On one not so special day Riley decided to go visit his parents in Oamaru (We live in Dunedin). The weather was good, and he needed to drop something back off to his parents, he had made this journey a hundred times. I was happy for the flat to myself as I had work to do and the flat really needed a clean. He had his shower, got changed into his motorbike gear, gave me a kiss goodbye and left. We always had the same conversation every time he drove.
“Bye Sweetie, I love you”
“Bye Honey, drive carefully”
“I always drive carefully”
And he always did, but that’s the thing about roads and vehicles it’s not always your fault.
I had begun freaking out by the time I received a call from a police officer. It was 10pm at night and really Riley should have been home 3 hours ago. They told me he had been in an accident but the injuries weren’t life threatening. A car had crossed the centre line when he was on his way back from Oamaru. Right in front of him, he had no time to react.
The thought of Riley being hurt was more than I could deal with, he was always so healthy. He only got sick once in the 2 and a half years we were dating.
I rang my parents to come take me to the hospital and rang his mother and sister so they could come down from Oamaru. Upon arriving on the hospital I was shown to where he was lying waiting for surgery. He was covered all the way to the chin in a blanket, both arms and a leg in plaster, a ventilator to help him breath. His face looked normal apart from a small scratch on the bridge of his nose, a fat lip and of course his god awful side burns (But they were normally there).
Still they told me he was going to be fine. He had a shattered wrist, a fractured wrist and a broken leg. They told me he would need some plates and bolts but he would recover. He was taken into surgery around 11.30pm.
And so we waited.
After a very long time a nurse came through to our waiting room and told us that we would need to move waiting room. I was so tired I was thinking about the fact there was a waiting room that you stayed in until you could be moved into the proper waiting room? Turns out it was just that we needed to be on a different floor. Instead of him being in the adult ward for accident victims he was going to the ICU unit on the 5th floor. The ICU unit is not a fun place in the hospital and the waiting room was even worse. The walls are lined with sickness posters and in the corner there was a couple of books and puzzles that had obviously been put there as a last ditch attempt to liven up the place.
At least the chairs were comfy.
After a while we were told why were in the ICU unit waiting or what I now refer to as ‘my personal hell’ or MPH for short. Riley had not woken up from his surgery. They would take more scans and let us know as soon as they knew.
And so we waited.
It was early morning perhaps around 6am when they came into MPH. We all sat round and the doctor turned to me and said
“He has had a stroke and he might die.” Now I understand that there is no sugar coating that someone was going to die but this man was blunt as all hell. I don’t know if any of you have received the “Your such and such might die” but it is the second worst thing you will hear (The first being “Your such and such has died” or maybe “You will die” I haven’t fully decided on that)
Now I am a little claustrophobic at the best of times but this was a whole other level of shit.
I couldn’t breathe, the walls started closing in, I felt faint. So I ran. I somehow go down to the street below, gasping for air I sat against the wall outside the hospital and cried. I thought I was going to vomit from crying, I don’t know how long I sat there and cried. I kept trying to tell myself it was going to be okay. That people didn’t always die from strokes. After I had calmed enough to stand up, I went back inside. I went back to MPH.
They told me due to trauma his brain had begun to swell. There was nothing they could do, even if he survived he would be brain damaged but really we had 24 hours left with him at the most.
After a little longer we were allowed to see him. I felt like I wasn’t in my body as it walked into the room, I felt outside the world looking in. He was lying on the bed, plastered limbs as before. Still on the ventilator, his breathing was horrible and jaggered.
I look over the man I loved, covered in tubes and I was almost sick again. The nurses tried explaining to me what was happening but I couldn’t hear them over the sound of my own heartbeat. It was like the movies when you know people are talking to you but you can’t hear the words. Kind of like the teacher in Charlie Brown.
I told him I loved him and that I would come back later. The day was filled with people visiting to say goodbye to him, we drew on his casts just in case he did survive the ordeal. (Don’t panic, I drew a penis as every loving girlfriend should when her partner has a case on)
He wasn’t going to survive but we all kept hoping. I stayed with him, either beside him or in MPH all day. I didn’t want to leave him. I didn’t want him to leave me. I got one of my friends to take me home so I could pick up some things. And that’s when I got a message from his sister. He was breathing on his own. I couldn’t believe it perhaps this was the miracle we were hoping for. We rushed back to the hospital to see him. But we weren’t allowed in.
And so we waited.
We were allowed to go in every once in a while and then it was suggested I was taken home. So I did. Around 6am I went back in. We were still only allowed to see him every now and again.
And so we waited.
At around 9.30am we were told to go get something to eat. By the time we got back at 10.20 he had been pronounced dead. Time of death 10.05 on August 15th 2016. His brain was gone and he wasn’t coming back.
We had conversations with lots of people, there was paper work galore. Which annoyed me more than anything else. “Ah yes we are well aware your partner has just died but can we get your signature on these 20 different forms, fingerprints and your soul so we can organise ACC”
We let the hospital know that he would want to donate what he could and since he was a healthy 26 year old man from the shoulders down they found a match for his heart, liver, both kidneys, lungs and pancreas. They had to organise all the red tape which means he would continue to be in the hospital for a while longer.
When I was allowed to see him again they asked if I wanted him to be moved over so I could lay down beside him and get some rest. I was very okay with this plan and for all of Monday I slept on and off next to Riley. (There is actually a super cute photo of me sleeping next to him, or as cute as a photo of a girlfriend sleeping next to her dead boyfriend can be)
The staff there just worked around me, they told me the surgery would go ahead around 7pm but by 10pm he was still next to me on the ICU unit. Not that I was complaining, just meant I could lie next to him for longer. Around 10.30pm he went back into surgery and I went home. I slept/stared at my ceiling until 4am (Why are accidents and hospital visits at inconvenient times?) when I gave up and went back into the hospital to say my final goodbye.
He was no longer filled with tubes, he was just lying there, cold and white. I sat with him for half an hour, talking to him. What do you say in this situation? I told him how much I cared about him, I told him that they should have motorised trains running around the railing that the curtains hang on. I told him that if I was ever rich I would redesign MPH so it would be nicer for other visitors.
But there is only so long the hospital allows you to ramble like a crazy woman to a dead person and the police officer needed to see Riley go down to the morgue (I don’t know either….). So I had to say goodbye for good. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do trying to sum up how I felt in five minutes. They asked me if I wanted to come down with them but I couldn’t gather the courage to do it. Instead I went home to our cold and empty home. And that’s the story of how I became a widow at 22 years old.