Sue and I pulled into Ruby Memorial Hospital less than three hours after being called to say our son was unresponsive. I remember Sue nearly taking-out the security guards getting into the parking garage. It was game day in Morgantown (Louisville was in town) and the police were securing the lots. Sue was already past the guards and pulling into the parking space before giving them any reason for basically crashing the barricade. I remember she offered no apology.
We were escorted to Ryan’s room. It was room ICU #1. I turned the corner of the door and all the air left my lungs. I struggled to keep my knees from buckling, but always held Sue in my sight to make sure she was stable. Sue lost all sense of control and the tears streamed. Ryan’s bed was surrounded by so much equipment we could barely get to him. He had tubes and wires all over his body. There were at least fifteen IV bags hanging with a network of connections. The first thing I noticed was he was on a respirator. Is this life support, I wondered?
The nurse told us the doctor would like to see us. We were taken to a “family consultation room”. I knew this was not good that we were being led away from the public. Sue and I just stood there, in each others’ arms waiting for the inevitable. This was so much worse than I ever imagined. This is when I whispered in Sue’s ear “We Got This”, that is now our mantra.
“Your son is in grave condition”, we are told. “He is not likely to survive the next seventy-two hours”, the doctor explains. “He has suffered massive insult to a large area of his brain. It is swelling and it will kill him”, the doctor went on.
We are asked if we wanted them to preform surgery to remove a portion of his skull to allow the brain to expand. We immediately said we did. The doctor looks at us squarely, as though he is a mechanic interested if we want our car fixed or scraped and says, “Your son has a less than 50/50 chance of pulling through this surgery. Even still, he’s not out-of-the-woods for days. I must tell you, even if he survives the next few days, this severe of injuries normally doesn’t turn out well”. We knew he was suggesting that we let Ryan die.
Ryan made it through the surgery. I quickly learned how to read his Intra-cranial Pressure (ICP) gauge that hung by his bedside. His head swelled and receded. Swelled and receded. It was an endless cycle. Then, after several days, it stabilized. The same day, his lung collapsed and he fought for air. Doctors flooded his room with so many carts we were pinned into the corner. Somehow — and I still don’t know how — Ryan pulled through it.
This was when I made the decision that I would never give up. If Ryan won’t quit, then neither will I.
My education began. I questioned everything. Most nurses and doctors understood I was trying to learn, but a few took it as a challenge to their abilities. We made sure they weren’t assigned to Ryan ever again. The nurse who taught me the most was Cassandra. Her intelligence was off the charts, but more so, she was a caring women (and stunningly attractive). She spent untold hours with me in the middle of the night explaining everything. When not in Ryan’s room, she sat at a small desk outside his door where she could see everything. She was my benchmark for the standard of care that Ryan should receive. Sue and I would rate each nurses by asking “is she Cassandra-good?”.
I wish I could remember how many times a doctor would look to us, with Ryan in distress, and ask us how we wanted to proceed. Allow me to translate: Do you want your son to live? I distinctly remember the last time I was asked this. I was nearly three months after the attack. We were at Shepard Center in Atlanta. Ryan’s heart rate would plummet and a defibrillator would shock him back to life. Let’s just say, I made it abundantly clear what our wishes were and no one ever dared ask again.
You see, Sue and I agreed that once we reached a decision, we would never look back. I wish I could say I was true to our agreement.
So much torments me to this day.