This is probably one of the hardest posts I’ll ever write, but my hope is that I can impart some wisdom on my fellow EMS providers in how to deal with family in regards to their family dying or already being dead.
On September 11, 2014, I get a phone call that changed my life forever. MamaTrommashere called me to tell me that PapaTrommashere had collapsed on a business trip and was in cardiac arrest. Here is my own personal story on how I ceased to be a provider and became The Family.
1) Family will never react normally to shitty news.
When my mother called me, the first words out of her mouth were, “Your dad collapsed and he’s dead…I think.” MamaTrommashere is absolutely not medical, but she went to school to be a therapist. I was asleep in bed and I really didn’t register what she said, so my response was, “O…okay. Call me later *click*.” She called me right back and she used her “Therapist voice” on me.
“Shao. Your dad’s heart stopped beating. They won’t tell me what’s going on since I’m not there.”
“Shao…listen closely…your father is dying. ”
*deadpan* “Mom…I have to go to work.”
*therapy voice* “Honey…you need to call off of work and drive to Maryland, but don’t worry about getting on the road right away. I have to pick up Grandma. I’ll call you when we’re leaving.”
*Angrily* “Mom. I am NOT waiting around. He is my fucking father and I WILL NOT just wait. I’m packed and I’ll beat you there. What hospital?”
*sigh* Meritus in Hagerstown, MD.
The next thing I do is scream and cry for exactly 2 minutes, then I start acting like it was a normal day. I grabbed a bag and packed for an overnight. Why an overnight bag? I couldn’t deal with my Dad, so I slipped into denial mode and began to get my things together to go to the hospital, then I was coming home for the comedy show the next day. Seriously, my main focus was not getting to my critically ill Father, but how I had waited for months to go to this show and I wasn’t going to miss it. I called my friends I was going with and told them to expect me the next day, but I had to run out of town on an Emergency. Some asked what was wrong and I very calmly told them my Father was dying, but…and I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t been told this by several people…that I said, “It’s no big deal. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I have never really had a normal response to death. One of my parents favorite stories involves me finding out my Grandfather and Great Grandmother died on the same day. Nana had been gorked with Dementia for years and Grandad died over a botched medical procedure. He lingered on life support for a week before they took him off. During the two weeks of funerals and spending time at the hospital, my only concern was a report I was doing on the medical advances during WWII. I never showed any frustration or anger towards the death of two of my close family members…I was just more pissed that I didn’t have access to the school library to do my report. So, needless to say, I’ve never had a normal response to death and dying, this just happened to be one of the times it was more pronounced.
On my way to Hagerstown, I decided to stop for Pierogies and a Beer. Once again…my Dad is dying at a hospital and I decide to stop for an hour and eat Pierogies and bullshit with a bartender. Looking back, I can only imagine what the Bartender was thinking when I told him, “I just wanted to grab some food…my Dad is dying.” in a calm, non emotional voice.
2) Information overload is a very real thing.
The voice of clarity broke through about 10 minutes into the whole incident and voice told me to call the hospital and find out what’s going on. I was transferred to a nurse and I very officially stated, “My name is Shao Trommashere, you have my Father Papa Trommashere in your emergency department. The nurse passed me off to the charge nurse and I calmly repeated the same phrase. She then transfers me to the Doctor in charge.
The Physician who spoke to me was extremely kind. He ran down the list: He collapsed at a Sheetz, a Pepsi delivery guy who just happened to be an off-duty Montgomery Co. Fire Fighter started CPR, one of the employees at Sheetz brought out the AED, and Community Rescue Service was less than 10 minutes away. He was defibrillated seven times before he got pulses back en route to the hospital. All his chemistries came back normal, except for his Trop which was .85. His lactate and ABG came back within normal limits. Pupils were reactive….
I got all of this information and more within 20 minutes of finding out my Father tried to die. I remember the whole conversation, but I didn’t digest it. It was way too much information to process at one time. I understand that the Doctor was offering me a bit of professional courtesy by giving me the run down…but it was something I didn’t need at that time. If I could go back, I would’ve asked for the specifics and nothing more. I found myself focusing on one thing; his Troponin level. I became so hyperfocused on that one thing that I kind of zoned out on everything else. My next conversation with my mother consisted of me explaining the lab work and nothing else. She kept asking about how he was doing and I kept circling right back around to how his Troponin was high, but that was to be expected after prolonged CPR.
3) Tunnel Vision.
The drive to Hagerstown, after my stop for food, was uneventful. I’d call the CICU for updates and brief my mother, but past that, I just turned on the music and drove. I don’t really remember the drive, honestly. I just know I beat my mother to the hospital…even though she had a full 90 minute head start. I’m sure someone could’ve told me my hair was on fire and I probably wouldn’t have cared. I wasn’t feeling emotional, I didn’t cry, I wasn’t begging God for him to live…I just had a flat affect and all I could focus on was getting to Meritus. My mother, on the other hand, knew my personal fallout was probably coming and it was going to be bad. She warned the CICU nurses that I’d most likely come in raising all sorts of Hell. To everyone’s surprise, I actually remained pretty calm and relaxed. Mary, one of the nurses, even made a comment about how she expected me to come in like Hellfire, yet I was so calm and professional that she was expecting another daughter to come in any minute.
I was in full Tunnel Vision mode. I knew I had to get to the CICU and see my Dad. Past that? Fuck it. I didn’t care how it was going to happen, I didn’t care what was going on around me, all I cared about was getting in that room.
4) The Aftermath.
My Dad made it just fine. He was sedated and they had him on the Hypothermic Protocol. It was 72 hours of just sitting in his room, fielding phone calls and e-mails, visitors, and whatever else. When he woke up, he asked who won the Steelers game…and Baltimore won. He rolled his eyes and went back to sleep. It was a full day before all the sedation wore off and he was complaining about the food, the coffee, and whatever else he could bitch about, but he was fine.
Here’s where it got really interesting for me. I dealt so much with my family and how they were doing that I forgot to worry about myself. I don’t like talking about myself or opening up to people, so I wasn’t ever going to ask someone to talk about how I was feeling, but I wanted so badly for someone to ask how I was doing. I wasn’t doing well at all. Everyone was concerned for my parents and Grandmother, but I found it odd that no one asked me how I was doing. It seems selfish, but I really just wanted someone to talk to, someone to cry on. I’ve never told anyone how I was feeling until now, where I’m writing it for the world to see.
I felt so alone, so scared, so tired, and so depressed. I became wreckless, I made very poor decisions and even more questionable ones. I felt alone since I was dealing with my family, yet no one ever seemed to want to know how I was doing, what was going through my mind. I never really…and still haven’t dealt with it. Seeing my Dad is a mix of happiness and sadness…a humbling experience that usually leaves me crying in my car as I pull away from my childhood home. I know one of the prevailing feelings is that I feel like my father could’ve died without seeing his oldest daughter amount to something. My sister is married with three kids to an awesome guy who’s in the Army…my brother just finished Army Basic Training and is being deployed in August, but me…well…it’s not hard to feel like you’ve amounted to nothing when everyone in your family is doing something awesome.
All I know now is that I need to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve learned a lot over the past several months…some of them are very good lessons, others…not so much. I know I’ve become a bit more reserved, a bit more closed off…but in time I’ll be back to myself.
Have fun, be safe, and tell everyone you know that you love them,