February 19th- Declaration Day
After everyone left, what had begun to feel normal for me began. I grabbed a wet thick soft cloth, wiped Joey's face, his hands, his feet... I adjusted his hospital gown, his sheet, covered him up but left out his hands. I wiped his mouth, adjusted his Rosary beads... I took the lotion and put it on his feet and his hands... I combed his hair, fixed his eyebrows... Made sure he felt and looked how he would want to. The Nurse came in with new pillows, new blankets and a sheet to drape over my recliner chair/bed, I set it up and took a walk while they cleaned Joey and moved him around to avoid sores. I walked through the very quiet hospital to the main entrance.
I had quit smoking March 2018, but I just needed a cigarette. It was so cold outside. Snow was coming soon for sure and it was almost a full moon. It was bright, so still and so silent. I still couldn't believe how silent it was out there. I went back to his room. Lights were low and my bed for the night was ready.
I held Joey's hand. After the last few days with no change in his condition, no movement, no more gasps and a negative EEG, I knew that my brother would not wake up from this. I laid my head on his chest, held his hand and listened to his heart beating. I took in the last little bit of the way he smelled, I felt the strength in his bigger than mine hands, I studied his nails and how they were groomed perfectly,his toes too. I just studied him while I cried over him. I talked to him, I told him all the things I always told him while he could hear me. How much I loved him, how he was such an amazing brother, ridiculously great uncle, best friend you could ask for and I apologized to him for cutting our conversation short on Friday because of a meeting. I talked to him about "Vikings", told him we bought the season and it was so awesome. I kissed his cheek, his forehead, his hand and sat in my "bed".
I knew when I woke up it would be the day. The test had been scheduled and it would give results that we knew were coming but really didn't want. I told him we would have to tell everyone, and the only way to save us some pain of calling everyone who knew him would be to make a post on FaceBook.
Joey hated social media. He had a FB account once a while, but I don't think he had been on it in ages. He definitely did not have an Instagram or anything else like that. Maybe some dating app, but who is single in 30's that doesn't? But I couldn't tell you for sure. Anyway, I didn't want to have to have my parents and myself call everyone and then everyone call everyone else. I didn't want a game of telephone to commence, I didn't want rumors going around about my brother. If I could write something that told the truth so people "heard" it straight from us, I thought he would've been OK with that. So I did. I sat there with Joey and I drafted a post in the notes section of my phone. I just wrote.
I read it to him. I thought he would be ok with it. It captured who he was, the goodness that just was him. I laid down and slept. I slept pretty good in my chair that night. It's like I knew I wasn't going to sleep well again. I woke up to the doctors in the room. It was nearly 7:30am. He explained that the respiratory team were going to come in soon and do an Apnea test. He explained that they did some other tests including "Dolls Eyes", Something with ice water in his ear, and some other ones. This Apnea test and the Cerebral Brain Flow test would be the last two. They left the room and I did my routine. Wiped his face, gave him kisses, talked to him etc. The respiratory team came in about 8:30am. They explained to me that the Apnea test was a 8 minute long test where they would turn off the vent and one would watch his chest, one would watch the monitor and one would watch the other two. All three would be in the room and me if I choose to stay... I choose to stay.
They started the test. 8 minutes I watched my brothers chest not take in air, not go up and down... 8 minutes I watched him lay completely still, his body made not one move. I watched his heart beat, it never stopped. I watched them cycle the blood pressure cuff every minute, I watched them watch him... They never took their eyes off their respective assignments. How many times have they done this? The thought crossed my mind... How many times have this team watched a family member hope that their loved one took a breath? They turned the machine back on. I think they may have talked to me, but I don't remember it.
My mother came soon after. I told them what happened. She held his hand and said we'll wait for the Neurologist with the other test. I think we kind of just stayed there the rest of the day. I honestly don't remember the next few hours until they said they were going to do the other test. They took him from the room because it had to be done in an MRI machine. I can't explain it all, as I am no doctor... but if you're interested, you can learn more about it from the link at the bottom.
He was back in his room a little bit later. We went back in and spent more time with him and each other. The neurologist was ready to see us about 4:00pm. The doctor told us that she would meet us in the meditation/prayer room. My mother, myself and my aunt went into the room to wait for her. She was a middle aged woman, thick accent, German or Polish I think... She had a very nice way about her. She had a medical student with her. We were sitting down when she came in . They sat down and began to talk about the test. She explained to us what it was and what they were looking for. She explained some of the science behind it and why they did this particular test. She then began to tell us the results. There was no uptake of the fluid, the test was negative... which means brain death. I knew that this meant he was pronounced dead, but my mother did not. It did not occur to her that this besides the death that we are all aware of like you heart stopping, was also a way to be pronounced. She told us that they declared it at 3:32 pm. My mother goes "What do you mean declared?", the doctor explained it. My mother looked at me and my aunt and just cried. The doctor sat with us for a while and consoled us as best she could with her words and had said that she was praying for him and all the doctors were because he was such a young, handsome man and they could tell he was so loved. It was nice of her to say.
We went back to his room and started to talk about the next steps. We had to tell people, we had to meet with the organ donation team, we had to make an appointment at the funeral home, we had to pick out an outfit, we had to tell my kids, we had to figure this all out.
Our lives without Joey, "the after", had begun and a month and half later as I write this, we're still here. Living in the after. Our family will always live in the after now.
Cerebral Blood Flow Test: https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/brain-death5.htm