July kicked off with lots of moving on with the processes that we had
already been putting in place. Doris
& Stewart attended the first of the volunteer training days at Woodland Park
Zoo, Doris continued to help out at the local Thrift Shop, Stewart was scheduled
to start at the local YMCA Gym as an assistant & we all survived our
“written” tests at the Department of Transport.
We took a ferry ride across to Bainbridge Island, because it was
somewhere we hadn’t been yet & it involved being on the water for a while,
albeit in a thumping big ferry that churns along at an amazing speed.
The ferries are double ended, so that it pulls up to the terminal, keeps
itself pushed in under power while the traffic unloads, then the new load drives
straight on & the ferry reverses its direction & takes off.
Really cool & very efficient.
Doris’s program of looking after herself was starting to show some
effect. She was looking after her
hair, skin & nails. And she was
showing some muscle definition in her arms.
She had an exercise program on DVD that flattened me after 2 reps while
she did the whole 8 sets! And she
was alternating that with a gym session downstairs with Sharon from the
Then on Monday 14 July, it all went belly-up.
I had gone to work at the usual time of about 7, Doris sat down at the
computer to play games for a while, then did her usual tidy-up of the apartment
& got stuck into her DVD routine. Some
time about 8:30, she burst a blood vessel in her brain & collapsed on the
floor. Stewart was still asleep,
heard her hit the floor & assumed that she had just sat down as she often
did during the routine. It wasn’t
until he heard some strange breathing that he woke up & went to investigate.
Of course when he called me, I had no idea how serious the situation was
& we agreed that he should call for an ambulance.
The local ambos responded very quickly & proceeded to stabilise her
& take her to the nearest hospital, the Overlake Medical Center Hospital,
which just happens to be one of the best for hundreds of miles.
By the time I got there through the heavy traffic, she was in a serious
condition in the Emergency Room.
When the Social Worker peeled us off into a side room & started
asking questions about whether we had family with us, I started to wonder what
was going on & when the first doctor came in & explained his initial
diagnosis, I knew that our lives had changed forever. Even if she survived, we were in for a very long haul.
My first comment to her when I saw her was, “This is not supposed to
happen. We were supposed to grow
old together.” Shortly
afterwards, Doris was transferred to the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) & I lost
contact with her for a couple of hours.
As all of the work numbers I have for the People at Kent were classed as
“long distance” calls, I called my Aussie mate Cathy, who turned up &
stayed for the rest of the day. She
is one of those people who has been through a lot of personal trauma & just
knows what to do – she mothered both of us for the next 2 days, buying lunch
in case we felt like eating something, pulling me out of the room when it all
got too hard & being there like a quiet tower of strength when that was what
One of the major players in this story was the person I called next.
Simon is the Resident Manager for the Boeing Australia people working in
Seattle, which means he is the people manager for about 80 Australians &
their families. Simon immediately
rustled up his wife Rachel & a couple of other spouses & turned up at
the hospital. Meanwhile, Stewart
had been home to collect some books that we could read out loud to Doris &
had returned with not only the “Whale Tales” books that we had bought only a
few weeks before, but also a large quartz crystal & a bear.
He had also sent out a broadcast to the newsletter mailing list that we
were in trouble. At some point, I
went home & modified his message a little & sent it out again, returning
to find a waiting room with several Aussies waiting to see me.
At this stage, Doris was still showing some signs of response & we
put in place a tentative roster of people who could come in & read to her.
I didn’t get much sleep that night, after we finally got thrown out of
Tuesday 15 July. By the time
I got back at 7 the next morning, already showered & “ready” for another
long day, I got thrown out again, as their busiest time is the shift handover
between 7 & 8. When I got back
in, the doctor in charge had some bad news for me.
In the early hours of Tuesday, Doris had gone to “pupils fixed &
dilated”, which is an indication that her condition had deteriorated.
They had already taken her for a second CAT scan, which had shown that
her brain had swollen in her skull & was pushing down towards her brain
stem. Looking back, I really feel
for the doctor having to deliver the news to me, so early in the morning, that
we had lost her already & would we consider talking to the organ donation
people. So then I had to go home
& wake Stewart & deliver the same news to him, & then send out the
message about the bedside farewell. Deep
down, he already knew anyway. I was
very grateful that by the time we came to talk about organ donations, I was
surrounded by friends & colleagues.
My words of advice at this point to anyone who has stated in whatever
form, that they wish to be an organ donor, are that you carefully consider which
bits you want to donate. It’s not
just the major organs that can be very useful, there are eyes, skin tissue (for
burns), bones, cartilage & lymph nodes.
The trauma for me was having to actually think about those questions –
the signature at the bottom of the page was easy by comparison.
And remember that if it is your wish to be cremated, does it really
matter how much of you gets left behind? There’ll
still be enough to make a decent pile of ashes!
We decided on all of the internal organs & as Stewart said,
“nothing on the outside”.
Late afternoon, the respiration guys did an “apnoea test”, which
involved turning off the respirator for a full 10 minutes & waiting for any
response from Doris. When none
came, as I expected, I knew then that she was definitely gone. She was formally pronounced to be brain dead some time after
that. We held a bedside farewell at
about 6 pm, which coincided with 11 am Wednesday in Canberra.
We had about 20 people in the room, about 30 people at the Latrobe Park
Scout Hall & 40 to 50 people at St John’s Church, all with only a few
hours’ notice. After that,
Stewart went home for a rest, knowing that Doris’s body wouldn’t be leaving
us until at least 1:30 am, & one of the Aussies suggested we go to the pub.
When another Aussie turned up later, the nurse tried to tell him that we
had gone to somewhere called a “pub” & did he know what that was?
Stewart’s comment when I returned was that he couldn’t leave her
there on her own, knowing that she wouldn’t be there in the morning, & I
knew then that we were in for a long night.
However, that also gave us time to say some very personal farewells,
& for me to “clear the room away”, so that when the theatre people
finally came, we moved to the nurse’s station outside & then watched her
being wheeled away. It’s a really
tough way to do it, & I’m glad we did.
The time delay between being declared brain dead & going off to the
Operating Room for the recovery of organs can be quite substantial, as the
recipients have to be matched up & then prepared to receive those organs.
For several of the major internals, the transfer must take place within 4
hours, so the timing is critical. I
am glad to say that both of Doris’s kidneys live on in 2 male recipients in
their early 40’s.
I am also grateful that Stewart was home at the time & that we did at
least have the 2 days with Doris while she was still “warm”.
I have real traumas trying to imagine what it would have been like coming
home to find her there at the end of the day.
It’s one of those “don’t go there” areas.
Wednesday 16 July. Simon was
on his way over. I rang & asked
Paula, our relocation consultant, to come over, so that Stewart wouldn’t wake
up alone & she was there within the hour.
Back on Monday, Simon & I had decided that we would tackle only one
major task or decision on any one day. Today’s
job was that I had to find where Doris was & see for myself what had been
done to her, which meant a visit to the morgue.
Not exactly standard practice & we had to pull a few strings.
The image is burned into my memory forever.
Next job – book in to a funeral home – that became Thursday’s major
activity. Simon stayed with us the
whole day. When I asked him whether
he had a job to go to, he replied that being with us was his job for today &
that everything else would wait. I
have to say at this point that I appreciated the support from a whole lot of
people, both locally & from Australia via e-mail & phone.
My poor computer became a lifeline over the next few days.
I would spend the first hour or so of the day, checking messages &
wandering around the apartment, bawling my eyes out & feeling completely
lost & alone.
Thursday 17 July. The
appointment at the funeral home started out tough. The first thing they present you with is a price list.
I’m glad Stewart was there to take over & also that Russ, one of my
car pool buddies, turned up. He
didn’t actually do anything, just provided the strength of an extra person in
the room. Eventually, we decided on not putting Doris in a wooden box
for the cremation (Stewart’s comment was that she would want to see what was
going on) & made up for the price difference in the urn when it breathed on
me from the back of the top shelf. It
is a beautiful piece of pottery, on which every dob of clay that makes up the
external pattern, has been applied by hand.
Doris’s body would be cremated sometime over the weekend & the
ashes would be released to me on Monday at the memorial service.
Friday 18 July. Today’s
job was to draft a eulogy for Doris. It
took about 3 hours of emotional trauma. It’s
just as well the keyboard is reasonably waterproof. Friday & Saturday turned into a bit of a blur,
re-drafting the eulogy & waiting for Allan to arrive on Saturday afternoon.
Allan is the Archdeacon at St John’s Church in Canberra.
When he knew that Doris was in fact dead, he booked a flight to Seattle,
for which I am eternally grateful. On
Saturday & Sunday, the 3 boys hung out together, got drunk & played some
very bad pool downstairs in the cabana.
Monday 21 July. First the
first time in a week, I woke up feeling strong, as if tons of strength were
being poured into me from all over the world.
Allan & I sorted out the order of service & Rachel organised the
flowers. We had about 70 people at
the memorial service, consisting of Aussie & American work colleagues,
Aussie spouses, lots of friends from the apartments, everyone from the
Chiropractor’s office & people from the various volunteer organisations
that Doris & Stewart were now involved with, including the organ donation
people. I don’t remember much of
the service, except that it was uniquely Doris, & I’m told that I spoke
continuously for 25 minutes. I
guess when you know your subject that well ...
Tuesday 22 July. I was very
glad to hear that my colleagues in Deakin, both Boeing & Defence, had
contributed to a fund to pay for my own expenses involved in the funeral.
My heartfelt thanks to all of them.
We got packed & hung around waiting for the afternoon flights back to
Australia. Thursday 24 July.
Arrive in Canberra, still in summer clothes, & walk across the
airport apron with a wind blowing at about 5 degrees C.
Definitely fresh! We were
greeted by a large bunch of friends & the first order of business was to
grab the heavy jacket out of the luggage & warm up.
I am really grateful to Philippa & Craig for opening up their house
to Stewart & me. We had an almost constant stream of friends calling in, to
provide support, to help us to grieve & for some, to grieve with us.
It is truly gratifying to have been closely associated with a woman who
had such an impact wherever she went. They
say it goes around & comes around. It’s
been doing a huge amount of coming around lately, right down to the little
things like putting ads in the paper. The
casseroles & quiches from members of the Scout Group were especially
Sunday 27 July. I really
felt that I needed to check in with the St John’s community, so I hid in the
back row of the church for the 9:30 & 11:15 services. I was pleasantly surprised to find that all 3 of us were
specifically mentioned in the prayers. Back
at “home”, Philippa hosted Sunday roast lunch that lasted until nearly 5 in
the afternoon. That night, I
suggested to Doris that she owed it to both me & herself that she fill me so
full of strength tomorrow, that I would get through the day without cracking up.
It worked. You can’t have
a good celebration if you’re falling apart.
I have since found out that a number of people, who knew they wouldn’t
make it to the funeral, were also feeding me lots of strength.
Monday 28 July. My thanks to Philippa & Jess for putting together the orders of service, including Jess painstakingly punching out all of those dolphins. I was absolutely amazed by the number who just kept turning up for the memorial service. There was still a huge queue of people waiting to greet me when Allan called it quits & suggested we start the service. Meanwhile Doris’s ashes had already turned up on a motorbike as planned. You’ll find a copy of my eulogy to Doris here.
Tuesday 29 July. Time to
fall apart. During my appointment
with neurologist Dr Danta, he stated that even in the best conditions, the
mortality rate from an aneurism is 50%. I
guess it really was Doris’s time to go.
Thursday 31 July. Once
again, head for the airport, on the way to Melbourne for dinner with Val, Simon
& Paul. We even attended
Paul’s first “public” solo performance, at a small jazz club with a number
of others on the same course. Although
he said that he had been nervous, it didn’t show & he received quite
positive comments from his colleagues. I
think he has real talent.
After that, it was off to Adelaide for some very precious time with my
family & for Stewart to stay with his father. Then Brisbane & Hervey Bay to scatter Doris’s ashes
underwater. More about that next
month, except to say that it went well.