Living With Death

Randy was diagnosed with juvenile-onset, or Type 1 diabetes when he was ten years old. He heard the doctor say he probably wouldn't live past the age of 30, and that shaped his teen years and his early 20's. Randy lived for the moment, raced motorcycles, ate and drank what he wanted, fought, loved, and lived as though each day could be his last--because he believed it could.

Before we were married, Randy told me he probably wouldn't be around much longer. I didn't take him seriously for a long time. I had uncles and aunts with diabetes who were in their 60's and 70's, and I believed Randy would live a long time, too.

When Randy turned 30, he was a little bewildered that he was not only alive, but aside from the diabetes, he was pretty healthy. He decided he was going to enjoy each moment and began thinking of things he wanted to experience before he died. He flew on a helicopter, fished, hunted, bought horses, built a house, went to the races, and helped everyone he could find who needed a helping hand.

Randy never cried in front of anyone, but he cried when his son was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 8. He felt so guilty, as though it were all his fault. He researched diabetes cures, islet tranplants, pancreas transplants, chelation, and everything he thought might help Jeremy. He figured it was too late for him, but he was determined to find a cure for Jeremy.

Randy and I were separated when he turned 40. Our life became way out of control while building the house. He was stressed, jealous of people I worked with, and he smoked, drank, and took too many prescription drugs. I thought I was at the end of my rope when I left, but my life during the next 7 months was terrible. Still, we both learned a lot about each other and ourselves during that time, and I know it made the rest of our life together better. We really loved each other.

In October of 2003 Randy had a heart attack. The doctor put stents in and started Randy on several medications. A few months later, when Randy complained about irregular heartbeat, the doctor gave him a prescription for pacerone, a form of amioderone. He went to see a diabetic specialist, quit smoking and drinking, and decided for the first time since he was 10 that he wasn't ready to die. He scheduled eye surgery to repair his vision, which had been damaged by diabetes. He wanted to walk his daughters down the aisle at their wedding, play pool, hunt, and fish with his sons. He wanted to catch Walter on Holloway or in Lake Huron. He wanted to be the one to shoot the monstrous 12 point buck behind our neighbor's farm. He wanted to watch his grandchildren grow up, teach them how to fix cars and use tools, how to ride motorcycles and quads, and how to hunt and fish. He wanted to build a race car and race it. He wanted to help his brother find a good woman so he could enjoy the kind of love Randy and I had.

In July of 2004 Randy thought he had a cold or a touch of the flu. He was weak, had no appetite, and coughed constantly, but it didn't stop him from powerwashing his mother's roof and deck, going fishing, or going to the races. By August 1 he couldn't catch his breath in spite of all the prescriptions the doctors called in for him. We took him to the emergency room, where his oxygen level was so low they put an oxygen mask on him immediately and admitted him.

For the next two days the family bantered with him at his bedside while he fought off the pneumonia that had infected every lobe of his lungs. The medication the doctor prescribed for irregular heartbeat had poisoned his lungs. According to the Physician's Desk Reference, it was supposed to be administered and monitored for 2 weeks while Randy was in the hospital. He was supposed to have regular tests on his liver and lungs because of the probability of deadly side effects. He wasn't supposed to be out in the sun at all. He didn't have any of this information; the doctor just wrote a prescription with a year of refills on it.

Randy wasn't responding to the breathing treatments and his legs were swollen and painful. The doctor decided to put him on a ventilator. One of the last things Randy said before they hooked him up was, "I wish I could walk just a little way down the hallway before they hook me up." Those words will always haunt me. Two days later vascular surgeons had to amputate his right leg at the waist.

Four different infections set in. The food tube wasn't providing the nutrition he needed, and he was starving. Doctors performed a bypass in his left leg to try to repair the blood vessels that were bursting because of the lack of oxygen to them, but gangrene set in and they had to amputate that leg, too. We wanted to transfer him to a teaching hospital before he lost his legs, but his kidneys were in danger, too.

My youngest daughter and I lived at the hospital for 3 weeks. We slept in the waiting room, got to know which nurses went above and beyond for him, and took a moment to run home and shower when those nurses were on duty. We jumped to our feet and held our breath every time we heard a Code Blue called. We spoke to other families with loved ones in intensive care, and we tried to get the doctors to communicate with us. Most of them were too busy covering for the heart doctor who poisoned him in the first place, but the vascular team was remarkable and one doctor on staff spent the night at the hospital more than once.

Our favorite night shift nurse, Larry, was on duty the night the doctors decided Randy had to be put on a medicine that would paralyze him to keep him from fighting the ventilator. The doctors suggested we go home for a good night's sleep since the next few weeks would be rough. My daughter and I looked at each other, and my daughter told me, "Larry's got him." Since Larry had saved his life more than once, I knew Randy would be safe with him.

And he was. Larry was administering CPR when the Code Blue that we never heard was called. He had revived Randy when the hospital called and said, "Your husband has taken a turn for the worse." He was trying to revive him while we were on our way to the hospital, while I repeated a prayer over and over: "Please wait for us, baby, please wait for us." And he was still pumping on Randy's chest when I ran into the room calling for him.

The doctor whisked me out of the room and told me, "I think it's time to let him go." I froze. I couldn't speak, think, or breathe. Not once during the whole ordeal did I believe God would take him. He was so alive, even when he was heavily drugged, hooked up to so many machines and couldn't speak.

At one time, Randy asked my daughter and I about his leg with hand motions and forming the words he couldn't speak. We had been told not to mention it, but we had been reading his lips for two days, and he needed to know what happened to his leg. I said, "Your leg?" He nodded, and he looked so relieved and grateful that someone finally understood. I swallowed. "We've been so worried about you. Blood vessels started breaking in your legs because they weren't getting any oxygen. They operated on your right leg and did a bypass on your left leg, and when you're off that ventilator you can ask the doctors anything you want." He nodded, then he winked and blew me a kiss. How could I let someone die who fought so hard, who loved so much, who had decided he wanted to live?

My daughters came in, and the youngest asked what was going on. My eyes were glued to the doctor's as I reached out and wrapped my arms around her. The doctor patiently repeated what he had said to me: "I think it's time to let him go."

I felt every muscle in my daughter's body tense and I held on tight as she leaped toward the doctor, screaming, "No! It's not his time! He has to walk me down the aisle at my wedding! He has to be there when my children are born!" When she calmed down, she asked if we could see him first. The doctor hesitated, then said, "They're still pushing on his chest." My daughter responded, "I don't care!"

I think he was already gone before we said goodbye, even though the team was keeping his body alive. More blood vessels were breaking, and one traveled to his lungs. Because of the diabetes, doctors couldn't help him. I remembered a doctor who had said years before, "Diabetics who smoke die young without exception." Randy bent the rules, and it took them a long time to break. But that's how a diabetic's body works. You don't follow the rules, and your body keeps bending and bending like a branch on a tree until a number of years later, when everything snaps and can't be fixed.

Losing Randy is the worst thing I've ever been through. Learning to live without him is the hardest thing I've ever done. I watch my daughter with her little girl, and my stepson with his little boy, knowing one of their biggest regrets is that their children didn't get to know Papa. And I know it's one of Randy's biggest regrets, too.

Love never dies
Love never dies

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Comments 13 comments

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

Wow.....I know it took a lot to write this. I admire you. A beautifully touching story and very well written. *hugs*


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

This was painful to read because your heart and soul was in your writing. It is obvious that he was quite a man and will be missed by many people. Your memories will help keep him alive and now others will know of him as well because of your sharing him with us. Hugs to you and your children.


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

I also admire you for your strength to write this.


catwhitehead profile image

catwhitehead 7 years ago Author

Thanks, everyone. Yes, this was hard to write. I've been trying to write it for 4 1/2 years. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope people with diabetes think twice before they smoke. The results can be devastating.


RWhitehead 7 years ago

That was harder to read than I thought .... you have become an excelent story teller. Randy would be proud of you I know I am.


SWhitehead 7 years ago

I know that was very hard to write, but I bet it was also liberating. To finally have these things said out loud (so to speak). I would love a copy of this to take to work and give to my diabetic patients who have forgotten that every day is a gift, not a given right. This has the power to change lives.

Love you,

~Sarah


catwhitehead 7 years ago

Thank you, Ron and Sarah. Just rereading this makes me cry like a baby. You're more than welcome to use this for your patients and anyone else that can benefit from it. That's why I wrote it--to keep others from going through what he did and what we did.


Wayne Price 6 years ago

Hi Cathy,

When Dawn died, I wrote a blog about my experience. The URL shows a whole page of blogs, but the one about Dawn is near the bottom and titled, " The Greatest Kiss of My Entire Life ". I invite you to read it and share your thoughts. Your story of Randy made me cry, especially because I knew Randy since he was a boy and always liked him and thought he was a great guy. He will always be missed.

Wayne


Wayne Price 6 years ago

Well the URL didn't work. My blog is 3 or for pages deep. I don't think I can post the whole thing here, but I will try :

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Greatest Kiss Of My Entire Life & Dawn II

The Greatest Kiss,

I remember the 1st time I saw Dawn. I was 10 years old and she walked into my 6th grade class. I was mezmerized by this beautiful creature and instantly smitten. If you've ever seen "Bambi", I was as completely twitterpated as Thumper. For a moment time slowed down and something eased into my heart and soul like water melting into a sponge. I was lost from that moment on. Dawn and her sisters were the talk of the school, about how beautiful they were and how they had pierced ears and were from the far off and exotic land of Florida, but all I could think about was how was I going to get close to her and get to know her and make her mine. As luck would have it, I was a high ranking member in good standing of the ruling clique and our female counterparts instantly drafted Dawn into their ranks, so the getting to know her was easy, it was the making her mine part that would prove impossible. It might be hard to remember the dynamics of young romance in 6th grade, but that is the 1st year of middle school and the 1st year that girls start going with older guys. Puberty is hitting the girls pretty heavy and since they mature physically faster than boys, the older 7th and 8th grade boys are picking up the young and innocent 6th grade girls. Plus the fact that the 7th and 8th grade girls are also going with older guys, so for a few years everybody is going with anybody but someone their own age. An attractive girl like Dawn was like chumming the waters for a shark feeding frenzy. From then on, older guys would always be giving her more than I had to offer. I had to settle for becoming good friends with her. I loved her like no other, but hid it from her out of fear of rejection. The classic unrequited love story. Dawn and I became great and close friends, in fact she was the best female friend I had, probably owing to the fact that I wanted to be as close as possible to her every minute possible. As the years went by, we spent countless hours together, running the streets, skipping school, learning to drive, partying and generally growing up together. I remember the highlight of my 7th grade year was dancing slow with Dawn at our Valentine Dance to "Hey Jude". 7 plus minutes of sheer bliss. It was heaven. Through our lives Dawn and I danced many times and I can remember them all vividly. When we got a few years older and were so taken by the music of "The Moody Blues", we danced to "Nights In White Satin" at nearly every dance or reception from then on. I could always get lost holding her close.

Dawn grew into an incredibly beautiful woman and had a style and elegance about her that was somehow regal. She moved with a grace that set her apart and never seemed aware of the effect she had on people. It wasn't until later that I found that she really didn't know that people adored her. I just thought that she was modest and had too much class to act snooty. She wasn't a girly girl, although she always looked incredible. She was adventurous and rambunctious, always up for fun and not scared of much. She climbed trees with me and swam and swung off ropes and climbed hills and never got whiny or prissy about having fun. I later found out that she had the same effect on many men and her siren song captured many hearts besides mine.

I'd like to clarify something here. I'm not some candy ass, wimpy little pussy that wasted his whole life whining about some girl I could never have. I had to learn to live without having Dawn for my girlfriend and had many girlfriends through the years that I cared deeply for. My feelings for Dawn did not diminish my relationships with the other women I formed bonds with as I grew older, but there was always a room in my heart with Dawn's name on the door and that she held deed and title to. That room will always be there. We shared a special closeness that has never been rivaled or tarnished since we were 10, and it's never diminished. It was a connection that was not unlike that shared between new lovers where you can feel their electricity no matter where they are in the room or how far apart they are. Many times, long stretches of time seperated us, but as soon as we saw each other it was like no time had passed at all. The 1st time my wife saw Dawn, I introduced them, (in the middle of a party.), and went about socializing and in a little bit my wife asked me what was going on between us. I hadn't seen Dawn for years and we barely spoke more than a few words, but my wife could feel that there was something special that passed between us. I told her that I spent most of my youth loving Dawn from afar but had to accept that it would never be. Dawn and I had learned to live with it and my wife understood. She still never believed Dawn didn't have those kind of feelings for me. She said she could sense that sort of thing.

One time many years ago, I layed my cards on the table and told Dawn how I felt about her. I told her how special she was to me and how I felt our bond was so much more than anyone could hope for and how I loved everything about her and would do anything in my power to make her happy, but at the time I was a young, unemployed stoner and there were plenty of guys beating down her door with lots of money and were quite willing to spend it on her. I was beginning to embrace becoming a health nut and she was smoking, drinking, snorting and partying like there was no tomorrow. We had started smoking as little kids and I was just quitting. Our lifestyles were going in differant directions and she wasn't inclined to give it all up just to be healthier. So she went off to Hawaii with a high roller and ended up pregnant with his baby. That was the one and only time I really made a play for her and it was not meant to be. She eventually came back from Hawaii and raised her son as a single mom. The high roller rolled on to other younger prey and Dawn muddled through her life as best she could. There was one period where things turned around for her, when she had her daughter years later. She married the father, (a friend of mine.), and they both quit drinking and seemed happy for a while. Eventually, they both went back to the lifestyle they had known for the majority of their life and found they couldn't party and maintain their marriage, so they divorced. But she did get a beautiful and wonderful daughter out of the deal. Meanwhile, I married and had a beautiful and wonderful daughter of my own. I eventually had to part ways with my daughter's mother and kept a very close friendship with Dawn. By then, our lifestyles were so differant, there seemed no possibility of us ever forming a happy union.We saw each other often and still shared that special closeness. Never has my love for her changed.

Then a little while ago she started losing her voice, sounding like she was suffering from laryngitis. She went to the Dr. but he said it wasn't serious. It persisted and in a while she started losing weight. Her health seemed to be in a slow decline and we all started to worry about her. She lost more weight, but the Dr. kept saying she was fine. Just a virus or something. Month after month went by and she slowly got skinnier and her voice sounded worse. I worried about her constantly and brought her health food and supplements to try and meet her nutritional needs. Then one day I got a call that she had collapsed and that she was in the hospital. When I got there she was sitting up, smiling and joking like everything was fine. She said that they had found tumors in her lungs and that they were so advanced as to have grown out of her lungs and were on her kidneys and she had lesions on her brain. She acted like it was no big deal because the Oncologist had been in and had told her that with aggresive Chemo and radiation he figured they could lick this thing. I was floored like you had hit me with a bat and tore my heart out. I am no doctor, but from what I'd heard the cance


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

I'm sorry for your loss! Randy seemed like a great guy! You always have your memories that live forever!!


Shelly von Linsowe 6 years ago

Cathy, This was so beautiful. You are such a talented writer and anyone who reads this knows there is so much love in your heart for Randy. I am so glad you sent the site to me so I could see him through your eyes and heart. Love ya


Jan Fray Ragnone 5 years ago

Cathy, you are an AMAZING writer! Thank you so very much for sharing these memories, both the good and the bad, they are both part of who we are! God bless you.


Rhonda Mcgraw 2 years ago

That was heartbreaking and beautiful. I could feel your love just reading it. Thank you for sharing

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