There are days in your life that replay over and over in your memory and this will be one I never forget.
It is Tuesday, February 13th, 1990. My husband Chris goes to his roofing job before sunrise, not waking me or our 2-year-old son Matt as he leaves. Being a stay-at-home mom, our son’s schedule dictates the activities of the morning, and my doctor’s appointment is the only reason we leave the house after lunch.
Returning home with a tired toddler, I put him into his crib for a nap and lay down myself. Elevating my foot on the back of the couch, I now feel the throbbing pain as the liquid nitrogen wears off from the site of my semi frozen planter’s wart.
The phone rings and I hobble out to the wall-mounted phone whose long cord still doesn’t reach the couch. It is my husband’s co-worker Jerry; surprised to hear his voice I say, “Hey Jerry, did you guys get off early today?”
“No Kath” I hear him say, as my heart sinks with the visceral understanding that something is terribly wrong.
“We are at the hospital, and Chris has been in an accident – you need to come.”
I instantaneously go into “nurse mode” trying to assess the situation and figure out what I need to do next. I hear myself asking Jerry questions while at the same time, finding my socks and shoes and planning how to care for our son. But his voice is ringing in my head…”Get here as soon as you can, Kath.”
My friend Karen usually works on Tuesdays, so I am surprised to find her home when I call. I ask if she can come to our house so I can let Matt continue to nap and she arrives five minutes later.
I have told her there has been an accident and I feel her empathy as her husband works for the same company. She gives me a hug, asking to call her with details and to not worry about Matt. She promises to stay until I get home.
I call my mom who is working on the opposite side of town, and I leave a message with the receptionist that I need mom to meet me at the hospital as soon as possible.
Approaching the on-ramp of the freeway, I plan my strategy. Assuming Chris will have broken bones as a result of a fall on the second-story construction site he was working on, I make my mental list of the medical team we will enlist.
“I’m Mrs. Lorch and I was called about my husband having been in an accident,” I tell the woman at the front desk. “Please wait right here, it will be just a minute” she says as she speaks quietly into the phone.
Startled by their rapid exit from the back room, a man and woman wearing white coats come toward me and lead me to a room down the hall. Much later that afternoon, I read the sign on the door – it says, “Quiet Room.”
The next question out of their mouths is, “Are you alone? Is anyone coming to join you? Is there anyone you would like to call?”
It is then I KNOW because I am a nurse.
The unspoken rule is – avoid giving bad news to someone who is alone!
But, I am alone and the news is not good. The doctor and nurse deliver it in the way they know how – telling me they did everything they could. That the paramedics initiated CPR on the job site and resuscitation efforts failed. Chris had died instantly from a head injury. They are so very sorry
“Please call my pastor” I hear myself say.
I wait for Pastor Dave before seeing Chris and he becomes my support as we pray over my husband’s body. I feel Chris’ spirit somewhere nearby and even with my medical background and having seen death before; I can’t believe that this is real.
Identifying the body is part of the medical procedure, this time I am on the opposite side of the gurney. I am the next of kin, not the nurse. It is my husband who is lying dead and I am the one they ask about decisions that need to be made.
Organ donation, funeral home preference, family notification, all of this is mine to do.
I don’t have time to cry, so I just tremble and feel sick to my stomach and wait for my mother.
My nursing credentials don’t matter here; I have a new title and now I am attending a crash course entitled, “How to be a widow.”