My Worst Nightmare
It was a Monday night. I just got back home from my first “big girl” vacation with a close friend. I was enjoying the last few days of summer vacation before heading back and starting school with a brand new set of second graders. My mom and I went to our typical Weight Watchers meeting on Monday nights. On the way home, I got a call from my mom. She said that the local hospital called and told her to come to the hospital and that it was Aaron. When she told me this, I immediately asked if I could come too. She said that I could and that my dad was also on his way. In my head, I thought that this had to be big. Had to be bad. Why else wouldn’t they have told Mom what was going on? But what helped me keep it together as I drove to the hospital, was that my mom sounded calm on the phone with me. “If she’s calm, I should be too,” I told myself. But the drive, which is about 12 minutes according to Google, felt like it was never ending. I noticed that my pulse was racing as I drove and that I was beginning to panic. I went straight to my faith in God and prayed loud and hard. I begged, “Please Lord, let him be okay,” over and over the entire drive there. It was only because of the combination of knowing that my mom was calm, as well as my repeated prayer that I made it to the ER safely and with minimal tears.
They put us in this small private room and wouldn’t tell us anything about Aaron. We had to wait until the doctor arrived to get any information. He finally came in and honestly, I cannot remember the specific things he said. It all seemed so surreal. Like a tv/movie that I was watching versus actually experiencing. I keep trying to remember what he said but can’t seem to. I’m sure the trauma of it has covered up that part in my brain. I just remember wanting to see him so badly and was tired of waiting and talking. The gist of it was that Aaron overdosed and was unresponsive. We were absolutely shocked because there weren’t really signs that Aaron was doing drugs, other than marijuana.
They finally let us come see him. The room had dim lights and his chest was bare and had 2 burn marks from where they had the paddles on his chest to shock him back to life. It broke my heart to see him like that. Those marks made me want to hug him so hard. However, I stayed close to his legs. I wouldn’t look at his face. Perhaps it was too overwhelming, perhaps I was scared, perhaps I wanted my mom to be the closest to his face so he could hear her talking to him. For some strange reason, I keep remembering his socks. I can’t remember if they were still on his feet or if they were off to the side. They were his white crew length tube socks, which I always made fun of him for wearing. He would wear those in junior high and high school and, during that time, the no show socks were “in” and only old people wore socks like his. Aaron never cared about that stuff, though. He was an old soul, who was born in the wrong decade, in my opinion. At this point, I remember feeling like we needed to do something. I knew that we needed to have Aunt Margie come and we needed to call our family friend, who happened to be an anesthesiologist at the same hospital we were at. I knew we needed our people. So I quickly took action and they dropped everything and ran to our side. Even our incredible pastor left his Detroit Tigers baseball game to be with us.
We eventually were told they needed to move him up to the ICU. During that time, I was feeling so upset that we had to go the visitor’s path to the ICU. It seemed so common. So separated. It felt like we were abandoning him. Of course, we beat him up there and had to wait...wait...and wait. Aaron’s main ICU nurse seemed extremely annoyed and put off that she had to “waste” her time with Aaron. It was like she had already given up on him and was upset with us for failing him...or so it felt. I was just so angry with her.
The next parts all blur together and I cannot remember the exact order of things. Just smells, feelings, and a lot of machines that kept beeping and making so many noises. It felt like we were in constant motion. Spending time with Aaron and then being asked to leave because every so often his waste would leak onto the bed and they’d have to clean up. Then coming back to him and then leaving because the numbers were not good. Back and forth, back and forth. While we were in there, they removed his ring that he made himself because his fingers were starting to swell. I held onto that ring for dear life.
Calling our family friend, Dr. (name omitted) was an amazing decision. We couldn’t have been through this without her help. She is the kind of doctor who gets things done and no one messes with. She’s intimidating because she’s good, and she knows it. Thank goodness our dear Dr. (name omitted) arrived and took charge. She adjusted Aaron’s bed incline angle, checked machines, fixed kinked cords, etc. My favorite part of it all was to see that awful nurse become incredibly nervous and uncomfortable with Dr. (name omitted) in the room. She seemed to be less judgy and rude after she knew we were friends with Dr. (name omitted).
Later, another doctor told us that one of Aaron’s numbers on one of his machines needed to be at least 92 or above. At that time, Aaron was at 88 or 89. That news brought a huge smile to my face and I said, “That’s great! He’s not too far off.” But I was quickly corrected. It was WAY far off, apparently. I was hopeful though. I watched that number, as well as the other numbers, like a hawk throughout the night.
We were at the hospital from approximately 7 p.m. - 3 a.m. During those hours we continued to go back and forth between his room and the waiting room. There were also detectives there asking the three of us questions. When it was my turn to talk with the detectives, they told me that I need to go home and look for spoons in Aaron’s bedroom and small pieces of paper that will only have a phone number on it. They were determined to find the dealer who sold Aaron the bag of heroin. When the paramedics arrived, Aaron was not breathing or responding so he was administered not one, but two doses of Narcan. Narcan is used on patients in an emergency situation during a suspected opioid overdose. Because Aaron didn’t respond to either of those doses, the doctors and detectives believed that the heroin was laced with fentanyl or carfentanil. I have always been more of the goody two shoes and had no idea what all of this meant. It felt like the room was spinning and I was completely shocked and scared. Yet again, I felt like this couldn’t be really happening. It couldn’t be real.
After that, a lot of people went home because it was really late. I was with Aaron and I decided that maybe if I hold his hand and just talk and joke with him, it will wake him up. I figured if he does pull through this, he will probably need some recovery time in the hospital so I told him to knock this shit off and that he needed to wake up. I said, “If you do, I will run home and grab all of our favorite movies and play them for us on this crappy small tv screen so we can laugh and be silly.” We “talked” for about 15 minutes or so. I enjoyed holding his huge, calloused hand and smoothing his curly locks back off of his forehead.
Once “we” finished joking around, I looked up at his number, the one that I had been monitoring, and it was up to 91! I was filled with such giddiness and hope seeing that number. I knew that he was with me and heard the whole conversation. My baby brother was alive and listening! A minute later, all of his numbers came crashing down and they made me leave the room. We sat and waited in the waiting area and then heard, “Code blue in room (Aaron’s room number).” We jumped up and the three of us went running towards his room. It was then that I knew that Aaron was gone. As my parents continued to run down the hall to Aaron, I buried my face in my hands and collapsed against the wall. The wall seemed safe to me at the time. I probably looked like I was trying to play hide and seek, but the sounds I was making proved otherwise.
A kind nurse came to my aid and brought me to where my parents were standing and waiting during the code blue. She started bringing chairs for us to sit on while we waited for the code to end. I told her I didn’t want one and instead slid my body down against the wall until I was sitting with my knees to my chest. Holding on tight to them, like a kid with a teddy bear, as I watched so many different people rush in and out of Aaron’s room. Yet again, I felt as though this was a Grey’s Anatomy episode and I was just watching on set. It was incredibly surreal and I just couldn’t believe this was happening to us. My baby brother was coding and I couldn’t do anything at all about it except cry...on the ICU floor.
Once things seemed to calm down in Aaron’s room, a doctor approached us. He told us that Aaron had been brought back to life with the shock paddles when the paramedics arrived on the scene, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and I believe once more in the hospital. That’s a lot for your heart to go through. He explained that this time was harder for them to bring him back. The doctor reported that the brain scan came back and that the swelling in his brain was significant, which indicated brain damage, at least 90%. This was caused by the lack of oxygen when he overdosed. The doctor looked at us and explained that we have to decide how we would like to proceed.
There was a moment of silence, which I thought was strange, as I stared in the direction of Aaron’s room. Confused at the silence from my parents, I looked up to see them looking down at me from their chairs. They were looking at me for what I wanted to do about my baby brother. I was appalled and immediately said, “Don’t look at me!” I couldn’t possibly be the one to make this decision. However, they looked at me because they already knew what they wanted to do but they didn’t want to say it aloud and have it break me. They thought it was time to take him off the vent and machines. They didn’t want him to be a vegetable. They knew he was gone or ready to go.
My heart already knew that Aaron had left. I truly believe, however, if I hadn't gotten that one on one time with him, that I would have been shattered, just like my parents worried about. But I knew that he was there, listening to my silly randomness when that number made it to 91 and that he was gone when it all came crashing down.
We all agreed that it was time to take Aaron off the ventilator. By now, it was around 3 a.m. We all sat around Aaron saying our goodbyes. Being a Christian, I knew that I’d be reunited with him again, so at that point, there weren’t as many tears. Plus, I felt like I was all cried out. I heard my mom’s goodbyes...just couldn’t believe this was really happening. Also, what the hell was I going to say to him for a goodbye?! I held Aaron’s big hand, trying to memorize how it felt in mine. I simply told him, “See you on the flip side. I love you, Hermanito.”
My parents stayed in the room with him while they turned off the machines and unhooked him. I watched my aunt die when they took her off the machines when I was younger and I hated that it was my last memory of her. So I knew that I needed to walk away before they started that. As I walked down to the waiting room, I tried to take comfort knowing that he was already gone. I just kept twirling his ring around my fingers. A few minutes later a nurse came and brought me water and sat with me. She didn’t want me to be alone. I began to cry when another nurse came to sit with me and she hugged me from behind. There’s something incredibly comforting when someone does that and it was truly just what I needed.
I thought it would be quick. That his body was tired and ready. It ended up taking about a half an hour for Aaron to breathe his last breath. Then we had to sit around for paperwork to be completed. They kept on saying things about the body and all I wanted to do was scream and run away from the hospital.
When it was finally time to go, I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave him. Then there was the matter of where I would go. I didn’t want to drive to my apartment and just be alone. However, I didn’t want to go home with my parents because Aaron lived with them and it would be so very painful to be there without him. I ended up choosing to go home with them because being alone is the last thing I wanted.
It turns out that my brother bought heroin from a dealer who laced it with fentanyl. My brother wasn’t addicted. It just goes to show you that this could happen to ANYONE. Just one wrong decision and your life can be over.
My father’s side of the family is very private and they don’t typically share details about their health, let alone problems, with even their extended family members. Naturally, I became nervous about what we would tell others about how Aaron died. I thought that my dad would make up a lie about how Aaron died. I thought that he would feel embarrassed or like he had failed if he told the truth. But on Tuesday morning, August 8, 2017, the way I looked at my father changed forever. He said that we will tell everyone the truth because this is a rising, terrible problem that is affecting people from all walks of life. He explained that we cannot keep this quiet and sweep it under the rug. That’s how the problem continues. People need to be aware and know more about the epidemic. Let me tell you, I have never been more proud to call him my father.
I would share my grief journey but that is not over. It will never be over until we are reunited someday. If you do know someone who has lost someone way too early due to an opioid overdose, please do not be afraid to ask them about their special someone. Don’t be afraid to bring them up because it’s so comforting to hear their name and to be able to share a silly story about them. This is why we tell the story. We want to help prevent this nightmare from happening to other families. Other big sisters, other siblings, other parents. It’s been 4 years and 23 days since I had to say goodbye to my baby brother. I have volunteered for an opioid overdose support group, I celebrate Black Balloon Day each March 6th, and International Overdose Awareness Day each August 31st. I try to make sure I always tell Aaron’s story when I can. Please join me in wearing purple on August 31st to help end the stigma and spread awareness about this awful epidemic.
lethal doses of Heroin, Fentanyl, and Carfentanil
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