What Happened?

June 11, 2009

I realize that after many words exposing my grief and the consequential emotions and thoughts, I haven’t explained what happened. Some have asked verbally but most ask with their eyes and tilt of the head. I have used this avenue of words on a screen as my therapy. If I were to tell you I don’t know, it would only prompt more questions or more furrowed brows and an additional degree of head tilt. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want compassion, but I am just as likely to fumble condolences as I am a deserved compliment; hands in pockets, eyes downward touching my right foot to the left- and that I don’t want. The thought of unknown eyes reading about my tragedy and some genuine feeling being evoked has been a comfortable prescription.

On my 32nd birthday, August 11th of 2008, around 3am, my wife of 6 1/2 years and best friend of 9 years collapsed in our bathroom. The noise woke me and I ran into the bathroom to find her in a “seizure-like” state. This lasted only a few seconds but I started the car and took her to the emergency room. She was dry heaving and sweating terribly. When we arrived at the emergency room, she was taken back and I had to stay in the lobby. Luckily our daughter, Linen, who turned two in February was staying at my mom’s house. When I was able to go see Carla, my wife, the doctor told me that she had “thrown” a blood clot into her lungs and that caused the “episode” at home. It seemed like the problem had been diagnosed and everything was going to be taken care of. I called her parents and mine, both which live about an hour and a half away from where we were in Davidson, NC. As her parents made the trip to NC from SC, I kneeled by her bed and prayed and cried, but always believed that she would be okay. She was a 28 year old group fitness instructor and personal trainer, crazy about nutrition, vegetarian. How could something be wrong with her?

The Olympics were going on and it was the night after the US men’s swim team had that crazy win in the 4 X 100 relay. I can still hear the emergency room doctor telling the story of how he and his wife and kids were watching it and cheering. The Olympics will never be the same. My birthday will never be the same.

About an hour after her parents arrived, we were told that we were going to get a room in the hospital. Although the doctor’s recognized what seemed to be the problem, Carla’s blood started showing irregularities. An oncologist/ hematologist and a GI specialist were brought in to take a look at her. Carla’s organs began to swell and her blood began to show some toxicity because her organs weren’t working properly. She began to say that she was feeling some pain. This is the same woman who delivered Linen naturally and who has a high pain tolerance. I really began to worry. She never seemed to worry that much though. That day was frustrating. They began to take her blood and test it almost every 30 minutes. Her blood pressure began to drop late that night and she was moved to the intensive care area of the hospital. She had been through MRIs, CTs, and all kinds of tests… but the doctors were still puzzled. That night her mother and I took shifts beside Carla’s bed. Around 5am on the 12th, Carla looked up at me and asked me a question as if she and I had been talking about something. I thought that she had been dreaming or was in a semi-conscious state, so I entertained it and answered, “Yes.” She opened her eyes and looked at me, puzzled; “Were we just talking?” I said, “Yes, baby.” She closed her eyes and her blood pressure plunged. I grabbed the RN and he paged a doctor. Carla’s heart stopped in front of me. They kicked me out of the ICU and I was passed by running doctors nurses. I collapsed in the hallway and broke down, while men and women in blue scrubs blurred past me crumpled in the hall.

A few minutes later, they said that they were able to bring her back, but she never regained consciousness. That morning, I had her airlifted to Carolina’s Medical Center, after debating with doctors about whether it was a GI or Hemo problem. (I am getting frustrated as I type, thinking about that ‘wasted’ time). If it was a blood problem, she would be going to Wake Forest; and if GI, CMC was the best place in the Southeast. She survived the helicopter ride and got tons and tons of attention at CMC, but she never regained consciousness. I can’t say enough positive things about the care and attention she received while still fighting at CMC. Carla had a dedicated team of RNs, residents, 5 different specialists and tons of cutting edge care. She went on and off of dialysis. She was put on an oscillator, a breathing machine on steroids; which, I believe kept her body functioning because it pumped clean oxygen into her, by-now, toxic blood. I remember whispering in her ear every time I got a bit of good news; “You’re doing so good” and “When we get home…” and “Linen is on her way to see you” and countless I love you’s.  Carla made it through one night there but around 3pm the next day, her stopped again, in spite of being on full support. She fought back again and around 4pm, the doctors told me that was it. Carla, my wife, my life, my breath, my reason, the mother of my child, and everything that makes the sun shine was gone.  I authorized a full microscopic autopsy and I still don’t have a clue as to the root cause of her death… multi-organ failure is the best I can get. For 3 months after Carla’s death, a team of specialists met to talk about her case and review all treatment and autopsy results. They are baffled. To this day, I don’t know what happened. I believe that it really doesn’t matter because when we are through with what God has for us to do; we can really begin to live. That was and still is tough, at times, for someone who wants all the answers. I am not sure if I will ever know why; physically or spiritually. I know that I would not be a quarter of the man I am without her and the beautiful gift she left me… my little lady, Linen. I still zone out sometimes and end up in the hospital, living out the details of those days. I will never forget the hopelessness that immediately sucked all the air out of my lungs. I have to snap myself out of it and realize that I must take advantage of the air I have been given to breath today- I will make the most of it.

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3 Responses to “What Happened?”

  1. Al Powell said

    I have never even heard the details of those days before I arrived at CMC. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Shelli Littleton Matar said

    It’s confusing to me why God takes such a beautiful person so early. I don’t get it.

  3. kristinaalford said

    Thank you for sharing, we have never heard the details. You, Carla and Linen stay on our hearts. We love you guys and miss life with the Carnes fam.

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