This page (especially the day of) is MUCH more information than some people can handle, so you may want to skip it. Just because I need to process this and am searching for answers doesn't mean anyone else does. I understand that everyone needs to deal with loss in their own way.
I find myself intensely re-living each moment of our last days together. I hope that writing down what happened will help me let go of some of the pain. I look forward to the day when my thoughts of Doug are dominated by happy memories. There are so many of those.
Note: In the dazed confusion that followed, some of these events have blurred together. The times on reports may not be accurate.
One night shortly before losing Doug, I can't remember exactly when, I had an upsetting nightmare about my sister.
Stacey was my identical twin. She took her own life when she was just 24. Even though she died decades ago, it is still very hard to think about her and what what happened. The pain seems so fresh.
That night, I dreamed Stacey and I were on hike, but in an urban setting. It was winter. She was ahead of me, clambering over some kind of concrete wall. It was narrow and icy. I was concerned for her safety. I called out to her to be careful.
Suddenly she slipped off the wall and fell into a big pit next to the wall that was filled with water and rocks. She sank quickly through the freezing cold water. I ran over and reached into the water, trying to grab her and pull her out. It was so cold. My arm wasn't long enough. I couldn't see her. I couldn't save her. It felt intensely sad and futile.
When I awoke, I told Doug about the dream and how it really bothered me. He listened, but didn't say anything.
Although I didn't recall it at the time, right before my father drowned in a boating accident, I had a different nightmare about my sister. I dreamed we were at the beach, and she was pulled into the ocean undertow. I could not reach her to save her.
I had been feeling blue for several days, for no real reason. I guess I was upset that our RV was broken. We had just found out we would have to replace it eventually, at considerable cost. I loved camping with Doug. I had really been looking forward to going camping with Joe and Karen. Doug and I had decided to go to Baxter State Park in Maine for our next big anniversary trip in September. We were planning an interim trip, but he wanted to wait until his scheduled shoulder surgery because then he wouldn't be able to work around the house. (He had dislocated it three times flinging himself after softballs.)
Doug was on a 4-5 schedule, so he had every other Friday off. He was working on repairing and restoring the back room of our 170 year old house. That day, I helped him level the tipping stones that the sill would rest on.
in the evening, we went out to dinner at the Courthouse with Richie and Linda. We had a great meal and yukked it up. I only had to ask Doug to use his "inside voice" a few times. (When Doug gets excited or has a few beers, the volume tends to steadily increase.)
Afterwards, we walked over from our house to a surprise party for neighbor David's 60th birthday. Most of the 'hood was there. We talked and laughed. We sang Happy Birthday. As usual, Doug ended with the "you look like a monkey" verse. We gave David a hand blown glass wine stopper in the shape of an Octopus. Karen yelled out that it was Octopussey, which made Doug howl. Then she dropped her drink on the dining room floor. (Karen is not a hardened criminal like Doug.) Doug winked at her husband, and advised Joe to get her home ASAP to take advantage of the situation.
I dragged Doug away around 9:30 p.m., to the disappointment of his drinking buddies, because I knew he was tired. He thanked me for that on the walk home. Even though he had no "off" button, he knew he would be glad tomorrow that we had left early.
We sat out on the porch and read the paper in the morning. Then we compiled our weekly "Honey-Do List." It helped us get organized. We gave ourselves the freedom to do things in any order. My list would have things on it like "take a shower" or "check the bluebird boxes." Doug's would have things like "lift the house 5 inches off of the foundation, rebuild the stone wall, then fix the brakes on the car." For some reason I can no longer recall, Doug wrote on the list "Eat shit and die." It was a a joke - probably associated with me teasing him about doing something he didn't want to do.
I was still mopey for no reason. The day before, I should have written an audit plan and two articles for my newspaper column, but I never got around to it. I was not motivated at all. I mowed the lawn instead. Doug said that made me the Best Wife Ever! I think he was pleased that I did this type of thing when I was down, instead of shopping for shoes.
At some point, I begged Doug to put the A/C into the bedroom window. June was starting to heat up. The unit was too heavy for me to install by myself. While he was plugging it in, his shoulder dislocated again. He popped it back in but leaned against the dresser in pain. I kept asking if it was okay, and he asked me to give him a minute. I mentioned that it was a good thing that he was going in for surgery. He had dislocated his shoulder three times now. The bankart repair worked, but then he tore it up again. In December it popped out when he put his arm around me during a football game. That winter it came out again when he was putting a puzzle piece in. In the spring, while he was rushing down the courtyard stairs to help me with some mulch, he tripped on the uneven steps and fell and dislocated it once more.
That day, Doug worked on the backroom restoration project. He was having fun with the puzzle it posed. He needed to replace the rotten, ant and powder-post eaten sill (the girder the house sits on top of.) He had the back of the house up on jacks, after raising it about 5 inches to level it out.
As usual, at the end of the day, Dirk came by for a tasty beverage and to review progress. We joked around.
Doug gathered a bouquet of wild flowers (including very droopy peonies and stinkbugs), and dragged me out to the RV. That night, we camped in our own backyard. I wanted to drive somewhere to a campground. He was too tired, so I relented.
He lit a candle and we ate leftovers at the dinette. Then we watched part of the movie Animals are Beautiful People Too. We laughed and talked about it. He was too tired to stay up for the whole thing-- I assumed because he had been working so hard all day.
We slept in the RV. We commented that it was a beautiful, quiet campground, with a great view.
It was hot outside. Doug slept fitfully.
In the morning, we sat out on the porch together in our matching Adirondack chairs. He had coffee and we read the paper, liked we always did on Sundays.
Either Sunday or Saturday, I forget which, Doug had to go over to one of our rental properties to replace a garbage disposal. I begged him to let me go with him. I just wanted to spend time together and maybe help out. He declined, and encouraged me to stay and work on my articles. He went off for about 4 hours. I missed him.
We usually went on a weekly date, although sometimes it was just to the dump. I tried to talk Doug into going to see the annual Victorian House Tour in Willimantic on Sunday. Doug and I had gone on the old house tour several times in the past. The last few years, we missed it, because I was on travel, the weather was bad, or we just couldn't find the time. It was fun, and always made us feel better about the condition of our own old house.
Instead, he said he really wanted to keep working on the back room before his shoulder surgery. The operation was scheduled for June 22nd. After that, his arm would have to be immobilized for 8 weeks.
(Earlier, I had drawn a picture of a horizontal Doug in a sling on the calendar in the June 22nd box. I put "x's" over the eyes. It sent a chill up my spine because it looked like the 'x's" you put on a dead fish.So I drew in little z'ssss and wrote "Ow" by it, to show the expected sleeping and whining ahead.)
Doug said we would have plenty of time to do fun stuff when his arm was duct-taped to his body. I knew he wanted to make some progress, so I said that was fine, although I was a bit disappointed.
He worked on the back room while I worked upstairs on the computer. As usual, every once in a while, I would come downstairs and visit. We talked about the progress and what was next.
That afternoon, I convinced him to take a break and re-hydrate. It was warm out and he was working hard and sweating a lot. After the fainting incident, the doctor had re-emphasized how important hydration was, so I was always encouraging him to drink liquids.
We were sitting on the front porch, having a lemonade. Doug's boss and friend Pat rode by on his bike. Pat stopped and came up onto the porch. We had a long, delightful talk. I complained about the Union's unwillingness to accept the Governor's offer of early retirement. I dropped the F-bomb more than once on that topic. We talked about how life is short. Several people Pat and Doug knew had died suddenly over the past few years.
At some point I mentioned Dave Cherico. Dave was a colleague and running buddy. He died in 2001 at the age of 49. He was working in his backyard on his boat. While he was underneath it, it slipped off of the blocks and crushed him. Someone called, and his wife went out in the backyard and found him.
I always dreaded something like this happening to Doug. He worked alone on some really difficult projects and was not always careful enough for my taste. I told him many times that he had better be safe while on a ladder, as I had no intention of feeding a paralyzed person Maypo for the rest of his life.
We talked about a lot of things. After Pat left, Doug and I both commented on what a nice visit it was, and how glad we were that he stopped to chat. At some point, Doug said something about how he didn't think he would live to be old. I told him not to say that, as it was bad luck. My friend Alan had said the same thing, and he was right.
Our neighbor Joe came by that day too. His printer was on the fritz again, and Riley had a school report on Blue Whales that needed to be printed out. Joe and Doug shared a tasty beverage on the porch swing. I showed Riley our three new baby ducks. Doug had folded in response to my relentless begging and allowed me to get a few more for pets and eggs. We named them after the Three Stooges (one of Doug's favorite childhood shows), except since they were girls, it was Laurie, Curly and May.
Then Joe and I went upstairs so I could give him a spare printer I had lying around. For some male bonding, Doug took Riley downstairs, saying, "C'mon, Riley, we've got man's work to do." Doug had him explore some hidden crevice or something.
Back on the porch, it started to rain really hard. Joe picked up Riley like a football and whipped him into the back seat. Under the shelter of the porch, Doug and I laughed our heads off.
At the end of the day, Doug thanked me for letting him work on the backroom instead of going out on a date.
That evening, I sent this note to Joe. (Joe and Karen often fantasized about moving to a nicer house in a more happenin' place where the school system was better.)
"I know you dream of leaving, but here’s what happened in the hood this weekend.
- Jennifer called to have me come trap because House Sparrows were harassing her nesting tree swallows.
- The Hansens came to pick up our trash [to save us a trip to the dump.] Joyce split a watermelon with me. [She was better at picking them out, and a whole one usually took up too much space in the frig.]
- Riley’s report got printed and he got to see the baby ducks while you and Z beer’ed. [Joe called Karen to let her know everything was okay. There was a tornado watch that evening. Joe sometimes dilly-dallied at our place and Karen would get worried. She knew Joe would probably like spending the whole afternoon drinking on the porch with Doug if possible.] (Warning cancelled by the way. Loved the way you hurled R into the vehicle.)
- Golfing outing got planned. [Discussion of golfing with one arm, since Doug's surgery was scheduled for June 22. Last year on Joe's birthday, Doug organized of a day of golfing to celebrate, complete with Bloody Mary's.]
- Dale set up Demer’s [surprise birthday] party and everybody came (except the Grassi's – were they at a Tupperware party?) .... David is such a great guy.
- The top of my new Tupperware didn’t fit so I told Becky and she ordered me a new one.
- Dirk asked Becky to get him a plan for where the playscape goes so he can come over and grade [the yard.]
- Dirk offered to go over to the John’s and chop up their tree. [It had fallen down in a storm.]
- Doris called Doug for advice about their well pump that was acting up. [Doug was re-wiring our dryer in preparation for the back room re-do, and was working on that while he talked Doris through the pump issue.]
This kind of stuff doesn’t happen everywhere in the U.S…."
Little did I know how much I would soon come to depend on our good neighbors. Or how much I would grow to REALLY appreciate life in the Quiet Corner.
That night, I made my first fluffernutter ever. Doug wanted one for lunch. He had me take a picture to commemorate the event.
During the day, there was some email traffic about planning a Valley Boy's golfing event. For July 18th, Doug had written on the calendar "Golfing is My Life." It was looking like conflicts might require rescheduling. With Doug's surgery coming up, other dates were not looking good. Joe found a picture of a one-armed man golfing and emailed it around.
We received an invite to an upcoming BBQ with some new neighbors.
Doug sent me an email noting he had followed up on something we had discussed over the weekend. He wrote "forgot running shoes. Sammish good." (referring to my First Fluffernutter.)
He came home kind of late. That afternoon he had gone in for a full physical in preparation for his shoulder surgery. The doctor did an EKG and told Doug he was good to go! His appointment was over at 3:30 p.m., but dedicated Doug went back to the office to finish up, prior to heading home.
I asked Doug how his day had been otherwise, and what the best part was. He said the usual "It's over." Then I asked about running. He reminded me he had forgotten his shoes.
We put the laundry away together while he played with the cat. I was still feeling blue for no reason. He suggested that we go down into the courtyard for a glass of wine and iced tea.
As we were walking down the courtyard steps together, I looked up towards the house, and thought I saw a bunch of bugs. It was actually the sun glinting off rain. The bizarre part was that it was only raining on the house. Not in the courtyard, not across the street, not anywhere else. Doug said he had never seen that, but had seen a gray wall of rain approaching while mountaineering. We stood and watched the gentle, steady rain for about 10 minutes. Then it stopped.
Doug asked me why I was feeling down. I had no answer. He told me we were going on a little hike Tuesday after work to see the mountain laurel, which was in full bloom. He thought it would cheer me up.
We worked togethter to herd the ducks and goat back into the pen for the evening and headed upstairs.
I was lying next to Doug in bed. Since we don't have children, we often lounged in bed together and talked - sometimes when we woke up, sometimes in the early afternoon, and sometimes at the end of a long day.
For some reason, I laid my head on Doug's chest. It was very solid - Doug was built like a rock. I listened to his heart beating for awhile. It sounded so strong and steady. I remarked on it to him. I thought to myself how I never wanted NOT to hear that sound, not to have his heart be beating.
As usual, the alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. I fell back to sleep while Doug got ready for work. He came back into the bedroom and asked me whether the tie he had picked out went with his purple shirt. Then later, before he left for work, he came up and kissed me goodbye. He did that every day. He had a red polar fleece jacket on because it was fairly cold out.
I got up around 7:30. I noticed that Doug had gotten our day pack ready for the afternoon hike. He left it at the top of the stairs so we could take off right after he got home.
I was supposed to help Meb with her website in the morning. (I design and maintain some websites small business and non-profit websites in my spare time.) I wasn't up for it, and called to reschedule. I also was one day late with getting that darn audit plan out. I had not finished my articles for my newspaper column. I really didn't feel like working on the audit plan or articles either.
I stalled, calling my mom to chat for a while. She is in NC and we usually talk a couple of times a week. She mentioned how much more she liked me now (compared to my bratty teenage years.) I commented that I was a better person since Doug, and was certainly happier.
Then I called my neighbor-friend Jennifer. I had not spoken with her in a while. We talked for at least an hour about life. I didn't recall the content of our conversation, but Jennifer did. Later, she said:
I knew something was wrong that morning you called. After I got off the phone I told Rob that you didn't sound right. I told him that we had spent much of our conversation talking about Doug....sweet memories of your time together....the story of how you finally found each other once and for all, mishaps...like the one big tag sale argument and much, much more....silly stuff, dreams, and you wanting nothing more than to enjoy your future together. You were definitely not your usual bubbly self. There was a grave sense of concern about Doug and his health, his impending surgery. You went over medical details again and again. You mentioned to me how Doug had gone to bed early the previous night and that you had been watching a movie with your head on his chest. You said how strong his heart had sounded.You kept saying that you couldn't live without him. We talked about women so often being widowed at an average age of 63...all kinds of stuff, but all related. I remembered I had a doctor's appointment, so we got off the phone.
Lyn, a friend and former tenant, called. We made plans to get together with her and Doug for lunch. Lisa called.
I was getting nothing done. I thought about going out to check some bluebird boxes, but just wasn't motivated. I decided to hunker down and work on the computer for a while.
I thought about Doug during lunch time, but knew he would be out running from 12-1. At 1:10 p.m., I dialed Doug's number. We usually spoke several times a day, although sometimes Doug was too busy or distracted with work. Besides, he was not a phone talker. There was no answer. I was surprised that he was not back at his desk yet. He usually returned promptly at 1:00, after his daily lunchtime run. He ran almost every day with his DEP and other running buddies. I left him a message to call me when he got back in, and told him I loved him (as I always did).
I learned later that Kenny and Jimmy were running with Doug that day. Jerry, a friend of Jimmy's was running behind them - he had hurt his arm so he was moving more slowly.
They had all gotten a late start, heading out at about 12:22 p.m. Engineer Kenny knew the times because he often checked his watch during their daily runs.
Kenny, Jimmy and Doug laughed and joked about some disgusting things. Doug showed no signs of distress.
When running by the Colt building, Doug noticed a stuffed animal - a horse - on the other side of the road. He retrieved it and propped it up on the railroad tracks, ala the "Crack Baby." (One year the running guys found a baby doll, and propped it on the railroad track, expecting it to be obliterated by the next train. It survived. So they began leaving things by it like empty cigarette packs and nippers. One day Doug found a child's book about Aladdin and put it by the Crack Baby. Eventually they got sick of the baby and tried to blow it up with cherry bombs. Eventually it disappeared.)
After about 1.75 miles of jogging, they separated a couple of blocks away from Charter Oak Landing. Doug was running a shorter route. After he started taking Benicar for moderate hypertension in September, he had to drop the length of his run from about 4.5 or 5 miles down to 3.5. He often complained that he was having trouble getting oxygen into his lungs. He thought perhaps he was just slowing down as he got older. Doug was a strong runner, but some of the other guys were faster.
Doug split off from Jim, Jerry and Ken at around 12:36. The other guys usually took a longer run. Diligent Dedicated Doug always wanted to be back at his desk at 1:00 on the nose.
At about 1:10 or 1:15, Kenny and Jimmy got back to the locker room. They were surprised to see that Doug's gym bag was still sitting there. Doug was usually in and out of the shower fast (sometimes too fast, sans soap, with a soaking wet back that he never dried off before putting his shirt back on.)
Kenny immediately realized something must have happened. He said something like "Uhoh, that can't be good." They recalled the fainting incident back in March. Kenny and Jimmy decided to hop in the car and go look for Doug. They drove around but did not see him. (He had already been taken to the ER by then.) They were worried that something might have happened on a seldom-traveled dirt path past the point where they split off.
Around that time, Jeff, one of the guys on Doug's team, stopped by Doug's desk to tell him about a problem. He was surprised not to see Doug there.
At 1:25 p.m., the phone rang again at my house. I answered like I usually do - "Hi, this is Bet." There was a moment of hesitation. People often think I am an answering machine and wait for the beep. I think I said hello again, and the caller might have said "Sorry, I thought I reached an answering machine" I laughed and told her this happened all the time.
Then the caller asked "Is this Bet?" I said "yes." She told me her name was Kelly, with Social Services at Hartford Hospital. I launched into my routine of explaining that she had a wrong number. I get a lot of phone calls for a woman coincidentally named Betty Ann with the exact same phone number but a different area code. The other Betty Ann works in Social Services.
Kelly interrupted and asked if I was Doug Zimmerman's wife. I said yes. She told me again that she was calling from Hartford Hospital. She gently informed me that Doug was in the ER.
I started to panic as soon as she asked me for identifying marks. I immediately realized that this meant he was unresponsive or unconscious, at best.
I asked if he was alive.
She said yes, that the doctors were working on him.
I asked what had happened, figuring he might have gotten hit by a car while running. She told me she didn't know.
For the life of me, I could not remember any identifying marks. I just said stupid stuff like "he has really short hair" and "his teeth are not very white." Kelly asked if he had any scars. I told her there were everywhere - on his head, arms, etc.
Then she asked about his wedding band. I described it - a battered gold ring with two ropes on it. I heard her telling some other people in the room, and they verified the description of the ring. She told me I needed to come down right away and asked if there was someone to drive me in. I said yes. She said to go directly to the Emergency Room and drop the car off with valet parking.
I dashed out to the car. I still had my phone headset on and dialed Joe and Karen and Jennifer while I was in the driveway. Joe and Karen didn't pick up the phone. Like us, they usually let the answering machine pick up and then call back later. As I was driving out of the driveway I called and quickly asked Jennifer what she was doing. She was on her way to see her mom, who had a heart attack last month. I told her Doug was in the ER. She was extremely concerned, and asked if her husband Robert could drive me in. He was home, because he works the night shift. I lied and said I was already enroute and would call and let her know what was up. I didn't want to waste another second. It was a long drive to the hospital - 45 to 60 minutes.
There was lots of traffic. I wanted to scream at the slow drivers in front of me to hurry or get out of my way. I dialed Doug's boss Pat on my cell phone, and left a message that Doug was in the ER. I asked if someone could get over there because it was going to take me up to an hour. I was not driving carefully. I was going 90-95 miles an hour. I cried and screamed out loud the whole way "Please please let him be okay, please! I'll do anything!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Over and over and over and over.
I finally pulled into the ER and ran to the desk. I asked to see Doug Zimmerman. The receptionist asked if Doug was my child. I could hardly comprehend what she was saying due to the loud buzzing in my head. Finally I understood that she was telling me that I was in the wrong ER - for children.
I dashed across the street to the regular ER.
At the desk, they directed me to a security guard. He walked slowly down a long hallway. I wondered why we were not running.
He escorted me into a little lounge area - Room #2.
Room #2 is not a room you want to go to.
Kelly and Dr. Drescher (Dr. D) were waiting there. Ron, who is on Doug's team at DEP, was also there.
I knew immediately from the look on Dr. D's face that it was very bad. He looked so sad. I cannot imagine what it must be like for doctors to have to deliver such devastating news.
I asked Dr. D to give it to me straight. I wanted the truth and thought I could handle it. I am fairly strong.
He said that Doug had died.
I fell to my knees. In the midst of constant weeping, I asked him to tell me everything. He patiently explained all they knew at the time.
[Note: Some of the following information was provided by Doug's running partners and the Ambulance Service, as we reconstructed events leading up to that fatal day. I wanted to know everything in my quest for answers. The autopsy would take 6-8 weeks]
Apparently something had happened shortly after Doug broke off from Kenny, Jerry and Jimmy. Doug was found unresponsive, lying on the ground next to the road on his back. A passerby found him in Charter Oak Park, at the crest of the hill, just after exiting the "S' turn at the entrance into the park, by the first (inner gate.) It is a beautiful location, The river is rimmed by trees and weeping willows, lawn and benches. If Doug had made it just a couple of hundred yards farther, he would have been on that seldom used dirt path, under the bridge. He might not have been found for hours.
That location is about 2 minutes from where his buddies split off, and approximately 1.75 miles from Doug's office. Kenny later calculated that would have put him there around 12:38 or 12:39 if he was running at a normal 8 to 9 mile/minute pace.
The reports conflict, but the passerby either said Doug was unresponsive or not breathing, or that he was having difficulty breathing. (It can be hard for non-medical personnel to tell if people are still alive or not.) He shook Doug and, getting no response, called 911. He said he thought he heard air being expelled from Doug's lungs, but he never drew a breath. He said his eyes were open and vacant, staring up at the sky.
EMT's (from Aetna Ambulance Service) were lunching nearby, awaiting 911 calls. A man drove over to the EMT's and alerted them. I wished I knew his name so I could thank him. With the information he provided, the ambulance crew was able to locate Doug immediately
The supervisor and my point of contact at the Ambulance Service, Dave, told me later that this was the best possible scenario for survivability. He said "If there was a chance, this was the setting to have it in." There was no extended down time. Doug instantly received CPR by trained medical technicians with an ambulance full of equipment.
Unfortunately, nothing helped.
At least it was probably extremely quick and painless. A doctor told me later that Doug was probably gone by the time he hit the ground.
When Doug had fainted last March, he remembered nothing except perhaps feeling woozy. When he came to while Mark was slapping him, he didn't even realize he was lying on the ground.
[By the way, I did ask Dave, the EMT supervisor if I could speak directly with the EMT's who helped Doug. They asked the EMTS and Paramedics involved in the response if they were willing to contact me. They declined. It is Aetna Ambulance's policy to allow it to be the EMT's decision. As Dave noted, "The job of an EMS provider can be quite taxing, and we do not want our staff to feel as though they have to respond directly for each transport they provide. I hope you understand it is for their protection and well being." Survivors are asked not to try to contact them directly, as some of the EMT's are concerned that there is an implication that they did something wrong, and that they will get in over their heads during a phone call. I certainly do understand. Besides, David responded to all my questions and more.]
As the EMT's approached Doug, Dave said he issued what is called an "agonal breath." That means that air was expelled from his lungs as they came upon him, but he was not breathing normally or regularly. He had no pulse, so he likely went into arrest then. His pupils may have already been fixed or dilated (not clear.)
The EMTs started CPR immediately. They called on the radio for assistance from a second paramedic unit. This is standard protocol in a cardiac arrest. That meant that any 911 call could have come in after Aetna Ambulance Services was already attending to him. The police dispatch report showed the 911 call at 12:41 p.m. The Hartford Police Dept. took the 911 call and forwarded the information to Aetna Ambulance. The ambulance service recorded the call as coming in at 12:47, with a slight lag time while the initial information was entered. The Hartford Police Dept. and Fire Dept. also responded. Two ambulances were dispatched - this is their protocol in order to have sufficient help on hand during a reported cardiac arrest. One had a full cardiac monitor.
If the timeline and calculations are accurate, that would mean that Doug had only been down for a few minutes before EMTs started helping him.
The first EMT team had an Automatic Electronic Defibrillator (AED). They put it onto Doug's chest. It read some kind of electrical cardiac rhythm - either ventricular fibrillation or pulseless ventricular tachycardia. This may have been Doug's heart quivering - it certainly was not beating at the time. The AED "recommended" or advised a shock. After one shock, his cardiac rhythm converted to a Pulseless Electrical Activity or PEA (a few electrical beats not producing a pulse), which is not shockable. Unlike what you see on TV, a flat-lined heart (called an asystole) can not be shocked into restarting. At that point, medication is required.
The paramedic switched to a full cardiac monitor (LifePak 15). They interpreted the rhythm as continuing to be PEA. At 12:48, they noted that Doug's pupils were fixed and dilated. They treated him with medications indicated in protocols, including Atropine, Epinephrine. They continued giving CPR.
The ambulance services report shows that the first responders assumed Doug was 45. He would have been thrilled. He would have turned 53 in six weeks.
Doug was transported to the emergency room at Hartford Hospital. He arrived there at about1:15 p.m. The medical team continued to try to revive him.
He did not respond to their administrations. He was declared deceased at 1:26 p.m. The report from the hospital reads "efforts terminated - medical futility." The diagnosis listed on the hospital report was "sudden death."
The ER doctor told me that Doug had probably suffered a malignant arrhythmia. Read more about sudden cardiac arrest and Benicar, a prescription Doug was taking for hypertension. Also read more about syncope (fainting), arrythmia's and sudden death during exertion.
Before Doug's parents arrived at the ER, Kelly and Dr. D asked if I would like to see Doug's body. I wasn't sure at first, but did feel I needed to. They warned me that he might still have a breathing tube in place.
They accompanied me to the room next door. He was lying on a hospital gurney. His arms were neat and straight at his side. His eyes were open and his mouth was partly open and sort of in a grimace I had never seen. (He was almost always smiling.) I could see the breathing tube still in his mouth.
He looked so gray and still. I don't recall ever seeing him still before. He was constantly moving, laughing or squirming. He used to say "a body in motion stays in motion" and just kept going. He was not still even while sleeping. Sometimes I felt like I was sleeping next to a Mexican jumping bean, as he moved around, kicked off the covers, kicked me, and re-arranged his pillows all night long. He was also always warm, kind of like a human furnace. I used to put my icy cold feet on him after getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. He would start awake and jokingly yell "Sheesh, did you just put your feet in the freezer?!!
I fell apart again. It was awful and difficult. But if I had not seen him like that, I don't know if I ever would have believed it. I still don't.
I wonder now (see fears and worries) whether I robbed others of the chance of accepting the reality of his loss by having him cremated before the wake and Memorial Service. But I did not want him embalmed, his veins filled with toxic fluids. (If they could use beer I might have felt differently.) I did not want others to remember him still and cold.
Shortly afterwards, Doug's parents arrived. The hospital was able to reach me, Larry and Joan quickly because I had given Doug a RoadID several years ago. He got a gift certificate at a race. The one I chose was a metal tag on velcro that slipped over the laces of a running shoe. Since Doug ran without a wallet, I thought it would help if something happened while running, like he was hit by a car. It listed his name, address, my phone number (wife Bet), his parents phone number, Date of Birth, blood type, no allergies, and a teasing note at the end that said "Go Faster." We often joked about this. The wording was from badly worded Korean manual that came with our two-seated scooter.
Larry and Joan were smiling when they walked into Room #2, until they saw my face. His mother looked at me. The tears were streaming and I was unable to speak. I just shook my head. She began to cry. Many more tears would follow.
Later I asked what they had thought happened. She said that they did not think much on the way to the hospital. They too had received a call from Kelly that Doug had been admitted to ER, recommending that they come in as soon as possible. Joan said they assumed he had gotten hurt at work. He got hurt a lot. He had been to the ER on two occasions in the last couple of years after dislocating his shoulder during reckless play at softball games in the Jack Benny league. His parents never imagined that this time it might be something serious.
Dr. D explained what had happened to Joan and Larry. Although he knew it was hard to hear at the time, he also knew that the days ahead would be filled with questions and we would eventually want more information.
Dr. D was incredibly patient and kind. I could not believe how much time he spent with us. He must be so busy, and have to do this kind of thing all the time, yet he was totally present. It can't be much fun. It was probably obvious to him how much we love Doug, and how completely stunned we were.
Dr. D said an autopsy was planned. The cause of death was not clear. Although it was hard to imagine Doug's body being cut up, to me a body without life is just a shell. Yes, it was part of him, and it kept him alive. But to me, it was more like a set of clothes he had worn and no longer needed.
I was all in favor of an autopsy. I wanted answers if there were any. I wanted to know exactly what had happened, if that was possible.
I asked Doug's parents if they were okay with that. He was their son and I wanted to respect their wishes. Doug's father said "What's the point?" Dr. D explained that it was actually required in cases of unexplained death, and said that later we would wish we had the information an autopsy might provide. He also noted that Doug had a brother and a sister, and the information gained might be relevant to and help them.
Then I asked about organ donation. Doug and I considered it the ultimate in recycling. I knew that, like me, Doug had signed up to be an organ donor on his driver's license, which he did not have with him. I figured time was of the essence.
I asked Doug's parents if they were okay with his choice. They said they were. Now that he didn't occupy his body anymore, I figured it should be put to better use than burying it in the ground to rot away over time and take up open space.
I read out loud to Kelly and Doug's parents the Robert Test poem, To Remember Me. I keep a copy in my wallet. It has always sent chills up my spine. The poem motivated us both to become organ donors. (We had it printed on the back of the cards given out at the wake and the Memorial Service in lieu of a prayer, which Doug would not have cared for, or some maudlin or generic sentiment.)
It was so appropriate. The first lines of the poem are this:
"The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet neatly tucked under four corners of a mattress located in a hospital; busily occupied with the living and the dying. At a certain moment a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped." (See the whole poem)
Kelly offered me the option to meet with the organ donation point of contact in person, or do it over the phone. I asked to meet in person.
While we waited for the LifeChoice representative, we stayed in Room 2 for a while. We wept. Doug's father looked stunned. Anger and disbelief were on his face. At some point, I asked Doug's colleague Ron to leave us alonetogether. It was so kind of him to come right over and be there for us, but I was overwhelmed and wanted to be with family. Ron went back to the office and let folks at DEP know what had happened.
The hospital had sent in a rabbi to sit with us. I think they assumed Zimmerman was a Jewish surname. The family may have been Jewish at one point, back in Germany, but we don't have any information about that part of Doug and Larry's heritage.
The rabbi didn't say a thing. I suppose he was there to comfort us. Later, a Christian chaplain came in. Doug's parents are not religious, so I felt uncomfortable having the chaplains there. I thanked them, but asked them to let us be alone together. The chaplain asked if we wanted a prayer said over Doug. I figured what the heck, why not (just in case.)
Sheila M arrived from LifeChoice, the organization handling organ and tissue donation. They explained that Doug would not be able to donate any organs because of the time lapse after his heart stopped beating, but he could donate tissues. He was gone before reaching the hospital. Since there was possibly something wrong with his heart, maybe that was a good thing. I told Sheila it was also probably a good thing that they didn't use his liver, as he had already used it quite a bit himself :-).
I met with Sheila out in an alcove outside Room #2, as I thought it would be too difficult for Doug's parents to participate. Sheila sat with me for about a half an hour to explain, disclose, comfort and gather the information that LifeChoice needed. Some of the questions made me laugh, which was probably inappropriate. Like whether Doug had ever slept with men. Or had unknown sexual partners. (Doug had only been with two people ever, and I was one.) How much he drank. (Doug DID enjoy beer. Although he didn't go hog wild often, when he did, there was no "off" button.)
Sheila patiently and gently explained to me how many people tissue donation could help, and what the tissues could be used for. She answered all my questions. I signed off on the consent forms. It was comforting to know that some good might come of this, and that our loss might help others.
Kelly offered to have us participate in a flag raising ceremony. (See photo.) After a donation, Hartford Hospital flies a flag for two days to let others know that someone has given the gift of life. Larry, Joan and I went outside into the sun. They let his mom and I crank up the flag. It was hard, but I was gladdened by at least one positive aspect of this tragedy.
We headed back to my house. I got lost, which I often did under normal circumstances. My GPS came unplugged and I couldn't manage to plug it back in. I kept making wrong turns.The traffic was stop and go, and I kept forgetting to go. At one point I came to a dead stop in the middle of rush hour traffic.
We got back to the house and slumped down into our chairs, and wept. Doug's dad kicked the wall and yelled. We all had sort of thought Doug was invincible. He was too young. How could someone we loved and needed so much be taken from us?
There wasn't much food in the house. I made a frozen pizza but we didn't eat much. We were exhausted.
That long sleepless night, there was exactly one-half of a moon in the sky. It looked like it had been chopped clean in half.
Isn't it strange
The half moon has no crescent
A straight line Bi-sectioned,
left dark, right white
Why not a crescent?
Must be the angle of view
Yes, that is it
What other reason could there be?
- Earl Brazeal
The next day, the phone started to ring. Neighbors Joe and Karen came over to see what they could do. The bereavement brochure Hartford Hospital gave us suggested having someone answer the phone. Joe did this all day long, as I could not talk to or see anyone. It was weeks before I could even open a card.
I knew there is a long, sad road ahead.
The Medical Examiner ultimately concluded that the cause of death was "hypertensive cardiovascular disease."
She also noted under the anatomic diagnosis:
It is very disturbing that the last one (left ventricular hypertrophy) showed up on several EKGs when he was alive. The doctor never mentioned this to us.
Nothing else wrong was found during the autopsy. His heart valves were fine. The Medical Examiner could not answer my question as to whether mild/borderline hypertension since 2005 was sufficient to be fatal; whether the problems she saw in his heart were sufficient to be fatal, and whether a malignant arrhythmia could have caused his death, as the ER doctor suspected.
A cardiologist who reviewed Doug's records afterwards said that these conditions were capable of causing an arrhythmia. An echocardiogram, which was not done during the stress test in November 2009, would have picked up the problems. He also indicated that if Doug had received a cardiac work-up, which should have been standard protocol after his complaints about not being able to get air into his lungs while running and after the fainting incident, his condition would have been evident, and could have been treated.
Doug once received a strong electrical shock when he was young. He was a late bloomer, and was still physically immature after graduating from high school, so he took a break before starting college, and worked for a while as a janitor in a bread factory. One day while mopping, his mop hit a circuit breaker. All the lights went out - in the plant and in Doug. He was knocked unconscious, but came too quickly. A medical report I read (ICD Shocks and Mortality) noted that "Animal studies and small studies in humans have implicated high-voltage shocks in causing myocardial damage, as evidenced by troponin release or transiently impaired contractile functions." We will probably never know if this incident was a factor in his death three decades later.
I still want answers. I want to know whether the Benicar HCT could have caused or contributed to his heart stopping. Arrhythmias and electrolyte issues are a known side effect of Benicar and Benicar HCT. I have gotten a 7,000+ page report from the FDA on adverse reactions to Benicar reported in their FDA database. The FDA evaluated data from the two clinical trials which showed an unexpectedly high level of cardiovascular deaths in patients taking Benicar compared to those taking placebos. (The test subjects had Type II diabetes. Doug did not, but did have impaired fasting glucose levels. It is not known whether he had insulin resistance.) Later, FDA issued an update on Benicar, and basically punted. They are still evaluating it, but have not taken it off the market, instead concluding that the risks outweigh the benefits. I disagree, but nobody asked me.
At this point, some people would just say "It is what it is. There is nothing that can be done about it. Leave it in the past. Let it go and get on with your life." I am not capable of that. Doug cannot "get on with his life" - it is over. Of course I know that answers, which I may never get, will not help Doug. My hope is that they might help someone else though, somewhere, some day.
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