I think I need to tell you what happened.
I have tried, countless times, over the last few days, to tell you about the gorgeous Greek wedding I went to on Saturday. I've tried to give you a funny little anecdote about the nurse having to jab me 4 times (in the back of the hand, even) to get blood out of my poor, unyielding veins on Friday. I've even attempted to crow about the fact that my hair is finally displaying signs that I'm a human being, living in a civilized world, with products at her disposal.
I've tried, and I can't. The words don't come, and as I don't want this frivolous piece of real estate to turn into a centre for continual mourning and grief, I think I need to do something, finally, that I thought I wasn't going to do.
I need to tell you about the night that Frankie died.
Jesus Christ Almighty, I hate those words.
For the last six weeks, I've been saying the night we lost Frankie, the night he left us, the night he, goddammit, passed away. It's taken me a month and a half to say "Frankie is dead" and maybe, if I tell you how it happened, maybe then, I won't have to relive it every night while I wait to fall asleep. I doubt it, really, but somehow, I think this needs to be done. Maybe if I don’t hide it anymore, I can move past it.
My brother was six feet, three inches tall. He weighed about 220 pounds, and he was deaf. He was also lagging a little behind, socially, academically, though thankfully, that was kind of progressive, and as he got older, the difference between where he was and where he should be started to narrow. Still and all, my brother was a giant kid; a giant kid with a disarming habit of alternating between surly and strikingly charming, but a giant kid nonetheless. Frankie was 25, but in reality, I think he was just closing in on 16.
Was. I can't believe I'm using the word was.
Frankie's threshold for pain was famously high. God, I tortured him when I was a kid. Your Mare at 9 thought nothing of bending her three year-old brother in half, and standing on him. He just laughed and took it, then got bigger than me and dished it back out. As he got older, if he got hurt or got sick, he could work through incredible discomfort before complaining, and even then, you'd think he was describing a mild twinge. In his last few days, maybe the last week, he had been starting to look a little off, a little fatigued. We've all been over those last few days, and I'm almost certain now that he'd probably been experiencing all of this for weeks before he said something. Knowing Frankie, it may even have been months. He said he wasn't sleeping properly, and couldn't get a deep enough breath at night. I, stupidly, was convinced it was an anxiety attack. I asked him if sometimes, it felt like his lungs were twisting themselves inwards, and he said, "Yeah, Mare! Exactly!" And so that's what I thought it was. Right to the last night, that's what I thought it was.
Christ. He was dying right in front of us.
He'd lost about 10, 12 pounds over the summer, for no apparent reason, but he was so happy about this, we didn't really think anything of it. Because my brother was the way he was, though he was 25, things like medical appointments were left to my mother to make. Because of the weight loss, plus two incidents in which he'd fallen down suddenly, she had sent him to the doctor sometime midsummer. The wise and insightful woman, this medical doctor - and forgive my anger here - told him that because he was so tall, “he should take care to rise slowly from bed in the morning, so that he didn't suddenly get a rush of blood to the head.” See, now that's what I call good medical schoolin'.
A couple of weeks, months, whatever, passed, and my brother, by all reports, indeed followed the good doctor's instructions, and got out of bed slowly every morning. And it kills me when I think of it. It kills me because while he was taking care not to get up too fast, was his chest burning? Was he breathing with difficulty? Was his body failing him, and he didn't know enough to think that the symptoms mattered?
Around the end of September, the first couple of days of October, he suddenly started looking and acting really fatigued. His colour was especially ashen, and so, on Monday, 3rd October, my mother sent him to the doctor again. When she called to make the appointment, she told the receptionist that Frankie's colour was really off, and that he'd been complaining of chest pains and difficulty breathing. Again, she brought up the two sudden falls, and the weight loss.
That day, he came home with the report that the doctor told him he should mind his diet, and make sure he's getting enough nutrients. She also said that his heartbeat was a little rapid, and so she gave him a referral for October 17th to get a Holter monitor, which measures your heartbeat for 24 hours. October 17th.
On Wednesday the fifth, he was tired and weak. My mother was really worried, and started talking about going to the hospital, because Frankie had mentioned that his schoolbag was really heavy. We all had to go to a one-month memorial mass for my sister's Godfather that evening, and the one thing that should have tipped me off right away happened. Frankie asked me to drive. And you know, aside from the fact that I'm just a lazy bugger who prefers the passenger seat at the best of times, Frankie just always drove. He wouldn't have it any other way. He knew how a car worked at 3, taught himself to drive a stick before he was 16, and when he finally got his driver's licence, it was like he'd come home. Driving was what Frankie did, and so when I found the two of us in my car, in reverse positions, I should have known. I should have headed towards the hospital rather than the church.
The rest of the night was miserable for him. I could tell he was uncomfortable during the Mass, and during the refreshments afterwards. Whenever the family got together, Frankie always wanted to be the last to leave, but that evening, when I, impatient to get home, motioned to him that we should get going, he readily complied.
The last thing my brother and I did together was watch a really, really stupid movie on TV.
I missed the part when my mother called the ambulance, and I also missed the fact that he walked into it, after calmly explaining his discomfort to the paramedics. My sister, who was there the whole time, told me after that he really never fell sleep between 11, when I went to bed, and 1 in the morning, when they went to the hospital. He couldn't breathe properly, and he was in a lot of discomfort. Pain. I don't know. I don't want to think about it.
At three in the morning, my sister called from the hospital to tell me that I should probably get over there.
I found out later that at the hospital, his blood pressure sky-rocketed astronomically, his heart beat was insanely rapid, and he'd vomited the mild medicine that they'd given him to slow it down. My sister sat by him as he started to get a little fuzzy, and perhaps the last thing he saw before he coded was her signing, in ASL, I Love You. Right at that second, the nurse demanded that she leave, the doctors got into a flurry of activity, and for over the next two hours, two doctors, several nurses and the paramedics that brought him there helped to bring my baby brother back to life.
When I got to the hospital, it was three-thirty, and my family had been ushered into a quiet room, where they were anything but. A security guard had been posted outside the emergency room door where they were working on Frankie, because my father had already tried, they didn't want the rest of us storming in. I walked in and found my mother crying, my father wailing, my sister rocking with her head in her hands. I remember yelling, panicked, "What? What happened? Is it too late?" and hearing with relief that "No, they're trying to resuscitate him." And so I started to beg out loud, beg doctors, beg God; I, who only ever hold rare and casual conversations with some vague Supreme Being now started, with my forehead pressed against the wall, reciting every prayer my Catholic education had given me. I prayed to God, and to Jesus; I asked the Blessed Virgin Mary to exert some influence over her Son to save my brother. I begged and pleaded and promised and rocked and yelled and cried and begged and pleaded and rocked and yelled. My father started to call his brothers to come to the hospital, started yelling into the phone to “hurry, we’re losing Frankie!” And still we waited, and prayed, and wailed, making the worst kinds of noises that can ever come out of a human being. I will never forget the ugly sounds of our breaking, beating hearts.
And then the doctor came into the room, and my mother told me later that I pushed the poor woman out and slammed the door in her face because I didn't want to hear, didn't want my mother to hear the worst news in the world.
And then we saw him, still soft, still Frankie. And my father and I started to scream into his ears, because when Frankie wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, you needed to yell with your mouth against his ears for him to hear. And he didn’t wake up. My brother didn’t wake up. We grabbed his arms and his legs and his face, and threw ourselves against his chest, and I remember holding his hand so that our thumbs were intertwined, and that’s when I knew it was the truth, because Frankie and I never hugged, never held hands. We were brother and sister, but we never hugged, and so I knew that he was gone.
He was gone. Frankie, my brother was gone, but right in front of us, with a tube in his mouth, and his eyes taped shut. I remember my father screaming, “The baby! The baby! We lost the baby!” His body was still soft, but just starting to cool, and forever I will remember that I was sure, absolutely and without a doubt certain, that if we just shook him enough, yelled enough, he’d sit up and be well again. But his head… oh God, my brother’s head just lolled when we tried to hold him close, and that was it. That was the end. We couldn’t fix him. We couldn’t bring him back.
That’s how it happened. In the early hours of Thursday, October 6th, 2005, we lost my brother Frankie, and now, whenever I think of the last time I saw him, it won't be in his casket, in his suit, six days later and hard as stone. It will be on that table in the hospital, when his skin still felt like skin, and he let me hold his hand.
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