My boyfriend, Richard Fabian, died of complications from a brain aneurysm on October 27, 2000. I am so grateful for this web site as it has been a great source of comfort to me. I was reluctant to tell my own personal story in a public forum. But the courage and honesty of those who have gone before me have inspired me to do the same. There is an old Chinese proverb, If you want to know what the road is ahead, ask those who are coming back. This is a story of one who is coming back.
The trouble started on a Saturday morning in mid-September during lovemaking. Rich suddenly cried out in pain and the next thing I knew he was lying on the bed in the fetal position. I kept asking what was wrong but initially he didn't respond. Then he complained that his neck really hurt. Rich got up and started pacing. I tried to massage his neck but he begged me to stop because he said it was making him nauseous. Somehow he got dressed and went downstairs. He said he was seeing spots in front of his eyes. It sounded a lot like the aura I see when I'm getting a migraine. We thought the problem must have been a pulled muscle that was causing a migraine. After coffee and breakfast, he said he was feeling better, so we went out and ran our usual errands. Rich didn't complain of a headache or more neck pain that day. The next morning he told me he was up all night with a terrible headache. I gave him some of my migraine medication. He took it and felt immediate relief.
But the next day the headache was back and the migraine medication wasn't helping. Rich suffered for a week and then called the doctor. The doctor diagnosed him with a severe muscle pull. Rich said that the pain would move from the back of his neck to his forehead and down his left leg. The doctor said these symptoms were typical with this type of sprain. He gave Rich a muscle relaxant and Motrin, and told him the symptoms would probably persist for a month.
For that reason, we weren't too concern when the symptoms came and went. Rich did not look well, however. People were commenting that he was pale and not acting like himself. I feel guilty now because I was dismissing these concerns to a simple muscle pull. Why didn't I beg him to go back to the doctor? And if I had would it have made a difference?
We had both been working hard and Rich suggested that we get away from our home in San Diego, California for a few days. He had been at the Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite on business a couple of months before and thought it was beautiful there. So we got the plane tickets and the car reservation and off we went. The date was October 7. I remember Rich didn t say much on the plane ride, the car ride from Fresno to Yosemite, or during dinner. We watched a James Bond movie that night and he surprised me by asking if we could turn out the lights before the movie was over. It was one of his favorite films and it didn't seem like him. This was around 10:20-30 p.m.
About 10:50 p.m. I woke up when Rich hit me in the face. I started to joke, Hey, what are ya doing? Then he sat straight up in bed and cried out that his head hurt. He stood up and paced in agony. I went to the bathroom and got hot compresses. He tried those but they didn't offer any relief. He dropped to his knees and held his head in his hands moaning. I said that I need to use the bathroom, then I would throw on some clothes and get him to the hospital. I came out of the bathroom and started to get dressed. Rich was standing behind me when suddenly I heard him make these terrible sounds. I turned around and saw that he was convulsing. His eyes were rolling back in his head, he was vomiting and his arms were sort of circling backwards. I kept calling his name like an idiot but I didn't know what else to do. He then fell to the floor, breathing with deep, ragged , noisy breaths. I rolled him on to his side and cleared his air passages as best I could. I kept calling his name but he was unresponsive. I grabbed the telephone and called the front desk. One, two, three, four, five rings. No answer. I became frantic. Instead of calling 911, I ran into the hall for help. The door closed behind me and then I became hysterical. I started banging on the doors all down the hallway, crying and begging for help. People tentatively opened their doors and I screamed that my boyfriend had a seizure and that he could suffocate on his own vomit if someone didn't help me NOW. After what seemed an eternity, a man from the hotel came running down the hallway with a first aid kit. He opens the door and started to administer to Richard. There were two doctors registered in the hotel and they were close behind. I look down to see that I am wearing only underwear and a sweatshirt. The sweatshirt is on backwards. I finish getting dressed, then I pace and pray. The doctors work on Rich. What is your name? Richard. Where are you, Richard? I'm on the floor. It is so like Rich to answer literally. My heart turns over.
Rich no longer responds. The doctors now turn and ask me questions. Then one doctor says to the other, Do you think subarachnoid hemorrhage? I don t know what this means but I know it isn't good. One doctor takes a look at my face and says don t worry, we always think the worst. I think to myself, so does my mother, and, mister, it runs in my family.
After another eternity passes, the paramedics arrive. They work on Rich for about 10 minutes and then say they have to get him to the hospital. I say to one of them, Please don't let him die. He answers, Don't worry, he ll be fine. They put him on a stretcher and tell me to pack a bag and follow. Two people from the hotel are there and they insist that they drive me. Apparently I look as bad as I feel.
When the bags are packed, I go downstairs and one of the ladies from the hotel tells me that Rich took a turn for the worse in the ambulance. She does not tell me that he was life flighted to the hospital. The drive from Yosemite to Fresno takes forever. I am thinking of everything and nothing at the same time.
We finally arrive at the hospital and I race through the door to the receptionist. I ask about Rich and she tells me to wait in the little room down the hall to my right and I wonder how my legs can move if my heart has stopped beating. I wait in the room and the ladies from the hotel wait with me. The doctor comes in and tells me that it appears Rich has suffered a ruptured aneurysm. It does not look good at all. The neurosurgeon on duty will review the cat scan and come and talk to me. I am in a movie, a very bad movie. The neurosurgeon arrives and tells me he is sorry that he has to deliver such terrible news. The bleed was in every ventricle of the brain. Rich probably won't make it through the night. And what can they get for me a box of kleenex? And will I please complete these admittance papers?
I struggle to remember important phone numbers. I start calling. I get a hold of Richard's cousin, Patsy. She and her husband start packing for the drive from San Diego to Fresno. I call my friend, Mariam, and she calls our friend, Sharon, and together they make arrangements to fly to Fresno. I call my sister and Richard's brother. My world is suddenly inexplicably reduced to a couch in the intensive care waiting room. I am alone. Now and always, I think. A woman feels sorry for me and brings me a blanket. Later I learn her name is Rosie. She is one of the friends I make in the waiting room and together we will support each other in the weeks to come. But I know nothing of that now. The next morning my friends arrive to find me in the same spot on the couch. I look up to see their beautiful faces and I know they can hear my heart breaking.
My friends and Rich's relatives make arrangements to check Rich and me out of the hotel and drive the rental car from Yosemite to Fresno; and they reserve a hotel room. We are far from home, in another world it seems.
Over the next day or so Rich's vital signs remain strong. Although he is on a respirator to regulate his breathing, he is virtually breathing on his own. The doctor says Rich is in great shape except for that bleed in his head. The ICU nurse says his responses are minimal, much like that of a newborn, so I shouldn't think much of it when he squeezes my hand. Just a reflex action, she says. That night Rich comes to me in a dream. He says if he survives this ordeal that he won't be the same. I say it doesn't matter to me, that I will do whatever it takes. I tell him that we need a sign to indicate he can hear me. Tomorrow ask me to wiggle my toes, he says. The next morning at his bedside, I ask him to wiggle his toes and he does and then I know my dream is real.
The following days bring some progress. Rich will often respond by lifting his arms, blinking his eyes, squeezing my hand, nodding his head Always his face changes when I come into his room and call his name. I say, Ti Amo, Sweetie, and Rich moves his lips in response.
But then the roller coaster starts. Rich has a fever, his vital signs are off. A cat scan shows more bleeding. They get him stable again and we wait and see. Then Rich develops an infection. The respiratory tech tells me he thinks it's a slight case of pneumonia. Large doses of antibiotics, and we wait and see.
Finally after nearly two weeks of waiting the doctor says it's time to act. They perform an angiogram and the results are that there is one aneurysm. It is in a spot on the left side, just above the eye. It's not easy to get to but it's not uncommon. Because it can be clipped, they can do it at the hospital rather than life flight Rich to Stanford where they perform the coiling procedure. The doctor wants to see if Rich will improve over the next few days so it's wait and see again. We are hopeful because at least now we know it's operable. I blurt out to the doctor that I am in love with him. He thinks I am kidding.
Rich develops a high fever. Other symptoms indicate that that his pituitary gland isn't functioning properly. The nurse tells me that the situation is very serious. The doctors suspect that Rich might have a form of meningitis and they perform a spinal tap. The results are negative. More antibiotics, a refrigerated blanket, fans in the room. Then one day the nurse tells me that Rich opened his eyes. Ask him to do it for you, she says. I ask him and he does! He looks at me from a faraway place. I wonder, can he see me? Can he see me? I say, I love you, Richard Fabian. His eyes are open for about two minutes and they never leave my tear-streaked face.
My friends have taken up a collection for me at work to enable me to stay in an extended stay hotel close to the hospital. I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of prayers, cards, and money gifts. I tell Rich about it and read him the names of people who sent money. He squeezes my hand.
But, the doctor says Rich has to be lighter in his coma before he can risk an operation. But his condition persists with no change. Finally the doctor tells me that a decision must be made. He doesn't want Rich to remain on a respirator for too much longer. He can see that Rich was an active person and knows he would not want to remain in this state. The doctor says he is hesitant to operate. I think what he is trying to tell me is that he is recommending that they remove life support and the feeding tube. It feels like my soul is not in my body and I wonder when it will ever come back.
I discuss this information with the others who have a say in Rich's treatment and we all agree to proceed with the surgery. The surgery takes 7.5 hours. My sister and I wait and pray. When the doctor comes out, the first thing he says is that Rich survived the surgery. My knees give out and I have to lean against the wall. The doctor says the surgery was successful and that they can now remove the shunt from Rich's head that was draining the blood. He says Rich's brain was slack which is a good sign. Rich lost less than a pint of blood which is another good sign. But the doctor isn't making any promises.
Rich wasn't at all responsive that evening but I had been told not to expect much after such a serious surgery. The next day there was still no progress. For the first time in the three weeks he is hospitalized, the left side of Rich s body is not responding at all, not even to pain. The only response Rich makes is to blink his eyes and he will only do it once for me. I know he is tired and a sense of dread washes over me.
The call comes in the wee hours of the morning, October 27. The night nurse says that Rich has taken an irredeemable turn for the worse. I know that means he is brain dead. The doctor calls at 8:30 a.m. to confirm the grime news and we make arrangements for organ donation. And I know that after three weeks of sheer and utter agony, a new hell awaits me.
It has been two months since Rich died. He comes to me in dreams and tells me over and over again that he is not dead. I ask if he is close to me and he answers very close. And I know that it is true. Of course, his spirit is alive and well in another dimension. Of course, I sense that he is near me. Sometimes I can hear him say to me the words I often repeated at his bedside, Even though you can't see me, I'm right here with you. We re going to see this thing through together. I'll never leave you. And I know in my heart of hearts that it's true.
I also know that he was not the sort of man who would choose to live incapacitated. He was athletic, a person who was nearly always busy doing something. He would have not been satisfied with anything less than his old life back. A friend kindly told me that Rich hung on for me and then decided to let go for me. Her words were and are a comfort to me.
Still there is no getting around it. I am stuck living in the density of the physical world. And in my grief, I have no sense of connectedness to the world around me, the hubbub of the work place, the ups and downs of everyday living. I seldom wear a watch because it doesn't matter to me what time it is. Sometimes in a meeting, all I hear is white noise.
Grief strikes unexpectedly. What I miss most are the rituals that gave meaning to our life together and the gestures that made our relationship special. The other day I was reading a book, lost in another reality, when I came upon a sentence Without taking his eyes off the road, he reached for her hand, brought it to his lips and kissed her fingertips. I remembered how Rich used to do that and now it's lost to me forever. I look at his picture and remember how sometimes he would look at me with so much love on his face, that I felt I could actually scoop it off and hold it in my hands.
Often I am shocked by the casual, automatic way everyone around me appears to get through the day as though nothing were wrong. I can't do that anymore. Now I look at life through the veil of my grief and the lens of my experience. I remember the ICU and the people fighting for their lives. I remember the waiting room down the hall and the people wrestling with the smallest hope that their loved one will live and the excruciating agony of knowing they may not. I remember the kindness of the social worker, the gentleness of the chaplain, the patience of the doctor, and the fine intensive care nurses at St. Agnes Memorial Hospital. I think of what they do every day for the sick, the dying, and the grieving. I remember the stories I have read on this website and the terrible losses others have suffered. Oh, it is impossible now to live the ordinary life in an ordinary way.
A good friend told me that one day I will feel connected to the world again although it will never be the same. And she added, but when you love deeply and completely, the world should never be the same.
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