Saying Goodbye to My Beloved Gee
It was Monday, Memorial Day, May 28th, 2001. I woke up about 0630. I sat and watched Gee sleep. She woke up around 0700. She said that she wasn't feeling well. I told her, "Maybe you should just go back to bed and get some more sleep."
Originally, we had been planning on taking another trip. We had just gotten back from Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. There were still three places Gee wanted to go see—Greece, where we were supposed to go for our honeymoon, Key West, and Napa Valley, Gee loved different types of wines and could tell me about the differences between vintages, vintners and vineyards. Wine, like music, was not something I knew anything about. About a month earlier, I had reserved tickets for a trip to Napa Valley, but just before we left for Cape Cod, I canceled them—I'm not even sure why I canceled them, but something told me to—one of my hunches... Gee once told me to always go with my hunches.
Gee said something to eat might help her stomach, so I went to the kitchen and made her a small omelet and some toast, and brought it to her in the bedroom. She tried the omelet and said she wasn't really hungry after a few bites. She then told me she was going to try and get some more sleep. So I headed back to the kitchen to do the dishes and put her omelet in the refrigerator.
Around 0730, I heard Gee get up and go to the bathroom in the hallway. She had started feeling nauseous, and I heard her throw up. She asked me to come to the bathroom. She had vomited up what looked like blood. I called 911 and had her sit on the floor. I went back into the bedroom and got dressed.
A few minutes later the Annandale Volunteer Fire Department ambulance arrived and they took Gee’s blood pressure and temperature and told me that they were going to take her to the emergency room
I called Michele and told her what had happened and she said she'd meet me at the hospital. When we got to the hospital, the doctors on the emergency room staff said they were going to admit Gee for observation. She was put into a private room on the Hematology/Oncology floor and the on-call doctor for her oncology group was called. It looked like the bleeding had stopped... at least that’s what we thought. Michele went home and I stayed the night with Gee.
Tuesday, Michele came back and told me to go home and take a shower, so I did. I had just gotten out of the shower when my cell phone rang. It was Michele, telling me to get back to the hospital right away. Gee had started vomiting up blood again.
When I got to the hospital, Gee had been moved to the Medical/Surgical ICU. I went to the MSICU and met Michele. The doctors had said that Gee was bleeding into her digestive tract—it looked like an artery that had been closed off as a result of the Whipple operation had eroded and was now bleeding. At first it was bleeding fairly slowly, but at some point it had ruptured and now she was effectively bleeding to death into her stomach.
The doctors and nurses fought to stabilize Gee and to get the bleeding to stop. A specialist was called in to try to cauterize the bleeding artery, and he managed to do it. Overall, Gee had been given three units of plasma, six units of saline and 13 units of blood. One of the doctors told me that it was a miracle that she made it through that kind of traumatic bleeding. Mary Francis, the med/surg icu nurse in charge of caring for Gee was amazing. Instead of taking a dinner break, Mary Francis chose to spend the time washing and brushing Gee’s hair. Mary Francis told me that Gee would feel better if that was done.
Gee regained consciousness later Wednesday morning. Gee and I talked about what had happened. She told me that the reason she fought so hard to come back is that she had wanted to keep a promise she had made the day I asked her to marry me—she had promised to never leave me. She told me that it wasn't cancer that usually killed a cancer patient, that it was usually the complications from the cancer that killed them, and that she was sorry, because she was pretty sure that she had run into too many complications. The ultrasound that the doctors took later that week showed her to be right.
I called Brad and told him what was happening and that I needed him to be there. He flew down the following Monday. My friends—Brad; Brian; his fianceé Bethany, who he met at my wedding to Gee; Brian and his wife Katy; Michele, and her friends Annie and Alicia; and Woo all came to the hospital to support Gee and me. I don't know how I can ever thank them enough.
I think it was Sunday when the doctors let Gee back onto the Hematology/Oncology unit. The doctors had run some additional tests and the news wasn't very good. The metastases had grown, one had taken over almost half of her liver, and the cancer in her pancreas had spread some more as well. The ultrasound also showed that Gee had abscesses in her intestinal tract, one was an older one that the body had managed to seal off and the tissues there were dying, the other was a more recent one and it was causing her body to fight it. It was also causing the fluids in her body to fill the abdomen, putting pressure against her diaphragm, making it hard for her to breathe. The doctors agreed that Gee was took weak for the surgery that might fix the abscesses and relieve the pressure in her abdomen—basically, there was nothing more that we could do for her.
Sunday morning, Gee told me the doctors had said she could have ice chips if she got thirsty, and could I get her some. I walked up to the nurses' station and asked if I could get a cup of ice chips for her. The nurse on duty at the desk wasn't one I knew from Gee’s previous stay on the unit. The nurse jokingly said, that'll be $50. I took my wallet out and asked if a check was okay or did they want cash. The other nurses, most of whom I knew, came over and started laughing, and said that I could have whatever I wanted, since I spoiled my wife so much. I took the cup of ice chips and gave it to Gee.
Monday, the doctors okayed Gee for a clear liquid diet. For breakfast, they brought Gee a meal of broth, lime jello, and apple juice. I called my house and asked my father to stop at the 7-11 on his way to the hospital and get Gee a Slurpee. Gee loved Slurpees... it really didn't matter what flavor, although she was partial to the cherry and Coca-Cola ones. My parents got to the hospital and he was holding one of the largest Slurpees I've ever seen.
I told Gee, that Brad was flying in from Boston, since he wanted to celebrate his birthday with us, and that I had to go get him at National. I said I'd bring him straight to the hospital, so I wouldn't be gone very long. I went to National and met Brad. We got back to the hospital about an hour after I left. When Brad walked in, Gee said, "Brad, how was your flight." Brad later told me, that when I called him, he told his boss he was going to Washington, DC, and all he needed to know was whether he was going to have to find a new job when he got back or not. Brad, Michele and I took turns keeping Gee company. Michele asked to stay at the hospital that night, so Brad and I went back to the house and I got him settled in the living room.
By Wednesday, Gee was improving to the point the doctors said she could go home soon. They said I'd need to get some medical equipment for her to use, an oxygen generator to help her breathe, a suction machine to help keep her mouth and throat clear. I ordered the equipment for delivery the next day. The doctors said she could try some bland solid food. I asked them if pasta was okay, and they said it'd be perfect. I went home and made some tortellini stuffed with cheese, put it in two plastic containers and brought it to the hospital for Gee and Brad to have for lunch—it was still warm from the stove when I got there.
All of the equipment was delivered on Thursday afternoon, and I called Michele, who was waiting with Gee at the hospital, to say we were ready for my wife to come home. Gee was in some pain and didn't sleep well that night. I set the oxygen generator up in the office and used a long tube so that Gee could walk around most of the house without worrying about the oxygen hose not reaching. I also shut the door so the noisy generator wouldn't keep her awake.
The next morning she asked for me to have Brad come see her. She said to Brad that she was sorry for not being a better hostess. I then drove Brad to the airport so he could catch his flight back to Boston. On our way to the airport Brad said, "There are some days that you realize what a lousy human being you are."
I then went home to check on Gee. She said that she would sleep better if she had a recliner like the one she was using in the hospital. I waited for Gee’s mother to arrive and then went out and bought a medical recliner, a hospital table, a safety railing for the bathtub, and a few other supplies.
Once the recliner and other supplies were delivered, I set them up for her and helped her move from the bedroom to the living room, where the recliner was set up. I had put a sheet down on the recliner to act as a liner since the upholstery wasn't as soft as the sheet.
Gee’s mother made some small meals for her. Gee was still having a hard time with the pain… but there wasn't anything we could do for it. One of the hardest things for me was seeing this beautiful, strong, tough woman I married be in such pain and not be able to do anything about it.
We listened to Gee’s music most of the day and she was finally able to sleep. Most of the next day, Gee and I spoke quite a bit about what was going to happen and I told her I was very happy that she was able to come home again. I told her I knew she didn't have much longer and that it was okay for her to go. I told her that I loved her and always would—and that we would be together again someday as mere death was no barrier to a love as strong and true as ours. Gee seemed to accept it and was at peace with dying—her greatest concern seemed to be for me, and what would happen when she was gone.
Sunday afternoon, Gee complained that breathing was getting harder, and I turned up the oxygen generator to six liters per minutes. Even with the oxygen was turned all the way up, Gee still was having trouble catching her breath... I had been checking her pulse, blood pressure and respiration every hour. I told Gee that I was going to call the ambulance to take her to the hospital again. When the ambulance arrived, I gave the EMT’s a list of the medications Gee was taking, listing the dosage and time she had taken them. I also gave them a list of her vitals and the times at which I had taken them. One of the EMT’s said that this was more information than most hospitals would give them. The paramedics used the sheet to transfer Gee to the stretcher, and got her into the ambulance. I got into the front of the ambulance.
When we got to the hospital, the doctor got Gee stabilized and on oxygen. Once Gee was stable, the doctor had Gee moved from the emergency room to the Medical/Surgical ICU. The doctor met with Michele, Gee’s mother and me. We knew that Gee didn't have much longer and told the doctor that we didn't want to prolong Gee’s suffering. We made the decision to take Gee off of the ventilator. I stood by the bed and spoke with my beloved Gee for a while, just the two of us, knowing that she was done fighting… and that she would be in a better place soon. She told me that she would always be in my life, and that all she wanted for me was for me to find happiness—like the happiness we shared—again, and if I found the right person, to marry again.
The last thing Gee and I discussed was what to do when she was gone. Gee asked me to cremate her so that I could always have her with me, even if I moved—she wanted to keep the promise she had made me when we got engaged. I told her that I appreciated her reasoning, but I didn't think it was fair to her friends and her family—that if she were cremated and I kept her ashes with me as she asked—what would her sister, her parents, and her friends do when they missed her—where would they go to remember her. She thought about it and agreed that I should find someplace near the house to bury her, someplace that would be pretty year-round.
At some point during the night I had called Brian, Beth, Brian and Katy. Brian and Beth showed up Monday morning and came to say goodbye to Gee. Brian, Beth, Michele, Gee’s mother and I stayed around Gee’s bed—waiting with her—knowing that it would be soon. I knew that she could still hear me, every time I said her name, she would squeeze my hand. Finally, at eleven o'clock, on Monday, June 11th, 2001,seven months and seven days from when our wedding started—my fierce, beautiful, sweet Gee died. Brian and his wife Katy, and Woo arrived shortly afterwards, to say their goodbyes.
When I got back to the house, I called Sophie in Vienna, Austria. Sophie was one of Gee’s good friends—she and Gee had met just a week after our first date—they were roommates in the youth hostel on Gee’s trip to Seattle, back in July of 1999. I didn't get a hold of Sophie, so I left a message on her phone. That evening, I downloaded all of Gee’s e-mail from her Hotmail account. I wasn't sure what was going to happen to it... but I knew that those e-mails were an important part of our story together... and among the few things she ever wrote me. One e-mail I got in those was a very excited e-mail from Sophie—who had mistakenly thought that Gee and I were in Vienna. She was so excited to see Gee—I was pained that I had to tell her such horrible news, in light of her excitement.
The next day, I got a phone call at the house—it was Sophie—she had figured out that the phone number I had left was a US phone number and she had called. She wanted to speak to Gee...and she said "you're Dan...you married Gee..." I asked Sophie what she had meant by that. She told me that when she first met Gee, Gee had told her that she had just started dating a guy named Dan, that she thought was the one she was going to marry. Sophie was really excited that Gee and I had married. Then I told Sophie why I was calling... I felt horrible... but I felt Sophie needed to know what had happened. Strangely, Sophie was just finishing her master’s degree in bio-engineering and had just interviewed with a company in Israel for a position as a researcher—researching pancreatic cancer.
I really don't know what I would have done without my family and my friends—Brian, Beth, Brian, Katy, Woo, Brad, and Michele all gave Gee and me so much during her illness and helped me when she died. If you measure a person by the quality of their friends, I am a very lucky person.
Wednesday, I found the place for Gee to rest—she’s buried in the Garden of Peace section of the Fairfax Memorial Park. She’s up on the a hillside that faces east—towards the sunrise. It’s a three-and-a-half mile drive I make quite often. I think she would have approved of my choice. We had the funeral home send the Washington Post Gee’s obit with the memorial service and funeral service times.
Thursday, we finished up the burial arrangements. If you've never dealt with a cemetary or funeral home, you're in for a shock—you can buy a pretty decent car for what a funeral costs nowadays... I was pretty surprised by all the costs there were... the laughable part is what the government does. The social security death benefit is all of $255, and it has a two-year limitation on it... as I found out this summer.
Friday evening, we held a memorial service for Gee. It was very hard for me to believe that she was really gone... Saturday we had the funeral service for Gee. It was at the same church we had gotten married in just seven months and 12 days earlier. J.P. Hong, the minister who had married Gee and me, gave the memorial service. In some ways it was very fitting. Unlike our wedding day, it rained very heavily that day. Supi Wolf, the wife of one of my first friends in the DC area, told me that the Thai believe that when it rains it means the gods are crying—I believed her.