It's been 31 days. 31 days? 31 days. It does not seem real, yet it seems the sincerest truth I have ever had to face.
I suppose it's time to write out a story that I've replayed in my head and to friends time and time again. It's not something I look forward to typing out, but it is something that is necessary I think. I can't let these details slip away, because as painful as they are, they are a part of the story, a part of the healing process and a part of Richard's legacy.
Two days after Christmas Richard was taken to the hospital by ambulance due to severe chest pains. Chest pains so severe that he could not get himself off of the couch - not even with the help of his mother. He was put in a room on the cardiology floor where he stayed for exactly two weeks. Initially the doctors found a bit of pneumonia in his left lung which they attributed his chest pain to. However they kept saying, "there is another infection there, though, and we are going to run some tests to figure out what is going on." For two weeks he endured poking and prodding, multiple blood samples taken and every other unpleasant thing that results in a hospital stay. He had daily fevers and was constantly fatigued, tired from medication and tired of answering constant questions, his white blood cell count rising everyday. He had his crabby moments, definitely, but was able to stay in a pretty positive mindset a lot of the time.
It was an exhausting two weeks. I've personally never been through anything like this and never realized how emotionally and mentally tiring hospital visits could be. I would go up to the hospital almost everyday from 8 am until about 1 pm, working on my computer or phone from the semi-comfortable chair by his bed. His mom would come up after lunch once she left work and take the afternoon/evening shift, his sister visiting as well. I would usually go back up at night after I had spent some time at home with my dog. The evenings were full of a lot of his mom and I talking and poking fun at him from time-to-time, out of love of course. We watched a lot of episodes of NCIS and Shipping Wars. We spent New Year's Eve together, the 3 of us nested in the tiny hospital room. He wore his party hat for approximately 2 minutes. Enough to get a picture. The last picture I have of him. We took occasional wheel chair rides around the floor, going down every hallway that we were authorized to go down. I spent a lot of time crying next to his hospital bed, frustrated that we did not know what was going on. Frustrated that he was sick. Frustrated that he was crabby sometimes and there was not much I could do to help. He did such a good job of being sweet to me though. As best as he could. I would cry and he would hold my hand and try to calm me down. As stressful as those days could be, I'd love to go back to them. Just to see him again.
Two weeks went by and on Thursday night, January 10th the doctors finally diagnosed him with acute myeloid leukemia. One of the most aggressive strands. Of course it was. Richard never did anything half-ass, remember? That night they moved him to his own room on the oncology floor. The oncology room was big and sterile and cold. Not like the tiny room that we had been cozily crowded in for the last two weeks. It did not feel welcoming. Probably because it knew we wouldn't be there for long anyway. Early Friday morning Richard was moved to the critical care unit. His body could no longer handle the extremely high white blood cell count. (A normal WBC is around 10,000 - when Richard died his was 170,000...remember - nothing half-ass).
I saw him Friday morning at 10:30 for the first time. His mom, my most recent partner in crime, and I met outside the doors and walked in together. I'm not sure what I was expecting. I just know I wasn't expecting what I saw. A shell of Richard. A heavily sedated, on-a-ventilator, puffed-up-from-fluids Richard. I immediately burst into tears as his mom explained to me everything that was going on. We visited with him for about 20 minutes, talking to him and about him, receiving no response back. We were back again at 1:30. And back again about 3:45 to wait around for the 4:30 visit time. I had originally not planned to be there for that visit as I had to teach Zumba that night. I took a chance and asked some of the other instructors if they would mind subbing for me and thank God someone agreed. I guess I had a feeling that I needed to be there, though at the time I did not really recognize the feeling.
At about 3:50 the nurses called his mom up. I waited impatiently in the waiting room for her to give me an okay to come up too. I hyperventilated a little bit, called my mom and told her what was going on, said that maybe he's awake and he just wants to see his mom right now. Several minutes later his mom texted me and told me I could come up. His sister was on her way to the hospital, right behind us. They took me into the consultation room where his mom was, red-faced with tears. I cried instantly, because I knew. But even though I knew, I demanded that someone say it aloud. Finally one of the nurses stated, he's gone. Sobs escaped my mouth, along with the word, "what," over and over again. I simply could not believe that he was gone. I texted my mom through my tears, saying I need you here. I listened to his mom directing his sister to where we were. At that moment I left the room as I wanted for them to have their moment together. I was led into the room where he lay.
And there he was - my sweet boy. Completely free of machines, IVs, tubes and pain. It had been a long time since I had seen him like that. I stared at him, touched his arm, held his hand. Was happy that he hadn't shaved in two weeks because he was able to form a nice-sized beard. He always told me he was going to grow his beard out like one of the guys from Duck Dynasty (I always pleaded that he not). His mom and sister came into the room and there we stood - 3 women that loved him so severely that I swear all of our hearts burst out of our chests and fell onto the hospital floor. I think that we all left pieces of our hearts there in that room, too.
The rest of the story is not that important. I continue to recall the fact that I really never, ever thought Richard would die. I never thought it would end the way it did. I continually think about him laying in his hospital bed, looking at me as I cried, telling me it was going to be okay, that he wasn't dying. It's all so ironic now. I think back to how he allowed me to help bathe him with a rag, warm water and gross hospital soap. I washed his hair and his upper body, and I left the room as he did the rest, his shoulders and chest too sore to lift his arms. You've really crossed some boundaries here, you know, he'd said. You gotta do what you gotta do, I had told him. I am so glad he let me into his heart as far as he did.
Missing him a lot tonight, and every night, but especially tonight. Wishing he was sitting on my couch with me, watching an episode of Friends, shaking his head at me as I giggle at everything Chandler says. Wishing he was here to cuddle with and wishing I had his shoulder to cry on.
But my hope and faith in the Lord continue to grow. God has blessed me with the absolute greatest friends and family. I am constantly overwhelmed with love from them all and am forever grateful for the roles they play in my life. Just as I will be forever grateful for the role Richard played in my heart. Kudos to you if you've read this post all the way until the end, as I know it is long. But Richard deserves long posts and many words, for all of the kind words he lent me.