When does one’s life become important enough to love, to respect, to protect—to save? This is a powerful question—not a question that is usually asked but, instead, a question that may someday be asked when faced with the tragic loss of a loved one. I have been blessed to have had a loved one, Vincent Mele, who had unconditional love for those who cared about him and was undeniably respected by those who knew him. A loved one whose family was always there to protect him; and although they tried desperately, in the end, they were not able to save him.
As I sit at my desk, I struggle with the question, where to begin? How does one put into words what they feel when someone so dear to their heart has been taken from them so tragically? I am at home now in my guest room, a large quiet room high above the rest of the house, and seemingly even farther from the world. I stop, for a moment, to go downstairs to a closet that houses old photographs. In there, I find pictures of Vincent; I look through several of them and choose one that was taken in his younger years.
As I take a moment to gaze at it, I think to myself, What a handsome man. He’s standing stately and tall with wavy dark black hair and piercing brown eyes that appear to be staring back at me. I can’t explain why I felt the need to retrieve a photo. Perhaps to be able to see him again or perhaps to remember what life was like while he was here. To know Vincent was to love him. He had the uncanny ability to make you laugh when you were down; he always had a smile on his face, a bounce to his step, and a song in his voice. Never a day went by when he didn’t cheer me up with his music or capture my heart with his song. Oh how he loved to sing with his favorite song being “On the Street Where You Live”—a beautiful song that holds more significance than you can imagine, a song that I can assure you, once you have read this book, will capture your heart as it has captured mine.
When he sang, as if being drawn by a magnet, you instantly drifted into his world. That enchanted world I now have grown to cherish, a world that was adorned with laughter and filled with love. As I look away from the photo, I begin to drift away from that world and return back to reality. I realize once again how much I miss him. Just as before, my heart becomes filled with sadness and my eyes with tears. Tears for a man whose life was cut short—whose life was taken by the professionals to whom he entrusted it to. It is now becoming difficult to continue, but continue I must. This is a story of great importance to all of us. As I compose myself, I realize I can’t sit back and allow another loved one, another fellow American, another human being die the way that Vincent did. This is, after all, not just a story about Vincent; this too is a story about the hundreds of thousands of other people who have died just like Vincent—horrifically in the hands of a professional in a facility that was designed to help save lives but instead is now taking them.
I take a deep breath and, once again, look at his picture with those piercing brown eyes still glaring back at me. It is at that moment I realized that although Vincent is gone, I cannot ever let him be forgotten. I cannot allow his death and suffering to have been in vain. Instead, I have to believe that his death was for a reason. If you are a believer of a greater power—and I am—then you will know that the reason is to stop this epidemic that has gone on too long and has killed too many, an epidemic of infections in hospitals that is plaguing our country today. In these last few months of Vincent’s passing, I have learned—and soon you will too—that those who have the ability to stop it refuse! Those of us whose hearts have been broken must not let them!
I must pause for a moment now. With my heart pounding from anger and my mind racing with the desire to stop what has gotten so out of control, I have to take some time to gather my thoughts. As I once again compose myself, let me be clear; all that you are about to read is true. It is not fiction nor is it hearsay. I have lived this nightmare as has so many countless others. My cries have been heard but only by deaf ears. Now it is time for you, the individuals who are as vulnerable as was Vincent, to hear what I have to say. So, as I begin, permit me first to share Vincent with you. Then open up your heart and your mind to what I have to say; let yourself be the judge, and together, let’s hope that someone will finally listen, someone will finally take responsibility, and someone will finally change what is so drastically wrong. Be assured that my story is one that comes from my heart with the determination to save lives—to perhaps, one day, save your life or the life of your loved one.
Not much after Vincent was told he would need surgery and the family started their search, the doctor who, they were certain, would be the best candidate was chosen. As desired, his reputation was impeccable, and his expertise and talents were undeniable. They wanted only the finest to perform the surgery on the man they loved so much and were confident they made the right choice. Or did they? Certainly, his surgical resume spoke for itself, but did they need to know his principles, should they have been concerned with his morals, and did he have a conscience? These were questions they didn’t know they needed answered until it was too late!
With no way of knowing what was to come, the unknown remained unknown for now, and the family proceeded to prepare themselves and Vincent for his surgery, which was scheduled to take place in just eight short weeks. With so many emotions to deal with, no doubt it would be the hardest weeks they would ever have to encounter. Still eight weeks was a long time away, and for now, they wanted nothing more than to forget. They were determined to make life as routine as possible; and so, with all the medical arrangements behind them, they proceeded to enjoy the coming weeks together.
And enjoy they did—for they were undoubtedly the most joyous weeks the family could remember. Surely, deep down they wanted to break down and cry, but instead they did everything possible to keep Vincent busy with each weekday remaining routine and each weekend becoming a special occasion. Their family gatherings no longer included just them; now there were cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends all celebrating together—all wanting to spend time with Vincent.
With the surgery quietly weighing heavy on their minds, at each gathering, they wanted nothing more than to savor the moments with a picture or a memory, always wondering if these would be their last days together. At times, the operation would come up in conversation; that was only natural. If it had, they would make light of it and pretended it was no big deal. They had a goal, and that was to keep Vincent as comfortable and as happy as possible.
Inevitably, what seemed like an eternity away was now quickly approaching. With the operation just days away, concern was mounting within the family. Still they all kept an open mind and wasn’t about to give into the possibility that Vincent wouldn’t make it through his surgery. They convinced themselves there wasn’t a thing to worry about with today’s high-tech facilities and superior techniques; although an operation such as this was risky, they were confident he would be fine.
Unfortunately, time marched on, and soon came the day before the surgery was to take place. For as long as Vincent could remember and certainly through the course of these last weeks, his family always gathered together. However, for this day, each daughter chose to share their time with their dad alone with their families. As if cherishing their last moments together, on this day, they didn’t want to share their dad with anyone. Instead, one daughter had breakfast with him, another lunch, another a late afternoon visit, another dinner, another early evening, and still another later.
Although trying to remain optimistic and sharing a laugh or two, ultimately their visits together became quiet ones with each one’s heart aching, and each one wanting desperately to say what they were feeling but so afraid it would upset him. While at his side, on that precious day, they so wanted nothing more than to grab him and hug him as tight as they could and never let go for deep down they feared they’d never get that chance again. Instead, knowing they had to stay strong, they pretended to be upbeat and settled for their private visit with their dad, sharing an I Love You and holding onto the hope that they had chosen the right surgeon and all would be fine. So, as each one parted from their dad—trying desperately to hold back the tears—and as Vincent always wanted especially on that day, they didn’t say goodbye; instead, they said “so long. ”
On the morning of the surgery, still at home with Lorraine, Vincent got himself up early. Just as the girls had done the day before, Lorraine too wanted to keep their conversation as lighthearted as possible. They talked a little about the surgery; he wondered if they were going to schedule him early or if he’d have to wait. When they spoke of his recovery, he was happy to learn that all the girls would be there to see him when he came out. While they were talking, in their hearts, they both knew their conversation was nothing more than small talk with neither wanting to upset the other.
Certainly—after all they had been through as husband and wife, mom and dad, and nana and poppa—deep down, they couldn’t imagine one without the other. Still they didn’t want to think about that, and for now, their small talk was what they had to hold on to, and what was helping them get through the morning.
As the time drew closer for Vincent to leave for the hospital, he sat in his favorite chair in the living room. As if in a display of courage, he sat with his head held high, and when he seemingly smiled, you surely knew he was reliving his life in a split second with much satisfaction and no regrets. Although Lorraine wished she could have allowed him to sit there forever to reminisce, unfortunately, she was only able to give him a few more moments to himself before she would have to tell him it was time to go.
Standing up and before getting ready to leave, he first paused for a bit and then walked over to a shelf in the corner of the room that housed all the family photos. As if silently saying his last goodbyes, he took a moment to gaze at each photo—each photo that reminded him of the many happy moments he shared with the one’s he loved so dear, each photo of the family that made his life such a joy. After taking a deep breath, he then slowly walked over to the door; and before walking out, he turned to take one last look at the place he called home, and with his head held high and his shoulders back, he left for his trip to the hospital.
The next day, after waking from a good night sleep knowing that Vincent’s surgery went well, I couldn’t wait to rush to the hospital to visit. As I headed for the ICU, I recalled the night before and wondered if he’d look the same. However, I couldn’t seem to recall his room or any of the other surroundings. I suppose being so anxious to see Vincent, the ICU wasn’t of interest to me last night; therefore, today I decided to take note.
The unit resembled a large arena having many rooms, bordering all around the perimeter. In the middle, it housed the staff of nurses, doctors, attendants, and other professionals. Also within were monitors of all kinds, computers, and countless other technological devices—all being used to save lives. While I remembered being impressed at that moment, in the weeks to come, I realized all of the equipment and all the professionals were of no use in the fight that Vincent was about to encounter.
As I proceeded toward Vincent’s area of the ICU, I passed several other rooms. As you can well imagine, they were occupied by very sick people, many with visitors wearing yellow gowns and rubber gloves. Not being a savvy hospital visitor, I had no idea why they were dressed accordingly and, at that moment, didn’t much care because I was on my way to see Vincent and couldn’t be happier.
When I entered the room, he was still in his swollen state and still sleeping from the anesthesia. After speaking to the doctor, he informed us that he was having a little bit of a problem with his kidneys. During the operation, they were clamped off for a very long period of time and, for now, weren’t able to resume their normal function. With that said, all still seemed pretty routine; and although we were wishing he’d wake up, the doctor said that because the kidneys weren’t flushing properly, it would take a while for all the anesthesia to leave his system.
So, for now, we had to wait. Needless to say, his visitors were round the clock. There wasn’t a time in the day that Vincent wasn’t surrounded by several of his loved ones—each one doing what they could to try to wake him. We talked to him, rubbed his feet, held his hand—how he loved when you held his hand—and watched very closely for any small change or reaction that would lead us to believe he was beginning to come around. Although concerned, the good news was all his vital signs were normal, his urination deposits were average, and—best of all—his incision was healing beautifully. Based on the severity of the surgery he had just undergone and his age, we considered ourselves lucky he was alive and doing relatively well. Happily, for the most part, the doctor wasn’t all that concerned with the issues he was having with his kidneys. If need be, he informed us he would give Vincent a few dialysis treatments that would help to give them a jump start. For now, however, the doctor didn’t think dialysis was necessary. So with two days almost over and the doctor’s report still very positive, we were very optimistic that Vincent would make a full recovery.
Then came day three. Still in ICU, still asleep, still on the respirator, but now, those yellow gowns and rubber gloves that many of the other visitors had to wear while visiting their loved ones was now mandatory for us to wear as well. Not knowing why, for the others two days ago, was now a question I needed answered today. We were told that Vincent had developed the infection known as MRSA. I thought to myself, OK, they’ll treat him with antibiotics, and he’ll be fine. Not realizing or, for that matter, even knowing at the time that MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is better known as the superbug and is almost impossible to kill or cure!
The doctor explained that this infection was extremely contagious, and for our safety, we would have to wear the proper apparel. Of course, we complied; however, at the time, our safety was not what was predominant on our minds. More importantly, we wanted to know what treatment was going to be administered to Vincent to help eliminate this. Still not having any idea of how deadly this infection was, when the doctor informed us antibiotics had already been started, we were confident since he was the professional his prescribed treatment would take care of the problem. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but ask myself, how did this happen? Only three days after surgery and coming from the operating room and going directly into the ICU—how on earth could he have developed such an infection? With other important issues at hand—namely, Vincent’s treatment—I didn’t dwell on my thoughts; my only concern, at the time, was his recovery.
As we approached the fourth day—still asleep and still on the respirator—the tubes and needles that were implanted on Vincent’s body were beginning to increase in numbers. One was for the respirator, one to feed him, one to help him to urinate, one to administer the antibiotic, and still others for his kidneys and more. Each time I visited and saw him, I could remember thinking to myself, Although I had wished Vincent was awake, I was glad he was still sleeping and not aware of what was going on. I thought, hopefully, by the time he does wake up, this infection will be gone, and he’ll be off the respirator and not remember any of this.
With the passing of a few more days, not wanting to be anything but optimistic, I still strongly believed Vincent was going to be fine. After all, people get infections every day, why would this be any different? Unfortunately, I was wrong! Soon after he developed MRSA, Vincent contracted a yeast infection and went into sepsis shock. The yeast infection was in the area of Vincent’s mouth. Because he was still on the respirator, his mouth was filled with sores and bloodstained cracks. I thought to myself, What’s happening? Here’s a man who had a major surgery that went well. Only a few days ago, our only concern was he wasn’t waking up due to his kidneys’ not functioning properly. Now, what was of great importance a few days ago was secondary today. No longer were we primarily concerned with Vincent’s kidneys functioning; instead, now we were more concerned with the infections he was fighting—infections that should not have been, infections that had to have been contracted during surgery or in the ICU.