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Joshua P. Nahum

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Our son Josh, a 27-year-old skydiving instructor living in Colorado was funding his college education to become a child psychologist by teaching skydiving. On Labor Day weekend of 2006, Josh was on his final jump when a cold air density pushed his parachute inward, throwing him to the ground at 60 miles per hour, breaking his femur and fracturing his skull.

My wife Victoria (his step-mom) and I flew to Colorado to be with him and after almost 6 weeks in ICU, Josh seemed to be on a better road to recovery. In fact, he was doing so well that they told us we could go back home as he was admitted to a nearby physical rehab facility. But suddenly, 6 days into rehab, Josh began feeling nauseous and running a 103- degree temperature.

For these reasons, he was transported back to ICU to determine why. Enterobacter aerogenes, a dangerous gram-negative bacterium was found to be present in his cerebral-spinal fluid. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections)

Later that night we received a phone call – the worst call of our lives; it was nearly midnight. The voice on the other end was his neurosurgeon. He told us Joshua had suddenly coded and stopped breathing, becoming comatose with no respiratory effort whatsoever. He’d been attached to a ventilator to save his life while Josh’s neurosurgeon was called from home. Upon arriving he immediately performed a ventriculostomy at which point he told us Josh awoke and was responsive again.

He said the ven-TRIC procedure saved his life but the ensuing spinal cord injury had tragically and permanently interrupted his ability to breathe on his own ever again. Josh had experienced something called a brain herniation with irreversible spinal cord damage down to the thoracic spine making him a permanent ventilator-dependent quadriplegic.

On October 22, 2006, our son died, but not from his original injuries; Joshua died unnecessarily from hospital acquired bacteria that caused so much pressure to be put on his brain and sepsis finally took over and ended his short but unforgettable life. (Sepsis and Healthcare-Acquired Infections)

Soon it was November. Our lives were in shambles and I saw myself as a defeated man.

Encouraged by the CDC to bring focus to the specific problem of HAIs, Victoria and I worked day and night for a month, and straight through the holidays of 2006. By January 1, 2007, we had begun Safe Care Campaign with an educational website focusing on bringing to light the problem of infections and helping to prevent the failures associated with them.

When Josh was dying, he was only able to see in the direction his head was pointing because he had become completely paralyzed. He couldn’t move any part of his body at all but he still had facial expressions; he could still move his lips and his eyes, he could see and blink.

When it was my turn to say goodbye. I remember taking one giant step towards Josh and then another; suddenly moving into his periphery. Seeing him smiling at me, I broke into tears and made some transparent and lame comment about what a crybaby I was. I moved close to him now – bending over him, maneuvering my own face just inches from his, tilting my head to mirror the direction of his own. I remember him looking at me thoughtfully, determined, straight and deep into my eyes and smiling so genuinely, unafraid, being strong like he always was.

I remember hating that I had to smile back at him but I did it for his sake. I wanted so badly to comfort him now because I didn’t want him to be sad or afraid as he laid there upon what was to become his death bed. For what seemed like many minutes, I remained silent, just looking at him but now his smile disappeared and a furrow appeared in his brow and I knew what it meant … He wanted to know why I wasn’t saying anything.

I was helpless to comfort him now because I had always been “PEP-TALK” Dad. “TRY AND TRY AGAIN” Dad. “THINGS’LL BE BETTER TOMORROW” Dad. Now I had no words for him, nothing at all to say that was positive, comforting or wise.

In that dark room, on that dark day, not wanting to fail in this important moment between us – with my very best feigned smile, and a gaze that was uncomfortably long and awkwardly silent – I remember telling my brain to make my mouth open, hoping that I would somehow find the right words to say – and you know what … when I did … quiet, gentle words DID fall out.

What came so simply – naturally and directly – were words from deep inside – words I didn’t EVER have to think about – authentic, loving words I’d had for him all along. There in that room – suddenly, easily … with authentic words that expressed everything I ever felt for him inside, through tearful eyes, I simply said: “I love you SO much”.

And you know what? He seemed satisfied with that, I could tell, because that inquisitive expression on his face and the furrow in his brow disappeared – he smiled at me once again and then his eyes began to move across my face – from side to side, slowly and intentionally scanning it as if he were memorizing my features for another time, another place when he could see it no longer. Finally, Josh let his gaze fall back onto my eyes and mouthed back the words, “I love you too Pop”.

Josh died after that. After having had to say his goodbyes to friends and family with a muted voice and mouthed words, unable to draw breath to even whisper his farewells, relying entirely on facial expressions to communicate profound thoughts only he could know.

Source: Armando Nahum - Father

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