Bring the pain. Bring the fun.

Friday, February 01, 2008

In memoriam: Big Bob

Robert W. Edwards, d. February 1, 2008.
His cocktail--Scotch on the Rocks.  Have one and think of him.

He will live on in our memories.  His artwork will live on at as I spend the next year cataloging and uploading his work.

From: Susan Edwards
RE: Big Bob

The theme for this letter is summed up in the following quote from T.S. Eliot: …the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.

My beginning is not our wedding date in May of 1965, but on that fateful day in June of 1968 when Robert suffered a heart attack. As I have related before, he was on water skis at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. At the time there were no ambulances, much less hospitals, in this rural area. A local funeral home dispatched an old Ford station wagon with an 18-year-old kid driving and the three of us set out for Camdenton where there was a tiny emergency center.

I was told he had had a major heart attack and that the nearest hospital was in Springfield, Missouri. I literally was so crushed, panicked, terrified, and stricken that I walked into a wall and continued to bounce from one wall to another.

The three of us got on the road again. I can remember that ride over hill after hill on narrow roads as if it were yesterday, because I felt as if my live had ended that day. Robert was the palest shade of ashen gray that I can every remember seeing. We made it to Springfield and he was put into intensive care immediately. His sister, Terry, was brought there by one of my family and we checked into a motel nearby and called the hospital every hour.

This is a long story in itself, but suffice it to say that 40 years ago with a heart attack, you either healed or died. There were no procedures available. Robert was in the hospital for three weeks and off of work for five months. I stayed in a rooming house across the street from the hospital and walked back and forth each day. It was at this time that I bargained with God that if Robert lived, I would go to church on Sunday. I had turned my back on God when I went away to college and never planned on returning. There was a Chapel on the Hospital grounds and I went there frequently, but basically I had no peace and inside I felt like a crazed girl.

During this time we were supposed to move from our 2-level townhouse to a 3-level so that we could have room to start a family. I was going to cancel the move, but our dear friends, Rich and Marietta Riehemann moved our entire household. She cleaned the bathrooms with a toothbrush; they hung draperies, filled the cabinets, etc. It looked like a model home when we came home three weeks after the attack. The address was 4073 Paule.

Robert continued to heal, but I entered one of the blackest periods in my life. I was back in Church, but I had no faith. Robert had been my god and I was irrationally angry with him for almost dying and abandoning me. My depression was profound for months. I was a recluse, who didn’t bathe, brush my teeth, do dishes, cook. I did nothing. Robert couldn’t drive, so neighbors were taking him everywhere. Finally with time, the deep dread lifted. During this time, I have no recollection of any occurrences in the outside world. Looking back I know how ill we both were. His physical, mine emotional.

That incident scarred me for many years. I was afraid to love Robert completely, because my deepest fear was that I would not survive without him. This was not rational, but some primordial wound that would not heal. On the inside I felt so isolated and alone. The wound did not start with Robert, but seeing his mortality and my own vulnerability ripped the protective covering off the emotional sore.

It took decades, but through the mercy and grace of God, prayer, faith, Sacraments, Bible study, therapy, family, friends, colleagues, even significant acquaintances, etc. I healed.

Now I am fast-forwarding to January 10, 2008. Robert had surgery that day to hopefully put two tubes into place that would drain the fluid off his lung. When he was brought to his room afterwards, the room number was 4073. We were both extremely aware of the significance of this number. Over the next 23 days that he was in the hospital, I often reflected on the massive changes that had occurred in both of our lives over 40 years of marriage. The hopeful part for me was that I had really changed for the better. I had children, grandchildren, a Christian community and I trusted God.

The days in the hospital were hard on both of us in very different ways. We encouraged each other, loved each other and spent time together. In one of my earlier emails, I said that Robert’s worst nightmare was hospitalization. In the end, it turned out to be his comfort. During his stay he was literally treated like a rock star and he treated everyone who attended to him like they were a celebrity. He never lost his zest for life, his smile, his friendliness, his sense of humor, his remarkable ability to remember the names of the some 60-70 nurses and aides he encountered. The coffee was not great at the hospital, so the nurses would bring him coffee from their homes in the morning so that they could have a cup together. I usually worked at the Archdiocese during the day, and then took the dinner shift with him. I would stay from about 5 to 9 to be there during the changing of the shifts, which were all 12 hours (7 am to 7 pm to 7 am). The caregivers at St. John’s Mercy Heart Hospital were professional, conscientious, and intelligent while also remaining friendly and engaging.

Over Christmas, when Amy, David and the three grandkiddies were here, she had a strong intuition to not wait until Spring break to come back to St. Louis. She decided that she would come January 26 to help me start to clean out my messy basement. We had an unused frequent flyer ticket, from my Mom’s death last February that David could use to fly home. So in they drove and Steph came to town also. How fortuitous. When they got to St. Louis the whole family went to see Robert and to announce that he was going to be GrandBob for the fourth time. Big Bob was delighted.

On Sunday, January 27 I came down with that horrible flu that so many have had. My fevers were raging and I was pretty much out of it. On Tuesday, I was too sick to drive to the doctor, so Kathy, who I work with, drove me and wheeled me out in a wheelchair. I had to lie down at the doctor’s, couldn’t even sit up. Blood pressure was 90/60 and I was dehydrated. During this time, they performed an unusual surgery on Robert and he responded very well. In fact the anesthesiologist called me while I was in my sick bed and told me Robert was a trooper and doing well. Out of my haze, I asked him how he knew my phone number and he told me Robert gave it to him and told him to call me. Amy took over at the hospital for four days; my family watched the kids while she was taking care of Robert. Robert missed me terribly, but I knew I couldn’t be around him. Stephanie got sick so she made it back to Chicago to get well so that she could come back to St. Louis.

This brings me to Thursday, January 31, 2008. The days before are a blur, but Thursday and Friday are etched in my memory.  On Thursday, the weather started to deteriorate and we were struck with a massive snowstorm. Gloria, my sister-in-law was at the hospital and she called me. I was still in bed sick. She said that they were telling her that Robert was OK, but she said that is what they told her about John (my brother died of lung cancer 3 years ago) and he was gone in 24 hours. I said I would double-mask and come. My brother-in-law, Mike came and picked me up.

When I walked into the room, I did not like what I saw. Robert’s arm was swollen and he could not cough up the fluid in his lungs. But God was good, there sitting on Robert’s left side was my sister, Mari the dental hygienist, knowing how to use the suction to help him clear his lungs. Just like she had for the 30 years she had cleaned his teeth. I sat down weakly on the little couch in the room and panicked as I realized that I would have to take over when Mari left. I tried to learn it, but Robert and I never mastered the technique.

Darkness set in and I can truthfully say that this is one of the worst nights of my life. I tried to help Robert, but he was breathing so heavily. It was only Amy and I there. Robert was still in good spirits and he actually wanted a cup of chili from Steak ‘n Shake. The nurse said “no,” he could have broth. Yuk!

I was filled with grief, emotional pain, dread, and terror for hours and I did not want Robert to see it. I found a little waiting room, where I could be alone and the pain ripped through me so violently that I was bounding from one chair and sofa to another. It felt like an eternity of angst, and then I felt my heart break……. It didn’t shatter, it just broke. A nurse must have heard me and came and told me that he wasn’t dying, but I knew better.

It was the night of the blizzard in St. Louis and driving and flying from Chicago was impossible. So Becca brought clothes to Stephanie at work and put her on a train into St. Louis. It was supposed to arrive at 1:00 am on Friday morning. Amy and I needed Stephanie in the worst way. We were beside ourselves, not knowing what to do.

Steph’s friends, Mia & Mike Fitzgerald, braved the weather, got caught in a huge traffic jam and delivered her to St. John’s at 2:30 am. Shortly thereafter, Robert’s breathing was worse and then things started happening. The physician’s assistant, respiratory therapist, a nurse descended into the room. They wanted to intubate Robert so that they could clear his lungs. Amy had watched something with my Dad and she did not want it. Stephanie and I decided that we should do it, and then we helped each other to not second guess our decision. After the procedure, we decided to try to sleep because the day ahead was going to be difficult. Steph and I tried to sleep on a little twin couch in the room and Amy was in a recliner. I could not lay still. I squirmed and squirmed. No one slept. Then for an hour, we changed. I got in the recliner (whoever bought them didn’t sit in them, strictly for looks, not for comfort) and the girls got on the couch.

During this extremely long night, there was a blessing. After Robert was intubated, a nurse by the name of Lucy sat by his bedside all night. It looked very complicated with all the instruments and computer screens she was dealing with. She looked like an angel in the darkened room. She had on a starched white hat, starched white mid-calf uniform, white stockings, and thick crepe-soled white shoes. She looked like she was ministering to him. Lucy was the same nurse who had stayed with him on his first night in the hospital. I could tell she cared about him. Her presence was comforting..

 We were beyond exhaustion when the day began at 6:00 am. Robert could not talk because of the tube down his throat, so we began a day of pantomime and his writing on a tablet. My nephew, Michael, showed up early on Friday morning and kept vigil with us. He would run for food and drink and he took care of us.  Because I was still weak from illness and feeling on the verge of a breakdown, I found a room and slept for an hour.

When I started back into the room, my unmarried nephew said, “They’ve got some babes for nurses in this hospital.” When I walked into Robert’s room, there were three gorgeous nurses (not aides) giving him a sponge bath. They were so reverent, that I had the immediate thought that they were anointing his body. I asked one of them if all three of them were on duty and she said that NONE of them were. They had been in class and because of the snow, the staff was shorthanded and they were filling in. They all knew Robert because of his stay there. I was deeply touched by their kindness and tenderness.

Robert was trying to entertain all of us with his drawings. Then he wrote that he loved us. To me he wrote that he wanted to “live as long as possible.” Then they wanted to take the tube out so he could talk. He was breathing on his own. When we told him he wrote, “Will I die?” We reassured him that we just wanted him to be able to talk to us.

I talked to the cardiothoracic surgeon and he said, “I don’t think he can pull out of this.” I told him it was OK, I already knew. The doctor had tears in his eyes. Then a cardiologist, Dr. Robert Ferrara, had been called in to consult just the day before. (Robert’s doctor changed practices and we had not had a chance to see Dr. Ferrara.) He was so kind and talked to me and apprised me of what was happening. I had peace through the process.

Then the exact right people started showing up: Gloria, Mari, Mike, Terry (Robert’s sister), Marsha and Chrissy (Terry’s daughters, our nieces), Becca from Chicago, the three grandbabies and my nephew, Michael was still a comforting presence. Lots of nurses, therapists, dieticians, and other hospital staff showed up just to visit. (The only things that Steph, Amy and I needed after our long night were toothbrushes and paste, and Mari brought a bag full from the dental office.)

We talked to him all day. I could tell that we didn’t need to say good-bye, because he still wanted to live as long as possible. Toward evening his breathing was labored and then I asked the nurse to keep him comfortable. She was wonderful. Everyone was gathered around his bed and the Scripture kept running through my head:

Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us let us lay aside every encumbrance and run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.

A little after 7:00 pm, I was sitting on a raised chair on his left side. His eyes started searching the room and then he looked over at me with a look of relief and recognition, he sighed, put his hand up to his cheek, laid his head on my shoulder and went home to Jesus. Robert died without pain or discomfort surrounded by people who love him.

I held him for the longest time, kissing his head, touching his arm, and telling him I loved him.

Over the next days everything worked out. Arrangements were made; liturgy was perfect, we all held each other physically and in our hearts. I am so thankful for family and friends who went into action to pick up people from the airport, watch kids, get meals, etc., etc. So many details were taken care of and we were so nurtured during this time.

I am a blessed woman. I am grateful beyond measure for all of you who have supported me and touched our lives. I can only pray that God blesses you one hundredfold for all that you have done for us.

I don’t know what is ahead. I only know that God is faithful and heals the brokenhearted. My Best Friend is in heaven with my Mom, Dad, Brother and so many others that I hold dear. Robert was a Renaissance Man who was Larger than Life. I know we will never forget him. I love all of you dearly. Take care of each other. Susan
February 27, 2008

1 comment:

yo said...

Thanks steph for letting us sharing in bionic bob's story.