By: Robert Avsec, Devoted Husband, Companion, and BFF
My wife of 40+ years, Wilma Lester Avsec, died last Saturday, October 31, 2020, at CAMC Memorial Hospital here in Charleston, WV. I’d taken her there on Monday, October 26th, because she’d been taking medicine and breathing treatments for bronchitis since the previous Thursday, however by Monday morning she was not getting better.
In the ER they diagnosed her as having pneumonia in her right lung (Her left lung was the one that had surgery back in December 2019). They could not resolve her difficulty breathing in the ER, so they intubated her (breathing tube) and put her on a ventilator so that she would not have to work so hard to breathe.
PAUSE: She DID NOT have COVID-19. They tested her in the ER and the test was negative. Her pneumonia was caused by a much more common virus, one that many people will contact this fall and winter.
Wilma was then transferred to the Surgical ICU where she would remain for the last days on this earth. Fortunately, they were able to remove the breathing tube on Friday morning and she was able to breathe on her own for a couple of hours before they had to fit her with a CPAP mask (A type of ventilator that doesn’t require a tube. If any of you have a breathing machine for your sleep apnea, it’s the same type of machine).
By Friday afternoon I was able to deliver her tablet computer to the ICU staff (Memorial was allowing no visitors of any kind due to COVID-19 protocols). That evening I was able to have my first face-to-face conversation with her since Monday.
By Saturday morning, however, when I called her nurse for an update, she told me that Wilma was really struggling and that she didn’t want the CPAP machine anymore. Her nurse set up her tablet so that I could talk to her.
As soon as she saw my face she said, “Robert, I’m tired. I just can’t do this anymore.” With those words, I knew that it was time for her to leave the pain and suffering of the past 15 years–not just the last five days–behind. I told her to let them put the CPAP mask back on and that I was on my way. I then asked her nurse to initiate their Comfort Care protocols and that I would be there in 20 minutes and that I expected to have an escort to her bedside.
They complied with my wishes. When I arrived at her side, I knew that her time had come. We had that difficult conversation many years ago about what each of us wanted if we died. We had written those wishes down on paper (which the ICU staff had copies of) and Wilma had shared those same wishes with her sisters, our daughter, our grandsons, and our granddaughter-in-law.
Those last wishes included: no advanced life support measures upon her request; nobody was to see her after she was gone; and that there would be no visitation or funeral service of any kind.
As her loyal and faithful husband, companion, and best friend for 40+ years I’d solemnly swore to her that I would honor those wishes. It was an oath I reaffirmed with her while she was still lucid and aware of me being there with her.
Her nurse, Ramona, was a real saint at providing both me and Wilma with great comfort and support. She then began administering medications to ease her pain and suffering. After about 3-1/2 hours her pain and suffering were over, and she took her final breath.
I miss her greatly and the pain in my heart is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But I take great comfort knowing that we’d made these plans well in advance and that I was able to honor her last wishes.
And because we loved each other enough to have that difficult conversation many years ago, and we shared those final wishes with everyone close to her, I know in my heart that we did the right thing. No bickering, no arguing, none of the things that happen in too many families when a loved one leaves this earth. And for that I’m extremely grateful to my sisters-in-law, Sue Bonham and Beverly Lester Jenkins; our daughter, Jeri Lynn Dunlap Bunting and our son-in-law, Mike Bunting; our grandsons, Tyler Bunting, and Seth Bunting; and our granddaughter, Hailey Bunting.
RIP, my love! 🥰