Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Exactly Happened?

We were all excited about Clark's slow and steady progress and the tension and anxiety had loosened some. In fact, after spending some precious time with Clark, even laughing about the most recent post I had put on Facebook in which I asked if anyone had connections with Obama to fly Wyatt out to Utah in his private leer jet, I can still see Clark's crooked little smile and chuckle. I recall that earlier in the night, while talking in his sleep, he said, "I gotta buy my mom a rosebush. She loves them for Mother's Day." We actually felt like celebrating that night because he was only on 30% oxygen and had hopes that by morning he would be accepted back on my insurance at Premier since he is 100% disabled, or that Medicaid would reconsider with Clark's improved health and the pressures of politicians. That's why it was 2:30 in the morning before Huxley, Clark, and I settled into bed. As he dozed away, Clark mumbled, "I've got to go door to door, fundraising. It's my last resort."

At 4PM I was startled awake by Clark's oxygen alarm going off. It seemed a bit different, however it wasn't uncommon for the alarm to sound when Clark was using the urinal. All we had to do was silence the alarm to quite the room. I stood to my feet and said, "Clark are you using the urinal?" He answered, "No" as he pulled the oxygen tubing from his nose and said, "I don't think there's any oxygen coming out of this thing." Meanwhile, I tried to override his alarm but was unsuccessful. I could see Clark's chest rise and fall, working hard to take in air, and the veins protruding from his neck. I turned the nurse call light on and went to the door to see if a nurse was nearby. When she came in, she immediately turned his oxygen to 6 liters, which didn't seem to help. We began to examine the oxygen sensor on his foot, and checked for a kink in the hose. Again, neither were true. By now, the nurse had moved Clark to 100% oxygen. When asked if he felt short of breath, Clark said that he was. By this time, it was approximately 4:30 AM and the nurse felt it was urgent enough to call the doctor in to examine Clark. He called respiratory therapy and they were quickly at Clark's bedside giving him a dilation treatment by mask, followed by a full oxygen mask providing 100% oxygen. Still no relief. It wasn't long before another respiratory therapist entered the room pushing a large machine. He explained to me that he was going to administer pressurized oxygen. They put a Darth Vader mask over Clark's face that forced air into his lungs. I could see him struggling from pain so they couldn't continue. By this time the floor doctor explained that they had called air med and the ICU doctors from the University to assist and were transporting him there by helicopter. I was shaking and had to go to the bathroom. I called Kristin and texted all the boys that things weren't well. It was 5 AM.

As I returned to Clark's room, I noticed that not only his room was filled with medical staff, but the hall way as well. They explained that they had to intubate him. All I could remember was that a nurse had told Kristin just days before that in this state, when a patient is intubated, they usually are never extubated. Huxley and I made our way through the staff to enter Clark's room. I touched his arm and got close to him and asked, "Clark, do you know what's going on?" He answered, "Yes, there are a lot of doctor's in my room." (Clark's last words to us.) I replied, "They are going to intubate you and take you to the University to watch you better." Clark showed no fear, even now.

The administrating doctor explained that Huxley and I should step out of the room because the intubation procedure was unpleasant. He reassured us that we could talk to Clark in a short while. Only minutes later, which seemed like an eternity, Clark was rolled out of his room by air med. I was disappointed to see that he was sedated but it was necessary for the procedure. They gave me a brief moment to kiss Clark on his lips, and even though he was asleep, I told Clark I would be right over to the University to be with him. Even though the two hospitals are connected by a walkway, it was necessary to transport him by air med because it is equipped with oxygen emergency care. The boys in South Dakota were rapidly texting with many questions of concern and by this time Kristin had arrived.

As we hurriedly walked from one hospital to the other, the attending explained that they think Clark either aspirated some fluid or a blood clot hit his lungs. Aspiration didn't make sense because of how Clark acted when it first started, as clueless as we were. If it was a blood clot they would give him blood thinners, which would be a risk with his low platelet count, but it gave us hope. We were escorted to the MICU unit by Clark's attending doctor. We were taken to a nearby waiting room where we realized that last July 28th, it was the same waiting room we nervously sat in at the onset of Clark's illness. The attending went in and came out with the report that they were having trouble getting him stabilized but that as soon as they did, we could come into his room, room 3, exactly the room he was admitted to in the beginning. We were joined in the waiting room by Bishop Sampson and Brother Bule, just as in the beginning. We nervously waited for another update.

A young doctor came in to explain that even with all the medication and equipment, they were still having trouble stabilizing Clark. His oxygen level was declining and his blood pressure dropping. They needed permission to insert an arterial line which monitors blood pressure second by second. He further explained what they expected to happen and what additional decisions we had to make on Clark's behalf. What life saving measures would Clark want? All? None? We told the doctor that we had not discussed this exactly with Clark but that he had once said, "He was willing to go through anything as long as he was alive in the end." The doctor asked if his heart stopped, would we want them to perform CPR. This can break ribs, and even if they did get his heart to start again, he had a close to 0% survival rate. We unanimously agreed that Clark would not want that. He then asked about the level of oxygen Clark was on and explained that it could cause his lungs to burst. To prevent that they would have to puncture his side to release pressure. We unanimously agreed against that also.

Once the arterial line was inserted, we were urgently taken to Clark's bedside. Again, the room and hall were swarming with doctors. As we proceeded to his room with caution, we could see glimpses of Clark through the many people at his side. My son, lay there, swollen and purple. With respect, we were escorted to Clark's side to say farewell. Huxley, my fine young man of 14, struggled greatly at witnessing the passing of his older brother. The beeping of the monitors began to slow, and the work of the medical staff became increasingly intense. Huxley turned his head and buried it in my shoulder, moaning and bawling from deep inside, "Oooooh! Oh my goodness!" as they drew blood from Clark's ventilator to clear the passage way. We called Ryan and put him on speaker phone to say his last words. "I love you buddy. You've fought hard. We're so proud of you." We knew that we were witnessing Clark dying. We held his hands, hugged him, said our final words, I kissed his lips and forehead, rubbed his cheek and held on tight. The doctor then said, "We have a small heart beat. Do you want us to administer fluids and blood." We agreed that we definitely did. We stepped out of the room while they found a better source to do this by.

Now in the hall, we were joined by more family members. We were made comfortable in a conference room nearby where family and friends reverently and solemnly gathered. We were permitted to enter Clark's room, two at a time. . The afternoon was filled with anxious waiting, reminiscent conversation, and deep thought. Back in South Dakota, the boys were doing the same. They had gathered at home and were looking through Clark's photo albums, sharing memories. Also during this time, Huxley, Kristin, and I returned to Clark's side, this time to call Myls, Wyatt, Fletcher, Bjorn, family friend Bart, and cousin Blake. By speaker phone, each said their good-byes. Myls said, "We've been through a lot together. I've always looked up to you. You're nothing short of my hero. I can't wait to see you again." Wyatt struggled for words but said I love you. Fletcher told him that he's a good big brother and a good role model. Blake apologized for not coming out to see Clark and said that he will regret it for the rest of his life. Bart said, "You've fought a good fight. I love you buddy."

While I was in the room alone with Clark, the doctor came in to and explained that Clark's brain had taken a hit earlier this morning, when we thought we'd lost him. During that time, Clark's heart was only functioning at 5% and his brain was without oxygen for 5-9 minutes. The doctor shined a light in Clark's eyes to show me that his pupils were dialated and he didn't respond to the light, indicating severe brain damage. He also explained the same to the room full of family and friends. He said that Clark could be sustained by the meds and machines that he was on but they would be surprised if he survived through the night. They said they would do whatever we wished but that we would just be prolonging the inevitable. We had thought that Clark was still sedated but now realized that he wasn't and his lack of responses was because of the brain damage. It was comforting to feel Clark squeeze our hand when we talked to him, even though we now know it was only reflexes. Bruce and Bishop Sampson gave Clark his final priesthood blessing in which the Bishop said," Heavenly Father is waiting for you. Go to him and find rest."

Kristin, Huxley and I entered Clark's room at about 7:00 PM MST. By this time, Clark was severely purple and extremely swollen to the point that you might expect his skin to explode. Neck and shoulders nearly similar in size because of the days infusions and fluid retention. Facial features had double in size and eyes protruding from pressure. Very hard to watch was the trickle of blood that constantly flowed from his mouth, down is neck and onto his pillow. We assured Clark that he had fought hard. We praised him for the good brother and son he had been. We told him how proud we are of him. We promised to take care of his dog and car. We told him that we had done all we could, he had done all he could, the doctor's had done all they could, and there was no medicine left to help him. I told him it was okay to go to heaven and be with his father. Kristin lay across his chest, hugging him and saying, "I'm sorry I didn't do this more often." She stayed there a moment, listening to him breath his final breaths, feeling his skin still warm, and smelling HIS scent. Unexpectedly we found a doctor by our side. This time offering options that were difficult to make, yet assuring us that Clark's time had come and that it was the machines keeping him alive. The options were to turn off blood pressure medication, pull the breathing tube, or leave the tube and just turn off oxygen and allow Clark to breathe on his own. Pulling the tube was not an option but the three of us agreed that the other two were our choice. These measures would allow Clark to peacefully pass and prevent any additional trauma for Clark and us as his body could not take much more.

We were given our last moments privately with Clark. Then the family and friends were called in from a nearby waiting room. Bishop Sampson offered a prayer for Clark's transition. Included in the room were Kristin and Kellen, Huxley, Bishop Sampson, Bruce and Illa Larson, Kate and Eric Larson and Kate's mom Karla Steck, Kelsey, and myself. We had a few moments of silence and then tapped on the window of his door, signaling to the nurse that we were ready. She first disconnected the blood pressure medicine. Then the oxygen was discontinued. Immediately, Clark's chest rose and fell deeply, laboring for oxygen. The monitors numbers rapidly declined. He inhaled comfortably a deep breath, followed by a long pause, then his final breath was received. The monitor we had been scrutinizing all day, quietly went black. It was then that I watched one final tear fall from Clark's right eye. I cleared it with my left hand, removed my right hand from his arm, and watched his color fade away. Clark had passed with his hand in ours, our hearts in his. We solemnly drew his curtains, left his room, and finally knew he had reached the end of his suffering and was at peace. Time of passing was recorded as 8:22 PM MST, June 11, 2010. Cause of death was septic shock (which is a fierce inferno of infection).

Those of us who had witnessed his death were now outside his room calling or texting that he had passed. I received a text back from Wyatt requesting that we have a family prayer by speaker phone with the boys back in South Dakota. After the prayer, we picked ourselves up, and walked out of the hospital for the last time. In route to home, we traveled through rain the entire way, feeling comforted that it was tears from heaven.


Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing that story, i know it wasn't easy. i cried through the whole thing, i sincerely hope you and your family have found peace as Clark has. god bless

Lindsey Davis

Marcie Pulfrey said...

You People are the strongest people I know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As I wipe the tears from my eyes and say a prayer for all of you,I know God has great plans for all of you. Keep up your strength and faith. Marcie

Andrea said...

Thank you for sharing such an incredible story. I cried knowing that you all had done everything that you could. I pray for your family as you go through this hard time.

Stephen said...

I've wished so many times over the past year that I could be there to see Clark. So I've always appreciated how graphic and articulate the blog posts have been.

Rhonda, I especially appreciate this post. It's almost as though I were there with him.

Love hurts. Thank you all.

Anonymous said...

A very touching story. I enjoyed reading and please know your son & brother lives on. He has passed from mortality and suffers no more. I too witnessed the passing of my 4 year old daughter. We will all look forward to the day when we are united with our loved ones. Take care and God Bless.

Sawyer Sasse said...

You are such a strong family. Thank you for sharing this with all of us as I know this is probably one of the hardest things in the world to re-tell and re-live. Whilst reading this I went back to the evening turned morning my dad passed away nearly 6 years ago...the blessings he received to help him pass. Being a High Priest himself, he believed in eternity and the eternal happiness that was to come, but it was still hard for him to let go of his earthly life.
While I'm a couple years older thank Clark I remember him hanging around with the Watertown boys whenever there was a Stake activity. :O) I remember him being quiet then, but in reading the blogs, he seemed like he turned out to be a pretty neat person!
Peace be with the many family and friends that are left behind on Earth. He is no longer suffering, he's not in pain, he's in his most perfect form!

Rob & Karen said...

Heartwrenching. You have a gift for writing with such raw emotion. Thank you for sharing this story. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Rhonda you are such an amazing mother/writer. Thank you for sharing your story. Clark became everyone's son, brother, friend and hero. God Bless you my dear. May you be at peace now that Clark is finally home.
Love, Connie

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing Clark with all of us. He was amazing person that will never be forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this, Rhonda. You guys truly are so strong to share this experience with us. Tears flowing not even knowing him personally. Boy I wish I would have. I sure wish I would have a fraction of the strength he had. God bless you all.
Jamie Stadheim Olson

Anonymous said...

Thank you so very much for posting this. As hard as this may be for you and your family, please please know Clark is in a better place and even though he is gone his spirit will live on. We love you!
Melissa Underberg

Krista said...

Thank you for posting this! You are so descriptive with your writing. That takes a lot of strength to write what you wrote. The hardest part for me to read was when clark shed his last tear. May he rest in peace!

Molly said...

Rhonda and family, Thanks for posting this wonderful blog and continuing it now. Clark is an amazing guy! He has inspired me and my family. I am glad he is home and with Jim. I will never forget him and he is truly missed. I hope you continue this blog and keep us updated.
Love Always,

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this! I cannot begin to imagine going through something like this, but you guys did it with strength and love!! Clark is in peace watching over everyone that was watching over him. God bless you all through this tough time!

Amy (Duke) Simmons said...

Rhonda and Family~ I was ever so fortunate to have known Clark and to love him as I know you all did. He was such an amazingly hard working young man, who was so determined, outgoing, kind hearted, thoughtful and courageous. He fought long and hard, and had his guardian angel (Kristin) by his side through so much. I commend you for doing ALL that you did for Clark and would like to Thank You for taking him under your wing and helping him.
I too am a mother and I'm sure it must have been so hard to give up time with your children (Rhonda and Kristin) but they will understand.

Like Sawyer I also met Clark on Church trips; the first being a trip to the Chicago Temple when we were like 11 or 12. I was so smitten by Clark and thought he was really dreamy :) This is also where I met Bobby Konrad and his father (little did I know that clark and Bobby would become such close friends) On a church trip several years later to Huron I remember Clark blaring "Baby I got your money" from his room he always liked loud music and nice cars. I have so many fond memories as I'm sure everyone who was graced by his presence does.

Be strong and hold onto all of your GREAT memories with Clark.

The Markerts said...

Thank you for sharing the incredible journey you and your family have endured for the past year. Echoing many previous comments, Clark touched more lives than he'll ever know. I feel like I lost a friend, though I never met Clark. It rained in Tulsa the day I heard the news. I also felt comforted by the raindrops, as if they were tears from heaven. Your family has been and will continue to be in my prayers. I hope that you find comfort through the happy memories of your dear son and brother. Thank you again for sharing his story. God bless.