“Go on, touch her.”

“No, I don’t want to.”

“She can’t hurt you, go on.”

“No, I’m afraid.”

“Look. I’ll do it. See? She’s cold.”

That was my first experience with death. Standing in front of a casket, my younger brother, Ricky, inquisitive little thing that he was, wanted me to share in his fascination of a dead body. We could barely see her as we tippy toed to peer over the side. He insisted there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, but I wasn’t convinced. I never touched her.

I’ve thought of that moment quite a bit the past six months. The difference in our attitudes. It was the same all throughout our life together. He, not fearing death. I, paralyzed at the thought of it. He would challenge me many times, “How can you be so afraid, when you believe in God?” I had no answer. I still don’t. Perhaps it’s the suffering that may be involved or the finality of it in this lifetime. I just don’t know.

Many of us don’t have the chance to say good bye to a loved one. I had that chance with my brother and it is with that in mind, I write.

Ricky inherited our father’s heart disease (so have I for that matter) and he had three heart attacks over the past few years. The last one led him to the hospital in an ambulance. As the family arrived, the doctor took us all in a conference room and told us Ricky had another heart attack while the doctor was doing a heart cath on him. Went without oxygen to his brain for 40 minutes while the doctor shocked him 39 times. We were glad to know our brother was still alive. However, we were told chances may not be good. He could either go into kidney failure, infection could set in or he could be brain damaged. Time would tell.

It was brain damage. At first, we just held on to a hope that it was just the medications, being tied up in bed, being on a ventilator. We were not going to believe any bad report until we had proof. Tests were ran. Most of them inconclusive. Even the doctors could not agree with one another.

I made it clear more than once, that the staff would not talk in front of him like he was deaf. Using words in front of him like “brain damaged”  etc. However, they did anyway and by the second or third time, I let them know about it.

“I told you no! … He’s not deaf… He’s not a piece of furniture …. I realize you have other patients, but this is our brother here and you will respect him and our wishes … Don’t tell me he’s not suffering. How do you know? You ever been in his position?! … Do you think I’m stupid?! … Get me a patient advocate, Im not putting up with this …”

I had more than one round with these nurses who had seen it all and our brother was just one more body to them. But to us, he was our loved one. At the mercy of strangers, in my eyes. I had a hard time trusting.

We did get our advocate and she helped us in working with the staff.

My other brother, my sister and I spent time with Ricky. Trying to get him to respond. “Ricky can you squeeze our hand?” No response. There were times when even the slightest movement excited us. But it was nothing. It had to do with us having false hope more than reality. Still we clung.

My sister was the first to speak it: “He looks like he’s got cerebral palsy,” she tearfully told me over the phone. I thought the same thing but didn’t want to admit it yet. “It might be the drugs. Plus they have him tied down in bed. Could be his back hurts.” I realized I was grasping for straws. Something simple to explain his condition. It was easier than the reality of the situation.

We decided to give him a few days to see how he would respond when taken off the pain med. Surely, he will perk up and be back to his old self. I was already making plans on going home with him to help take care of him. But it wasn’t to be. He was on that ventilator 11 days.

(To be continued)