“I’m Christian” is an incredible and touching story by Christian’s father, Christopher Ramirez, about grandfathers, fathers, sons and grandsons; the love and spiritual energy that spans generations, time and space.
By: Christopher Ramirez
On May 18, 2016, my father suffered a massive stroke that left him paralyzed from the nose down, with only the ability to blink his eyes and move them up and down. He was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in San Diego and placed on a ventilator to assist with his breathing. In recent years my 79-year-old father had been in failing health with heart disease and other problems. At the urging of my three brothers and me, our parents agreed the year before to move from Corpus Christi, Texas to San Diego so we could take care of them.
BELOW LEFT: Rogelio Ramirez (my father) – Christian (my son) BELOW RIGHT: Amelia Ramirez (my mother) – Christian – Rogelio
The next day we received from the neurologist the worst possible prognosis. Our father’s condition, known as Locked-in Syndrome, would continue to deteriorate and he would die. We were also cautioned that he was 100% aware of his surroundings and to be careful what we said about his condition.
Locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a condition in which a patient is aware but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for vertical eye movements and blinking. The individual is conscious and sufficiently intact cognitively to be able to communicate with eye movements. The EEG is normal in locked-in syndrome. Total locked-in syndrome, or completely locked-in state (CLIS), is a version of locked-in syndrome wherein the eyes are paralyzed as well. source: Wikipedia
The ICU doctors and nurses were wonderful and very professional, and they quickly developed a way to communicate with my father. One blink for “No” and holding his eyes closed for five seconds for “Yes.” We were able to “talk” with my father, find out if he was comfortable and, most important, confirm he knew what was going on.
My brothers and I took turns relieving our mother who we had to pry from the bedside of her husband of 56 years so she could get some much-needed rest.
Our family was confronted with the grim task of discussing the very limited options for my dad. The neurologist explained, “If Mr. Ramirez is left on life support, soon other organs in his body will begin to shut down. It could be weeks, or even months in some cases, but he will not survive.” We let the doctor know he would not want to live this way. My father had made this very clear to us after he had a heart attack several years before.
However, the neurologist kindly told us “Since Mr. Ramirez can communicate and I’m 100% certain he understands everything that is being said, this will have to be his decision.”
Chills ran up and down the back of my spine at the thought we would have to ask my father if he would want to exhaust all treatment options and remain on the machines that were keeping him alive, or turn them off and pass peacefully.
My mother, two of my brothers and I followed the neurologist into my father’s ICU room. The doctor asked him, “Mr. Ramirez, do you understand what has happened to you?”
BELOW: Rogelio & Amelia (my parents) — Emily & Christian (my kids – my parents’ grandkids)
My father closed his eyes for five seconds. “Yes.”
“Do you understand that you most likely will not get any better than you are now?”
Again, my father held his eyes closed for five seconds.
My mother then asked him, “Rogelio, do you want to remain on the machines that are helping you breathe?”
My father looked her square in the eye and quickly blinked one time. “No!”
Satisfied with his answers, the doctor left the room. We made arrangements with the nurses to take my father off the life support machines the following morning.
I could not sleep that night. I tossed and turned and finally got up at five and went for a run. I could only think of the decision my father had made and within a matter of hours he would no longer be a part of this world. I decided to spend every last minute I could with him.
I got to the hospital at about 6:15. One of the night nurses was giving my father a sponge bath. “I want him to look his best by the time the rest of your family arrives.”
I thought that was nice. Mom then came into the room and we sat with my father and let him know he was not alone. My mom wouldn’t let go of his hand.
The next thing the nurse said shocked us.
“Will Christian be coming back?”
Two of my brothers, Carlos and Roger, arrived a short time later. The same night nurse came back into my father’s room. I let her know the rest of our family would be here soon. The next thing the nurse said shocked us all.
“Will Christian be coming back?”
I blurted out, “You must mean Christopher, that’s me.”
She said, “No. He was here earlier this morning before any of you got here.”
I explained I was the first one of our family to arrive.
She stood firm, “No, you weren’t. There was a young man here before you.”
My mother turned pale and had to sit down. I think she was the first to realize that something impossible might have happened. The nurse immediately saw her reaction.
“Oh, is this someone we should keep away from the ICU?”
I was shaking at this point and tried to explain.
“My eleven year old son passed away four years ago from a blood infection. His name was Christian.”
BELOW LEFT: Christian at a Padres baseball game BELOW RIGHT: Christian on a skiing trip in Big Bear, CA
The nurse was the next one to turn pale and she became very nervous. She stammered out a lame explanation.
“Oh, well, all you boys look so much alike. I must have mistaken one of you for someone else.”
She practically ran out of the room. Although we were stunned, none of us could talk about what the nurse had just revealed to us. We huddled around Dad’s bed waiting for our other family members to arrive. After several minutes I excused myself. I found the night nurse at her station and pleaded with her.
“Please, tell me what you saw. Of all the names out there, how did you come up with ‘Christian?’”
The nurse had calmed down a little and said, “I was in your father’s room getting things ready for his bath— maybe a half hour before you arrived— I looked up and there was a young man standing in the doorway of the room. He looked a lot like you, only much younger. I asked him ‘Can I help you?’
“He smiled and said, ‘I’m Christian. Would it be OK if I spoke with my grandfather?’
BELOW: Christian exploring the tidepools
“I said ‘Of course’ and he came into the room and sat in that chair next to your father. He kissed him on the forehead and he was saying something in your father’s ear when I left the room. When I came back a few minutes later, Christian was gone.”
I asked the nurse, “How old do you think he was?”
She said, “I’d say 16, maybe 17.”
My son would have been 15.
BELOW: Me (CHRISTOPHER) with my kids Emily & CHRISTIAN
I pulled out of my wallet a photo of my nephew, Drew, the youngest member of our family. He was 31 at the time, although he looked much younger.
“Could it have been him?”
“No, Christian was younger.”
At this point the nurse was again becoming agitated.
“Oh, I don’t know. I must have been in another room and mistaken another patient for your father. It’s been a busy morning.”
Then she mentioned the videotape.
“We don’t have cameras in our patients’ rooms, but we do have a camera that records anyone who comes in and out of the ICU.”
I encouraged her to continue, “Yes….”
“I reviewed the tape a few minutes ago. From 5 AM to just now, the only people that entered the ICU were doctors, nurses, you and your mother and brothers.”
“You didn’t see Christian on the tape?”
“No…but this must confirm that I mistook one of you for your son. I am very sorry.”
I could tell by the look on her face that she was as unsure of this explanation as I was.
I rushed back to my Dad’s room so I could speak to him before they administered the pain medications that would put him to sleep and make him comfortable during the procedure. By now, everyone was there. There were ten of us in addition to my Dad: Mom, my three brothers, including Simion, my two sisters-in-law, Patty and Cendra, Roger’s partner Austin, nephew Drew, and my wife Carmen and I.
“Dad, did Christian come see you this morning?”
I told my Dad I loved him and let him know that he did not have to worry about Mom anymore.
“We will all take good care of her.”
I also let him know that he had taught me so much about life and I was grateful for everything I learned from him…how I hoped I could be as good a father to my children as he was to all of us. With tears now running down my face, I had to ask him. I knew if I didn’t I would regret it the rest of my life.
“Dad, did Christian come see you this morning?”
My father stared forward with tears streaming down his face and clenched his eyes closed for five seconds.
My father passed away a few hours later surrounded by his family members living and in spirit.
This story is dedicated in loving memory of Rogelio and Christian Ramirez.
ABOVE: Rogelio and Christian Ramirez