Monday, June 23, 2008

Chris Dennis 3/29/78 - 6/21/08

It is with a heavy heart that I post. This is mostly just for my benefit, to remember things, because the past few days have been nothing but a blur. If you continue, prepare for a whole lotta rambling.

I got a phone call early Saturday morning from my Dad. He said that he needed to get in touch with my mother, that my brother had been in an accident, and he was critical. To be honest with you, I think the hospital pretty much knew what the outcome was going to be at that point, but wanted to spare delivering the news over the phone. Noone could reach my mother. I had all the kids piled up in the car before I finally talked to her. She was a basket case. She kept saying "he's dead isn't he?" I kept telling her no, that I wouldn't lie to her, that noone had told us he was dead. She insisted.

Luckily my mother was very close to the hospital. She arrived much sooner than I. I had warned her friends that were with her... he may look really bad. He may have lots of tubes. He could be in a coma. He could even be brain dead. Don't dare let her go in there by herself. By that point, I had discovered it was a motorcycle accident. As a RN, I know that motorcycle accident + critical condition = not looking good here. I think I prepared everyone but myself.

I was still an hour away when my step-mother called me, "Your mother needs you". I remember asking... "Where is she?" What a stupid question.

"With the chaplain." The chaplain? This isn't good at all....

"Is he brain dead?" I still have no idea why I asked this question. Out of all the questions I could have asked, why this one? On the phone?


I don't think you could have shocked me more at that very moment. I remember feeling absolute and total despair. I have never, ever felt anything like that in my life, and I hope I never do again. I wanted out. Out of the car. Out of my body. Out of a world that was crumbling all around me.

I started to think of my mother... my dad... my grandparents... his children... and I came to the conclusion that the doctors had to be mistaken. And that I was going to figure out what was wrong with him, and by george, I was going to have them all fix him when I got there. I was convinced.

I remember Eric finally parking the Tahoe and basically running to the ER, but he wasn't there. He had been moved to Neuro ICU. I was greeted by some nice lady from the Organ Center. WHAT? The organ center? Uh, no. I'm going to fix him, thank you very much. Shoo.

My mom & dad were waiting on me, of course, because I'm the only "medical" person in the family... then the chaplain begins... "Dr. Melton was just in with your family, and she doesn't pull any punches." Ah, yes, Dr. Melton. I remember her from the ER. One of the best trauma surgeons, PERIOD. But she must have missed something, because he can't be brain dead. "Chris was in a terrible accident. He has multiple skull fractures. He's lost alot of blood. He's broken alot of bones."

The whole time, I'm thinking, I can fix this. We're going to fix this. Because I am not going to watch my mother go through this. I will fix it. Because that's what I do. "Can I just see him please?"

I walked into his room. The first thing I noticed is that there were 4 RNs with him. Oh noooo. This is never good. 1 on 1 is bad enough but 4 on 1? Well, I didn't really care. Because we're going to need alot of help if we're going to fix this, right? Right.

Then I saw his blood pressure. 59/27. WOAH. I'm introduced by the chaplain as a RN. The nurse begins... "He has severe head trauma. He has parietal, occipital, and basilar skull fractures." Me: What did the CT show? "Midline shift." (Which tells me what? Brain herniation. CRAP.) "He also has C1 & C2 displacement (that's the top 2 neck bones), compound fractures of both tib/fibs & femurs, a crushed pelvis, both blah blah blah, 24 units of blood already, blah blah blah...."

I really wasn't listening to her much because she didn't sound like she thought we could fix it. And wasn't that what my family had called me for? Wasn't that my job? But did she REALLY say midline shift? I think I heard her say midline shift...

I went to look at him. His eyes were taped shut. There were so many tubes, everywhere. But you know what? I could see past it. He looked so handsome, just like always. He had one scratch on his head, and one scratch on his chest. But all these freakin tubes everywhere. And no shirt on... and his chest was fine! There he was breathing in, out, in, out. Yeah, well, it was the ventilator, but his chest was moving up and down so I was satisfied. Okay.. now for fixing him...I cleaned the blood out of his ears. I'm not gonna even think that was bloody spinal fluid. I knew it was, but we aren't going to worry about that right now because ... wait. Did she really say midline shift?

"Did you say that he had a midline shift?"

She nodded. Whatever.

"Did you say he had gotten 24 units of blood?"

She nodded. Oh, God. The only patient I had that I had EVER given that much blood died.

"Did you say he had a C1 & C2 displacement?"

She nodded again.

I just started crying. Because right then... I almost thought for a minute... that I MIGHT not be able to fix him. She might not be able to fix him. Dr. Melton might not be able to fix him. Because God may not want us to fix him...

I went back into the family room to discuss organ donation. Then my mom told me that she had talked to him and she thought he heard her. I about freaked out... did he blink? Weren't his eyes taped shut? Had I missed something? Hold up, organ lady...

They brought the nurse back to me in the hall. I had her go over all of it again. I have never felt so retarded in all my life. I honestly couldn't remember a thing she had told me. I kept asking... did you say he had skull fractures? Did you mention something about his neck being broken? It was like I had a sudden case of amnesia or something. I remember telling her... I know you told me all this a minute ago, but for the life of me I can't remember a word of it. She was so sweet, so patient, and so informative. She kept telling me how horrible it must be to know all that stuff.

"Didn't you say something about a midline shift?"

She nodded. Deja vu.

"So they are expecting brain herniation?"

...and the words I'll never forget... "he ALREADY herniated".

From that moment on, I don't remember much to be honest. I knew at that point that there was no fixing it. I know that I went over it in my head like 900 times. And I couldn't figure out any possible way to fix it. I felt absolutely helpless and hopeless. My brother was going to die. No - my brother was already dead.

We consented to organ donation because we knew it was what Chris would have wanted. He was able to give both kidneys. Soon after we gave consent, he became very unstable and they were unable to keep his blood pressure up. Because of that, coupled with the severe trauma, they were unable to use any of the other organs.

But I say... if you were the person in need of a kidney, you'd think his last gift - not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

We found a notebook Chris had written in. He had recorded his life story for an exercise on 4/15/08. At the top, he wrote "I'm not proud of my past, I've made some mistakes, but it's how you finish that counts." I know he'd be proud that the last thing he ever did was offer precious gifts to 2 lucky people.

What an amazing finish. I've never been prouder of my baby brother.


Terri said...

Thank you for writing this because I wuould never remember all of this stuff.

But you were wrong about one thing, you weren't called expected to fix him, you were called because you are his sister and my daughter. Not once did I think you could fix it because I knew in my heart God had already took him with him. And thats okay, because he is happier now then he has ever been and is looking down smiling on all of us. I love you so very much. I know you think that you should always fix everything (I know who you get that from) but some things you just have to let go and let God. Mama

Julie said...

Steph and Terri, I am so sorry.

Ren said...

I have no words.

I just want you to know that I read and I hurt so much for you.

Stacy Deffenbaugh said...

steph...there are no words i can say...i pray God be with you and your family...i'm sooo you girl

Stephanie said...

Stephanie- I am so sorry to read this. Please know your family is in our prayers. :(

melly~ said...

my heart is heavy for you, Stephanie. I've long admired your photography skills and today I'm in wonder at your words.
Thank you for sharing your story. If nothing else, it will stand as a constant reminder of what should be important in this life.
I'm so sorry.
with thoughts of you,

Renee said...

I am so sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers.
Renee Lewis

meg said...

we're all thinking of you, so sorry for your loss...

sageg said...

hugs to you and your family Steph

Tracy said...

Stephanie-I too have long been a blog and photography stalker of heart goes out to a fellow ICU nurse and as a sister and the one who feels that "fix it" mentatilty from our families. May you find peace...since my words are not enough.

erin said...

Oh Stephanie. Oh no. I am so, so incredibly sorry that this is happening to your family. Know that prayers are being said for you and your family tonight.

Denise said...

Steph Know that I am thinking of you, your parents and your entire family. My heart has been very heavy for you. I feel like I should be doing something but I just don't know what. I love you and will always be there for you I hope you know that.

Jennifer said...

Sending love from my heart. I've admired your photography talent and appreciated your comments. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a difficult time.

Kristi Smith said...

Oh, this made me really cry. I am so sorry. The comment from your mom made the tears even flow harder. I am so sorry for your loss.

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