The sirens fainted in the distance, ripping him farther from our grasp, while Vicki regurgitated the events unfolding during the hour I left him alone. His body had blued from lack of oxygen and released its waste, while hanging from the old oak. Chiming in, I retorted “EMS revived him and he’s on his way to the hospital”; I couldn’t bear to hear another word replayed. Racing down the rural highway, my mind drifted to escape my mother’s presence.
My faith, in God as I knew Him, faltered the previous years as I watched Eric suffer. Solemnly pleading for God’s help, I witnessed him kneeling at an altar, with deacons and pastors gathered around laying hands on him, praying the demons away. I prayed for him, frantically, desperately.
Our prayers had gone unanswered.
Anger welled up, cauterizing my faith as I questioned God during that short trip to the hospital. “Where were you God? All those minutes it took Eric to find a rope and a chair and tie a noose and secure it around a limb, where were you?” “Where were you God, when he climbed into the chair and placed the noose around his neck?” “Where were you God, when he kicked the chair out from under himself?” “Where were you God?” “If you created us in your own image, where was that part of you, within Eric, that should have stopped him at any given moment within all those minutes?”
The only acceptable answer I could fathom, was there was no God, and if that were true, I was all the more responsible for what happened.
Arriving at the hospital, we were allowed to see Eric, while the ER physician presented a dismal prognosis. It was difficult to comprehend the strange words he spouted off with the distraction of Eric’s constant seizing. Asphyxia….., intubation….., what did these words mean? “How long was he hanging”, the doctor asked. “I don’t know, I can’t say. I was only gone an hour, maybe”, I answered with my head held low.
We were shuffled along, to another hospital more equipped to handle trauma patients, with one thread of hope: his neck wasn’t broken. The assault of interrogation ended again with all fingers pointed at me, or at least that’s how I felt.
Due to asphyxia (lack of oxygen to the brain), Eric suffered at least a 50% loss of brain activity. The part of his brain which ‘made him who he was’, the doctor explained, was damaged; his autonomic nervous system remained vital allowing organs to continue functioning. The best and worst possible outcomes were predicted (surprisingly, death was not the worst possible outcome described): Depending on the interval of deprivation of oxygen, his brain could recover, at least to a minimal degree of interactive livelihood; however, as young and viable as Eric was at that time, only 24 years old, we were warned that he could remain in a persistent vegetative state for many, many years, possibly out living both my mother and me.
Mama, unsure of Eric’s wishes, given she and he never had that uncomfortable conversation, felt obligated to permit any measures the medical profession offered. She adapted to the belief Eric could recover. As his mother, she was burdened with the task of choosing.
The first days, then weeks, were spent in the intensive care unit. Plugged into a respirator, his body lay camouflaged in a mass of machines, lines and hoses. The few minutes we were allowed to visit were invaded by beeping and hissing noises. As the weeks stretched into months, the hoses in his nose and mouth began to deteriorate membranes and sores emerged; weaned from the respirator over time, a tracheostomy was inserted in his throat with oxygen mist attached, to keep secretions loosened in his lungs. Mama was elated when he survived without the respirator and her hopes swelled for his recovery.
A medicinal cocktail was injected into his veins, by way of continual fluids through intravenous therapy, to avert further brain damage from the perpetual seizures, and to ‘treat’ any mental symptoms he might still be experiencing; as his veins collapsed, his arms, then hands, then feet were speckled with black, blue, purple, yellow and green bruises.
A catheter took root in his penis, stretching his urethral opening to the circumference of a nickel. Seeing it for the first time, after the catheter was removed, while changing his dirty diaper, I withheld no qualms, letting his doctors and nursing staff, and our mother, know they should hope he never did wake up because they would all have hell to pay for doing that to his ‘manhood’. Rashes then ravaged his groin, as the drugs pouring into him burned his skin like acid, when they were extruded from his body and he lay there in his own waste.
When long term care was addressed, I hoped Mama would gracefully let him go, rather than subject him to more physical trauma, but she didn’t. She opted to have a PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) tube placed, which was continually pulled out by improperly trained nursing assistants, leaving his abdomen riddled with infection and scarred tissue.
I found myself praying many days, to the same God I forsook the day Eric hung himself, praying He would just take Eric and spare him of any more pain, whether physical, spiritual, mental or emotional. I prayed He spare our mother from having to make these dreadful choices.
God didn’t answer……….for ten years.
After our mother moved Eric to a nursing home for long term care, the physical traumas persisted, adding insult to injury. In-grown toe nails were surgically removed. His feeding tube was surgically re-positioned due to the severity of infection devouring the original wound site. Both bones in his upper arm were severely broken, and we never knew how. The Centers for Disease Control was solicited on several occasions to decipher the strains of infections breeding in his lungs and wounds. Plaque built up on his teeth and his lips were cracked and dry; the stench of his breath became insufferable, offensive within feet of his bedside. His face and hair were slathered in a sweet, greasy balm as the high protein nutrients seeped from his pores. Psoriasis encrusted his scalp, matting his hair into chunks of hairy living beings in and of themselves. Regardless of whether the staff chose to diaper him, or not, he lay there in his own urine and feces for hours on end. Globs of thick, gooey phlegm saturated his tracheostomy collar, running down the side of his neck and the front of his gown.
All dignity was lost.
With every effort to join our mother in the rituals of his care, my heart hardened from self-inflicted blows of blame. When I found him lying in his own waste, I changed his diapers, and gowns and sheets….and told myself, “This is your fault”. When I found him lying in puddles of phlegm, I suctioned the goo and changed his gowns and sheets…….and told myself, “You let this happen”. I shaved his face, scraped his scalp, cut and washed his hair and manicured his nails…..and told myself, “You should have stopped him”.
Pulverized into a speck of dust, I retreated to a desolate oasis, where I suffered solace, until she died…..until he died……..and then I retreated again, deeper into remorse.
Five more years a slave now, to self-reproach, I am tired and thirsty, worn to my last thread, waving a white flag of surrender to a forsaken God.