(DISCLAIMER: Below is an extremely raw and real story about the final weeks of my uncle's life, if this makes you uncomfortable, I would ask that you not read it, I'm writing this, for me and for my family, these are moments I will never forget, nor do I want to forget because they changed me, and God is using these moments in a big way in my life. However, I understand it may not be for everyone to read)
Over the past several weeks, my uncle, who I am very close with began to face the downhill part of his two-year battle with lung cancer. Two weeks ago I received a phone call on Sunday morning, telling me to come to Baraboo to see him, for probably the last time. He was in the hospital with pneumonia, and while the day before I had heard he was doing really well and expected to come home in the next couple of days, he had taken a sudden turn for the worse over night and they weren't really sure what to expect.
I got there at about 10 in the morning. I walked in, and while he acknowledged my presence and told me he was glad I came, there was very little acknowledgement on his part throughout the day. He was tired and struggling.
We had found out that morning, that despite the third round of chemo that he was currently on, the tumor had grown and was now wrapped around some blood vessels. His hemoglobin had dropped two points over night, and they were not sure if the vessels had been compromised or not.
That day our entire family sat by his side as we watched him struggling to maintain his oxygen levels. He was scared and anxious. They gave him some medication to help, but we could tell he wasn't ready. I decided that I would stay the night that night with him while he was in the hospital so that he wasn't alone. I live two-and-a-half hours away and I wasn't willing to leave and drive home, knowing how sick he was.
The nurses explained to me that often times patients would get worse during the night. But he didn't - he actually started doing better. At about 3am he had even sat up on the side of the bed and we got his blood ox up to 99!! Uncle T and I both started checking wires…. we were sure the machine was malfunctioning!! :)
The next morning social workers, doctors and nurses were coming in as we started to discuss the possibility of hospice. Todd was not willing to take the steps towards hospice quiet yet. He knew he wasn't ready to go home to my mom's house (he was still not able to get out of bed or take care of his own basic needs), but he wasn't ready to stop fighting either.
The hardest part for Todd during all of this was his inability to communicate easily. Around Thanksgiving he had lost his voice, most likely from the tumor pressing on a nerve, and he was difficult to understand without an oxygen mask on his face.
It was decided that he would go to a nursing home under rehabilitation. With the hope that they would help him get stronger and at least get out of bed on his own, and then he would go back home. He got moved in on Tuesday. He worked really hard at his rehab and was doing better. Though he didn't feel like he would be ready to go home in the two-weeks time they were hoping for, with help he was getting out of bed and eating in the cafeteria with other patients. During the next couple of days, Todd became more at peace with his diagnosis and, I think began to realize there was not anything, medically that could be done for him.
He had made his peace.
My mom and older sister, Skye had gone to visit Uncle T on Saturday morning. They found him sitting up in his wheel chair with his feet propped up on the side of his hospital bed making a list of things he wanted them to pull out of his house before the estate sale.
He was in good spirits and visited with them for a while before they left to go work on the house.
Sunday morning, my mom was at home and had tried to call Todd several times to let him know she was probably not going to visit that morning. She had been visiting him every day for the last two weeks, and with the cold weather she had wanted to stay home that day. Todd had not answered her several phone calls. I was on the phone with her at 12:30 when she got another call from a number she didn't know. I said "It's probably Todd calling you back, answer it and call me when you can."
She called back minutes later and said "It was the nursing home, they think Todd is dying and wanted to know if I wanted them to send him to the hospital. I'm walking out the door now, I'll call you when I know more. Call your sisters for me."
I hung up and called my sisters.
I called Tim who was dropping Treyton off at basketball. He said he would come and pick up the other kids so I could head out.
I got to Baraboo around 3:30.
I walked into Todd's room…. it was very calm and peaceful. I came around his bed, kissed him and told him I was there, and that I loved him. He opened his eyes and told me he loved me too.
It was my mom, my step-dad, Luke, and my sister, Skye.
Todd was at the nursing home, they had decided not to send him to the hospital, because there was nothing the hospital could do for him as far as actually healing/helping him. We were in the stages of making him a comfortable as we could.
Todd's blood oxygen was now in the 70s and we could not really get it to come up. His body was going to begin to shut down. When my mom had gotten there Todd was pretty anxious, but mostly because he felt like he couldn't breath. He was tossing and turning and unable to get comfortable. They gave him some medication and he was now calm, and resting.
My mom was able to talk with him when she had first gotten to his room and asked him if he needed anything. He said "no", she asked him if he was scared he said "no", she asked him if he wanted her to leave him alone he said "yes". She stood up from sitting on the said of his bed. He said "hey" she looked back at him and he said "I love you, good night."
He was finally at peace.
He rested all throughout the day.
At one point, around 7 at night, Todd had "sat up" and opened his eyes, he was slightly agitated at which point they gave him more medication. We each got a chance in those few brief moments to tell him we were there and that we loved him. He acknowledged each of us.
After this, he didn't respond as much, though he would still move occasionally to get more comfortable.
The nurse had told us that he could live days like this. My sister and I decided to stay that night to give my mom a break, because we would have to be going home on Monday. My mom left the hospital around 10. My mom kissed him and said her goodbyes.
My sister and I cuddled up on a cot next to Todd's bed and rested when we could. The nurses and aids came in every couple of hours to turn him and give him more medication.
The night nurses were not well received by my older, very protective sister and the aids were attempting to handle Todd more than she was comfortable with. So after 1am, Skye was sitting next to Todd watching him (and anyone else who may have attempted to enter his domain) very carefully. I was laying on the cot. We were watching him breath.
He was very peaceful. Though looking back, there had been a change in the last couple of hours.
At 1am when the nurse came in to give him medication. His respiration was at 20 a minute. By 1:30 he was at about 13 respirations per minute. At about 1:45 he had started breathing more sporadically, before long I told Skye "we should call mom" She agreed but said, lets count for a minute and see where he's at.
We started counting. It took 15 seconds for one breath. I said "Call Mom!!" She did.
I leaned over my uncle, kissed his head and said "We're right here, uncle, you're doing so good."
He took another breath.
Skye was talking to my step-dad.
He took another, very small breath.
And he was gone.
There was no struggling, there was no gasping. It was very peaceful.
We sat by his bed holding his hands until my mom got there about 10 minutes later.
Yesterday was his funeral.
I can't really explain to you the emotions we've all been going through. We are at peace, truly. My uncle's ugly battle with cancer and emphysema is finally over. And he is completely healed! My uncle had a very strong faith, perhaps the strongest faith I've ever seen, and we have no doubt where he is today.
We are sad, because we will miss him, but we are joyful for him.
I wrote something in honor of my uncle which I then read at the funeral. For those that know me, I do NOT speak publicly but I knew this was something I really wanted to do. I'm sure the presentation wasn't perfect (I had to read the entire thing) but I know the message was received and that's what matters: