I’m so sorry to tell you…
Tom passed away just after 5:00 PM today.
I still can’t believe it’s come to this. About a week and a half ago, Tom started to get very sick again. His lungs started to get worse, and he got very delirious. We sang to him, held his hands, and assured him there was no evil plot or virus out to destroy him and our phones. It wasn’t enough. His breathing and oxygenation got worse, and he needed to be re-intubated. I convinced myself it would be temporary — a couple days at the most — because his immune system was just returning and he’d be able to fight whatever was in his lungs and come back to start another round of chemo in no time.
This was not to be the case. His lungs continued to worsen, and the doctors started explaining that Tom had ARDS, and they were doing everything they could but Tom may never heal. I still didn’t really listen. I knew Tom could pull it together in time. They put him in the Rotoprone bed which allowed him access to more viable tissue in his lungs. It immediately improved his oxygenation, but still he couldn’t find his way back to us. Dr. Chen, his oncologist, explained to me yesterday that his cancer, though beaten into remission now, would likely come back in a manner of weeks. It was a dangerous, aggressive, take-no-prisoners kind of cancer that wouldn’t give Tom a break long enough to heal. There was no way he would handle another round of chemo, and no way he would breathe on his own again. Out of compassion, the doctor said, we needed to start thinking what Tom would want. Would he want to suffer, knowing his cancer would return before he could wake up and live his life again?
Our family gathered and discussed over the long weekend hours. Tom would be in pain if we weren’t giving him truckloads of narcotics. Anytime he woke up, he would face the terror of being unable to speak, see, or move in the Rotoprone, not to mention the delirium from the Versed. His lungs would stop working if we took him off the bed, and he wouldn’t heal in time to do more chemo, so the cancer would be free to come back to start its torture all over again. We decided Tom would side with logic and reason, and see that he had met his match with this awful lymphoma. He would be sad and scared to die, but would not want to suffer if he knew he had lost his fight.
We thought we’d try to hold off for a day and let everyone come say goodbye. But the doctor wisely asked… do you do this for Tom, or for yourselves? And we knew it was us who wanted the extra hours with him, and that Tom was suffering and we needed to stop it. Our family and legions of caretakers assembled and we all said goodbye… and the doctor pulled out his tube around 5:00 PM. The nurses, respiratory therapist, and doctor all helped us surround Tom and let him go. I can’t tell you how amazing the staff in Virginia Mason’s CCU were. Our nurse Sally actually came and rubbed my back and lifted my hair away from my face so that I could continue to just hang onto Tom’s hand for dear life. He passed very quickly, never even taking a breath after they turned the ventilator off.
This is so hard. It’s so wrong. Tom was a million wonderful things to all of us. He deserved to stay here and keep doing amazing things. I hope he continues to inspire and motivate each of us to keep being better people. Tom wasn’t really religious, but he believed in the goodness of humanity and the existence of something greater that made everything work. I am not religious either, but I like to think that Tom is somewhere… no, everywhere, soaking all the knowledge of the universe right up, and loving it. Learning and understanding things was one of his passions, and loving all of us was the rest of it.
Please join me for a vaguely Irish-style wake in Tom’s honor this Friday night, April 22, 8:00 PM, at the Rat and Raven in the University District of Seattle, where we can raise a glass and say Slainte! and tell tales of the great man we knew.
I also invite you to Tom’s memorial service which will be Saturday, April 23, in the afternoon… details pending.