I found George McAvoy a few times.
We first found each other in 1978, the year I graduated from college and went to work as a Mental Health Assistant at The Gaebler Children’s Unit of Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, MA. George says he spotted me first that time – he had been working there for a while when I started. I was flattered – he was smart, fun and beautiful. I lost him that time on purpose. We ended what was our then relationship – moving on with our lives. We reconnected briefly for a weekend 6 months later – and once by phone a while after that. Then nothing for thirty years. Over the years I wondered sometimes if George was still alive – his life style when I knew him put him at risk…I hoped he and his wife were ok…
Thirty years later I found George on Facebook. After we were really together, he delighted in telling people that I hunted him down for sex. That wasn’t true – but it made a great story with a bit of a shock value – and George loved that. Ten months later we started to fall in love. A few weeks later – exactly four years ago this New Year’s Eve – two days from now – I found George McAvoy in my bed in Nantucket. We became pretty quickly inseparable.
Then, a year ago this past weekend – almost three years after we became a couple – I lost George for more than 24 hours, I thought he was dead. This 24 hours was 24 hours of unimaginable grief – I couldn’t imagine life without George. But this time I found him – with some help from a great friend. And thanks to another old friend of George’s we worked things out – learning and growing together. Planning our future – looking forward to being together forever. I couldn’t imagine life without George.
Two and a half months later I lost him again – this time forever.
The second weekend in March 2014, George and I spent the weekend in Nantucket, nursing colds, planning our future, going to spin class on Saturday. Feeling better after spin. But George woke up Sunday feeling “a little worse”. He asked me to take over dog walking and to bring home the paper. He didn’t want to head off island early though – he wanted to stay and eat soup and watch hockey and take the late ferry as usual. So that’s what we did. We walked from the ferry to the car – George asked me to drive – and we stopped at Friendlies for ice cream. We got home late and went to bed. I thought George had a fever – he said no. He actually said “don’t be ridiculous” – which had been his response when I asked if he wanted to leave Nantucket early. He never wanted to leave Nantucket.
Monday morning George woke up with a fever and made a doctor’s appointment. I offered to stay home from work to go with him. His response was “don’t be ridiculous”. But I came home from work very early to be with him – the doctor thought he had the flu and “prescribed” (I’m not kidding) Advil Cold and Sinus. George followed this direction. We sat around for the afternoon and evening. I worked on my laptop, George stretched out on the sofa and watched TV and read. I made soup, poured ginger ale, I don’t remember what else. We watched The Voice together and George went right to bed at 11, with an increasingly bad cough. But George often coughed…
Over the course of Monday night George became very ill with every imaginable flu symptom (I won’t list them – you can imagine). He battled a high fever. I spoon fed him ice chips to try to keep him hydrated. At some point he said: “Thank you baby. This is saving me.” It wasn’t. I wasn’t saving him at all.
Early in the morning – Tuesday morning – George asked me to take him to the emergency room. I was groggy from a long night and put him off briefly (I know it wouldn’t have mattered but that moment of delay will always make me sorry and sad). I asked him if he needed an ambulance – he said “don’t be ridiculous”. I asked if I should take him before or after walking the dog. He said “before”. I threw clothes on and threw paper towels and a bowl in the car in case George got sick en route. We drove to the ER (a mile away). I asked George if he wanted me to get a wheel chair. He sent me to park the car while he walked in. I valeted the car and joined him very very quickly.
George was brought into the ER, triaged quickly and diagnosed with diffuse bilateral pneumonia. He was started on IV antibiotics, IV fluids and breathing treatments. The nurses, etc. were reassuring. They were going to admit him to continue the IV treatments. All was on course. At some point I asked George and the nurses about a good time for me to go home and walk the dog and grab my schedule to cancel my work day. The nurse said “Go now, by the time you get back (I think it was about an hour or less) we will have a room for him and you can go with him upstairs”. I left – George was sitting on the end of the exam table, talking and texting. He felt awful, but seemed in good hands headed in the right direction. I don’t remember exactly what we said to each other when I left to walk the dog.
When I returned (maybe an hour later) there was a medical team trying to intubate George – and they were having difficulty. They reassured me and said George had agreed to be intubated. I stayed in the room, holding onto his foot, reassuring him. I don’t remember if he was conscious. They couldn’t get the tube in and escalated the situation, bringing in an emergency team and clearing the room. They insisted gently that I leave.
Not long after, or some time, the Head ICU Fellow (who must have run the code) came out to tell me that they had George on a respirator and were going to admit him to the ICU. He said: “I hope we can help him”. I remember saying – you mean that he could die of this pneumonia – and hesitantly – very hesitantly – he said yes. I had to drag the following info out of the Fellow – he thought that George’s chances were 50-50. I remember very little of the next stretch. I went into shock. I knew I had to get George’s son across Massachusetts – and I called him first – gently convincing him that he did have to come. I put all my energy into this one effort. I was reeling – in shock. Apparently I made a bunch of other calls – I don’t remember them. I have tried to remember but cannot access the memories – but I know they happened because I am told that I called the right list of people. And they all showed up.
When they stabilized George on the respirator in the ER enough, they had me come with the ICU team and George to the ICU. He was not conscious. I have no idea how I was conscious. The ICU Fellow was kind and gentle, asking me to please wait about an hour in the ICU waiting room while they got George more stable. I think the ICU Fellow knew I was fierce and that I was not going to leave George easily. He convinced me though. Hours went by however – maybe 3 or 4 hours – not one hour. And then, as would continue to happen, the news got worse. When the ICU Fellow was finally free, he told me that they already had George on the maximum possible ventilator settings – and as he said they had “no place to go”. I think they had already added several blood pressure medications as well.
People began to show up – I remember who – but not the order or the timing. Peter was first – he flew from NYC. The day and evening wore on. George seemed to be hanging on – beyond the Team’s expectations…
I know that at some point everyone went to their hotels to sleep and I stayed in the ICU waiting room, camped out for the night – Tuesday night – just 15 hours after I drove George to the ER. I went back and forth between checking on George – holding him – and a makeshift sleeping chair in the waiting room. I must have dozed off for a bit and was awakened by the ICU Fellow in his coat – he had said good night to me when he had gone home just an hour or two earlier. When I saw him in his coat I knew it wasn’t good. He told me that George had taken a turn for the worse and they didn’t expect him to make it through the night. They were waiting for his heart to give out. They still didn’t have a definitive diagnosis. I called everyone back.
And so it went for the next 24 hours. I won’t go through every detail – I actually can’t bear it right now – I am typing through a veil of tears that won’t stop. Suffice it to say that the medical team worked fiercely to save George – to keep him alive, to get a diagnosis, to give him a chance. He won the hearts of this team – even unconscious. They recognized his youth, his strength, they even recognized the essence of who he was. George’s magic at work.
George’s “family” – his blood family and his family of choice – worked as an amazing team to make decisions that George would have respected. We took turns being with him – talking to him – I read to him – his favorite poems – pulling them up online on my phone. On Wednesday – when he continued to survive against all expectations – we decided to try a bit of a hail mary procedure. It worked for an hour or two – and then crash. By then the Team knew that George had Toxic Shock Syndrome – I am not sure when that diagnosis became clear – and we all then knew that his chances were very slim.
As Wednesday went on things got worse. Once again I camped in the waiting room overnight – as the overnight nurses had their hands full keeping George alive. Some time during Wednesday night I knew that we were done. George had lost the circulation to his hands and feet – an outcome – that even with a miracle – George would not have tolerated. And there was no sign of a miracle. I began to say good-bye to Georgie – the unexpected love of my life.
On Thursday AM when George’s amazing day nurse returned for her third shift caring for George, she quietly agreed with me – that we were probably done. We waited for the rest of the family and the full medical team to convene and made the decision to try one last hail Mary and, if that long-shot of a miracle didn’t work, to say good-bye to George. We were strong, clear and unanimous in this decision. We were crushed and in disbelief.
The hail Mary did not work and by then lab tests were showing pervasive organ death. George was dying. In retrospect, George had walked into the hospital with no kidney function, followed quickly by no bowel or lung function. Really the only thing still working was George’s amazingly kind, strong heart. His heart never gave out. I wasn’t surprised. The medical team was shocked. As far as his brain, I don’t know – once he was intubated he was sedated and put in a medically induced coma. He never moved or responded after that. I want to think he heard us – that he felt us – but I don’t have any evidence of that.
On Thursday afternoon George’s son outlined a good-bye plan. My boys, George’s son’s mom, George’s son’s fiance, George’s son’s best friend, George’s son and I would say good bye to George one at a time. My boys would head out (I think this was their choice – but it doesn’t matter) and the rest of us would be with George when he was disconnected from life support. As George always said, there was no plug to pull.
The good byes were unimaginable – each and every one. We all took as much time as we needed. I asked for the last one and was given that privilege. I held George as I did when we slept, while everyone else held other parts of him. I had my head on his big strong chest while his amazing nurse narrated us through the process, ending with turning off the ventilator. I felt George’s heart and breathing immediately and gradually slow – and then stop. It didn’t take long at all. I have written before that at the moment of his death I felt a rush of energy from George to me. I also felt him leave. I had lost him again – this time I had really lost him. We all had.
While there is so much more to this story, I wanted to finally, finally get to this part – before George’s and my “anniversary” – before we all start a new year. I don’t know why that’s important to me – it just is. And George would tell me to accept that it was important – I don’t need to understand or explain why.
I left the love of my life sitting at the end of an exam table in the ER with his cell phone in hand, texting a work friend – talking to me and the nurses. When I came back an hour later he was gone. We never got to say good bye. I left him to go home to walk the dog and that was it. I still see him sitting on the end of that exam table – still in his black jeans and a johnny.
As I face the end of the last year in which we were together…I loved you George McAvoy – for the same reasons both times we were together. Because you were smart and caring and kind – and because you were hugely deserving of love. I was so very lucky to be the leading lady in your last act – when you were somehow ready for commitment and partnership – along with big love. (And I’m intentionally misquoting): Funny you seemed the broken one, but I’m the one who also needed saving. Thank you baby.