Posted on January 12th, 2018
Beth, Stephen's wife
It was Thanksgiving week 2011 and my husband’s left arm started hurting him a little bit. Two years prior he had surgery to remove a staph infection in that same arm here in Raleigh, NC. Staph runs in his family. I told him to not mess with it and go to the doctor because it may be staph again. He said, “I’ll be fine, I don’t want to be sick for the holidays.” The next day it hurt more, he still wouldn’t go. This whole time I was telling his mom trying to get her to convince her also because he was a mama’s boy.
Now it’s the day before Thanksgiving and not only does his arm hurt but he starts having flu-like symptoms and just not feeling well. He starts with diarrhea. I worked with small children and usually would bring home germs and give them to him. Thanksgiving he was actually feeling well enough to come downstairs and watch our son play on the Wii. But he couldn’t eat anything. He was drinking Gatorade a lot.
We all turned in early. I had to go to work in the morning but I only worked until 12. My husband had gotten laid off in January of that year, which was a blessing and a curse. He canceled his life insurance because I told him too that we didn’t need to pay it because he wasn’t going anywhere. That was in September 2011!!
When I woke up Friday morning Stephen was on the bathroom floor in very bad shape. I asked him if he needed anything and if he wanted me to call out of work to stay home with him. He said no go to work and take Tyler with you, I’m going to stay in bed all day.
I didn’t want to leave he didn’t look good. I texted his mom who was going to an event not far from our home that day and told her my concern.
After work Ty and I got home after running to pick up my meds at the pharmacy. Stephen didn’t look well at all. He was a mess. He was saying to me “Pooh I just want to die.” Now my husband was someone who LOVED life he was like a little child!! He would send me pictures of butterflies and flowers and fallen leaves all the time so I could see the beauty he was seeing as he was seeing it! And rainbows were his favorites of all, especially double rainbows!! So whenever I see one… I know its from him..
We cleaned him up, Ty and I. That’s when I noticed his elbow where he had the surgery. It was bright red and felt hot and tight. I took a picture of it to show the doctors at the hospital, plus since he had been complaining about it all week. Our son was 5 at the time. Ty said “Mama should I call 911 to get the ambulance mans?” Stephen screamed at him, “Ty no don’t call the ambulance man ok dada boy?” So I called Stephen’s mom and she was back home in Chapel Hill so it took them half hour with traffic to get to our house. I knew I couldn’t carry him myself and he couldn’t walk by himself he was too weak by this time.
I was too shaken up to drive, so his mom drove my van to the hospital in Raleigh, NC. The whole way Stephen was saying are we there yet? He was in so much pain.
When we finally arrived at the hospital they had a wheelchair waiting for us. I take him into the triage area, but the nurse couldn’t find a pulse, so she wasn’t putting him in the ER because of no pulse. I’m getting angry. He’s in pain, now he can’t even hold up his head, I’m holding it up and this nurse won’t let my husband see a doctor? So she calls in another nurse. Still no pulse finally after I was irate for at least a half hour he was taken to a bed in the ER. Where the doctor started checking his heart. I was trying to tell them to look at his arm and that he had surgery THERE 2 years prior… But they didn’t listen. All they saw was that in January of that year he came to that hospital for drinking too many Red Bulls!!! So they were fixated on his heart. They decided to do a chest x-ray and left me alone with him for a few minutes and at this time his organs were shutting down, he was having trouble breathing. He said he was scared. I said don’t worry deeky I’m right here. Then our minister came in and his face lit up. Stephen loved Mike so much, he was like the brother he never had.
Next thing I know I look over at Stephen and he is turning purple! I screamed, he’s turning purple!! They come running in to do the chest x-ray. That’s when they kicked me out of the room. I ran out into the waiting room to update his parents quickly, then was called to the desk to give my insurance card.
Then the doctor wanted to see me. That’s when he told me, “Do you know how sick your husband is?” “He is deathly ill.” I remember thinking “what?” NO WAY THIS CAN NOT BE HAPPENING!! I FEEL LIKE I’VE SEARCHED MY ENTIRE LIFE FOR THIS MAN AND NOW HE IS BEING TAKEN AWAY!!! I WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN! But it did.
The doctors NEVER looked at my picture or his arm to my knowledge. They diagnosed him with toxic shock syndrome by the second day I believe. (Sepsis and Toxic Shock Syndrome) He was on total life support from day 1 in the hospital in the ICU. But then he’d seem to get better one day and we’d have hope.
Finally he had to be put on dialysis and he was flown to UNC Burn Center to better take care of his skin that was falling off. And the doctors there were going to operate and take his arms and legs off to try and save his life, but he was too weak to go through the operation.
Let it be know I did not want him flown there, but my I did what I was being told to do. Just like his funeral. We both said our funerals would be big parties with all family members and friends together.. Because that’s who WE are! We had a saying we always said and Stephen started it, “I’m you and you’re me.” We were very much in tune.
I feel like I let him down in so many ways. All I know is that I wish so much sepsis hadn’t come into our lives. It sneaks up on you like a snake and takes you out with one bite.
Our Church, The Bridge Community Church in Morrisville, NC ,started a 5k fun run in Stephen’s memory to raise money for us the spring after he died. They called it “Getzelmania.” It was AWESOME! It was so great that they did it 2 more years but I told them to donate the money to charities, so we did. There was food, bouncy houses, kid races, and everything.
Stephen’s official death certificate says Strep A. (Sepsis and Group A Strep) He died December 5, 2011. He was only 43 years old. Tyler is now 11 years old. We adopted him from Guatemala when he was a baby, but it is amazing how much of Stephen he picked up in the 5 short years they were together. They are even built the same. It has been 6 years now and my heart is still broken, I still have the physical pain and the huge missing hole where Stephen used to be. Ty doesn’t remember a lot of his dad, so I’m making sure to gather all the information about his dad’s life with him and before as I can. I know Stephen’s parent’s have a lot too. With God’s help I know Tyler and I will be ok.