting around the table at the funeral home and for a split second I thought to myself “Where’s Dad?”. Then I remembered where Dad was and it hit me all over again.
We decided to do the visitation on Tuesday and the funeral on Wednesday. This left Monday to run errands...you know, errands like taking my Dad’s suit to the cleaners, going with Mom to buy a “funeral” dress, deciding what belt my Dad needed to wear, choosing a tie, choosing things we wanted with him like his handkerchief and a coin he cherished and also a picture of Mom, his kids, his sons-in-law and of course his grandkids. These things took Mom and I so long to do. We were so spaced out and just wandered aimlessly while at her house trying to find things. We probably made 3 trips to Maumelle from Conway because we would forget something. Someone needs to write a “How To Prepare to Bury your Husband/Dad” book for these things.
The visitation was a blur. This was the first time we would see my Dad in a casket. We went early to “view” him. We were very pleased that he looked good. Mom and I always talk about how stupid it sounds when someone says “He looks so good” because he’s freaking DEAD in a CASKET. So dumb, but, we really did think he looked good. And they did a great job with his hair...something he was always SO particular about. They also sprayed his cologne on him so it even smelled like him. So many people came to visitation. So many people loved my dad.
The ride home after visitation, from Arkadelphia to Conway, sucked.
The ride back to Arkadelphia from Conway for the funeral sucked too. Once again, we were riding in the vehicle with my mom and one person was obviously missing...
I can’t remember if we went to Kellye and Stan’s house first or the funeral home... once again, a blur. I think we went to Kellye and Stan’s because I remember everyone sitting in the kitchen telling stories about my dad and right outside the window was a Cardinal... his favorite bird.
We got to the funeral home early and went to see my Dad before the service. I dabbed his cologne on each side of his collar... careful not to “feel” him. I wanted to remember how he felt in the hospital when he “felt like himself”. I watched my Mom, several times, go to him and rub his wedding ring on his finger...his wedding ring that he’s worn for almost 40 years...
We waited in the back room of the funeral home while everyone was seated for the funeral service. After what seemed like hours, we were lead into the family section. I can’t explain the feeling of walking into a room full of people, all eyes on you and your family, with my Dad, the center of attention, at the very front- in a casket.
Stan (my Dad’s youngest brother), Did such a great job speaking. He told all kinds of stories about my Dad. Everyone already knew how great my dad was, but it was nice for them to hear stories about his childhood, his athletic accomplishments and his family. One of my favorite parts was when Stan addressed Shelley, Scott and I individually. He told each of us how proud my Dad was/is of us.
One of my other favorite parts was when I saw how many of my friends were there. I can never thank them enough for coming.
On the drive to the graveside, we were busy talking about a detail that needed to be taken care of once we got there. We were also still in complete shock that we were the first car behind the hearse and this funeral precession was for my Dad.
I’ve never sat in the front row at a graveside service. I quickly realized that my Dad’s casket was closed now. I didn’t realize at the funeral home when we were saying goodbye before we left for the graveside that that would be the last time I would “see” him. Part of me hates that I didn’t take it in and look at every inch of him for the last time... but then again, I can picture him in the casket in my mind and remember every detail.
The graveside was pretty short since the funeral service was so long. It was hot. My hair was now in a pony tail and I had no make-up left on my face. Complete exhaustion. I touched his casket one last time and again I said “I love you so much Dad”.
After the funeral we dropped my brother off in LR and Jason, Mom and I went to Mom and Dad’s brand new house. Dad only got to live there about 2 months. It was so hard watching that garage door go up and seeing my Dad’s silver Toyota Tundra with razorback decals. We went inside and while my mom gathered her things to come stay the night in Conway, I went in my Dad’s closet, cried and hugged his clothes.
I don’t remember going home. I know I did, but just can’t remember a single detail about it. I’m pretty sure I went home and hugged my kids, took Melatonin and went to bed.
Currently, I am still shocked and still in the denial stage. I just can’t “go there” and believe that he’s really gone. I like to tell myself that he’s in Maumelle, with my mom at their house. I’m ready to wake up from this nightmare. I’m ready for the unbearable-can’t breathe feelings to go away. I’m ready to NOT go to sleep thinking about it, dream about it, and wake up thinking about it. It’s heartbreaking. I miss him so much.