Keep making life better.
This has been a long year. In March, my oldest brother, Mike, had a massive heart attack. It took everyone by surprise. As you can see in the photo below, my seemingly healthy brother was the last person anyone thought would end up in the cardiac critical care unit. The week it happened, an ice storm had come through. He went out that morning to shovel ice, and his heart just gave out. Luckily, he was rushed to the hospital in time for them to put a couple of emergency stents in and get him stabilized.
When my mom called and told me what had happened, I was in total shock. Then I started to panic when I realized that the interstate had been shut down because of the ice. What should have been a four hour drive ended up being thirteen. I would make that drive again every day if it meant I would see him again.
If you knew my brother, you wouldn't be surprised to hear that when I finally got to the hospital, he greeted me with a witty comment. The next several nights were really scary, but we made the best of it. When he wasn't sedated, we passed the time by watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Zoolander. We had a few "heart to hearts", but he knew that I was a basket case, so he tried to keep those at a minimum.
He was finally released about a week later. The first time I saw him out of the hospital was the happiest day of my life. We knew he had a long road ahead, but it seemed like the worst of it was behind us. The doctors initially thought that they could add some more stents at a later date and that he would make a full recovery. Over the next few months, I spent almost every weekend with him. We didn't talk about the elephant in the room much, we mainly focused on our future plans. He was going to open up the photography studio he had always dreamed of and eventually move to Nashville. He encouraged me to pursue my music now, instead of later.
The time came for the doctors to add the extra stents. Unfortunately, the procedure failed. Not only had the initial stents collapsed, there was no way to add any more. The only option left was quadruple bypass open-heart surgery. I later found out that he realized early on the survival rate of the particular surgery he was having was slim to none, but he never let on to me. The next few weeks, I went about life as usual, visiting him as much as possible and having our nightly phone calls. I started noticing how weak he was getting, but I just kept thinking that after his surgery he would be as good as new.
At the end of June, they scheduled the big surgery. I stayed with him the night before he had to check in to the hospital. We didn't talk about how that might be the last time we saw each other. Sometimes I wish we had. At one point that night, he told me he was writing a "just in case" note. He said that he planned on coming back and tossing the letter himself, but he wanted me to know where it was just to be safe.
Initially, the surgery went well. The doctor was almost finished when he had a serious allergic reaction to some medicine he was given. They were able to get him somewhat stable and put him back in the cardiac CCU. The next four days we sat with him around the clock. He had a breathing tube the majority of the time, but he was able to communicate by drawing letters on my arm or pointing to an alphabet chart. Even then, he was cracking jokes and making me smile. They eventually took out his breathing tube, and he started breathing on his own. We were sure that he would go home a couple days later, but life had other plans. He passed away a few hours later.
I never dreamed it would end that way.
I went back to his apartment later that afternoon. I wasn't supposed to walk in there alone. He should have been with me. I found the letter he wrote. He left us with several words of wisdom, and I'd like to share some of them.
"Life is bigger than any one person. Life is all of us--before, now and after. Make the most of your time on this little spinning rock. Keep making life better." -Mike Hines