It’s time for me to talk about Conner.
December 16, 2009, text messages from K, in Denver. She thinks she might be in labour, it’s time. Everyone is super excited. I’m 1400 miles away, but I’m still about to become an ex-step-grandma!! She said she’s in a lot of pain and she’s scared. Normal and normal. Both her mom (I’ll call her Alaska) and I encouraged her to call the nurses in Labor and Delivery to tell them how she’s feeling. She said she was too tired, she’d call them in the morning, the pains aren’t very close together.
Mid afternoon the next day she’s finally on her way to the hospital. Worried but staying busy, I was waiting for word. A few hours later, “Alaska” called me from Anchorage, “He’s here! It did not go well, K had an emergency c-section. She’s ok but Conner is in ICU, no one knows anything yet. There’s a volcano here that’s acting up, they’ve grounded all flights in and out of the area. I can’t fly out to see them. Can you go?” Before she and I were even off the phone I was looking for a flight. Within an hour of the call I had a ticket booked, a bag packed and I was out the door, hauling ass to the airport. Having newly moved in together all my favorite mistake had to say was, “Who is paying for all this, why do you have to go? Christmas is coming, you can’t leave now! We’re having a Christmas party on Friday, you’ll be back right?” Walking out the front door, without turning around “I doubt it, cancel it.”
When I arrived in Denver, Conner had been moved to Children’s Hospital. K and her boyfriend were hanging out in her room. I’m pretty sure she was eating a burger when I arrived. She looked a bit swollen and a lot scared. They told me about the emergency C-Section within a short time after they checked into the hospital. No news on Conner, just that he’s in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care) and they think he had a loss of oxygen to the brain while in the birth canal. You’ll have to bear with me, my memory of time frame and sequence of events is a little foggy here. If you’re family reading this, just know this is part of my process.
Quite frankly, I can’t remember where I spent that night. I know I spent some time filling the fridge and cupboards with healthy food. I remember we got to go see Conner the 19th around noon. Even though I’m not technically family, the nursing staff at Children’s was kind enough to let me in to see him and sit with K while she was with him. The doctor came to see us during that visit, “Lots of unknowns here, wait and see, blah blah blah, run some tests, keep an eye on things.” They had induced coma and dropped his body temperature to allow his body and brain to heal from oxygen deprivation, he had on what’s called a cold cap to keep the temperature of his brain low and he was laying on a little cold bed. The kids were hopeful and terrified.
Phone calls to K’s family to keep everyone updated on the particulars and to relay “we still don’t know anything”. Talking to hospital security and nursing staff to make sure K’s dad wasn’t allowed access Conner or even the hospital (at K’s request). He had told his mom and sister he was going to come and steal Conner from the hospital. The crazy A-hole would probably have tried, I got the word out quickly that we had given hospital security a picture of him and they were on alert to watch for him. Talk about drama the kids didn’t need right then. We spent as much time as possible at Children’s taking turns sitting near Conner. With his condition, the cold cap and cooling bed, we weren’t allowed to touch him. We could take pictures and talk to him, but that’s it. K found it very hard to be told she’s not allowed to touch her baby. Tears and anger and more tears. “Those bitch nurses!”
Alaska arrived on the 19th or 20th. We were tag teaming cooking for K, cleaning, driving them to the hospital, keeping spirits up and sitting with Conner. They had reduced the amount of meds he was on to run tests, he wasn’t responding.
On the 21st or the 22nd they asked everyone to come to the hospital for a meeting. The 4 of us were already there, the 2 grandmas and Conner’s mom and dad. The Neurosurgeon, the Pediatrician, the head nurse for the department, and a social worker all came to the meeting. Ugh! Talk about intimidating for the kids. Lots of medical speak and throat clearing later K looked at me and asked what all that meant. Conner’s dad’s only question was “Will he be able to go to school like a normal kid?” “No guys, it means he’s never going to wake up. It means that the way you see him now in that bed is exactly the way he’s going to be when he’s 10, or 15, or 55. The part of his brain that tells him it’s time to breathe is ok, the part that triggers his hand to close when you put something in it is ok, but there is no Conner in there. He’s not going to wake up. He’s brain-dead.” They decided with many tears, the best thing was to unplug him from life support.
More questions about what happens now, what/how/when do we do. They had never held their own son. Both kids were on emotional auto pilot. The social worker and nursing staff were wonderful. The hospital gave the kids lots of options for how they could move forward and then gave us all a bit to think about it. Mom and Dad went in to sit with Conner then go for a drive, Alaska and I went to go grab some food and a beer neither of us was able to taste.
We met back at the hospital. The kids had decided they wanted a family room reserved near NICU, the room had a couch that folds into a bed and a few comfortable chairs, they wanted Conner unplugged and brought to them in the family room, they asked for Alaska and I to be there too. They also decided they wanted someone to sit with him through to the end but neither of them thought they could go through that and they didn’t want it to be a stranger (a nurse). I told them I would do it, Alaska said she’d stay with us too, if that was ok with the kids. The nurses took about 20 minutes to unplug him, give him enough meds to make sure he was comfortable, dress him and bring him in. The kids were sitting on the couch holding hands. K held Conner, rocked him, talked to him, cried and told him goodbye. They left with K sobbing.
I don’t know what time or what day it was. I know Conner was 5 days old. I know I had slept about 6 hours since arriving in Denver.
Alaska and I took turns holding Conner, we never put him down again. We took turns napping, sitting up. We rocked him, we sang to him, we told him all about his huge family. We told him about all the people family and animal family he was getting ready to go meet in heaven. We told him about the smart ones and the crazy ones and the funny ones. We told him how much he will always be loved.
Conner passed away 10 hours after he was removed from life support, laying on my chest with his cheek on my shoulder and my kisses on his forehead. I know he’s in heaven, I handed him to God myself.