Townes last moments - report from Jeanene - Aug. 2 1997

As posted to the about-townes mail list
           Re: about-townes: Jack Elliott on TvZ 12/31/96
           Sat, 02 Aug 1997 02:07:46 -0500
           Jeanene Van Zandt 

Glenn Christmas wrote:
> >From the Ramblin' Jack Elliott interview:
> >>Goldmine:  I wondered if something about his hip surgery the day before he
> >>died could have triggered his heart attack?
> >>        "That's exactly right.  My father was a surgeon and he always used
> >to tell
> >>me, 'When you operate on an alcoholic, he has to have a shot of liquor or
> >>he'll die from the shock of the operation.'  They refused him alcohol at
> >>the hospital.  That's probably what brought on his heart attack.  I think
> >>it was a medically induced death, but I'm not here to point fingers.
> >>There's enough sad stories already in this one little interview."
> *_*_*_*_*_*_*_*
> My wife has been an operating room nurse for over 25 years.  I asked her about
> this, if it is good for an alcoholic to have a shot of liquor before an
> operation.  She said that when she worked in Brussels they did it all the
> time; they were afraid not to because if they didn't the patient's heart could
> go into a spasm.  Not only that, they would see to it that the patient had
> some "hard drink" after the operation as well, if they needed/wanted it.
> If you ask me someone should do an investigation into Townes death.
> Seems we need someone like the TV character Quincy to do a bit of checking as
> to what REALLY went on.

I know what happened I was there. Before Townes went into surgery I
Warned everyone I took the surgeon aside and told him that the last time
Townes went into the hospital they almost killed him and he was in
intensive care for six days. The doctor that time told me that if we
ever tried to dry Townes out it would more than likely kill him. The
agreed that the best thing would be to get the hip fixed and get him 
"home to his bottle as soon as he was stable" Townes would only go to
the hospital if I promised not to leave him there. He had told us for a
week that he had pulled a muscle and it was getting better even though
he had called a medical service and had them deliver a wheelchair. I
kept pleading with him to please let me take him to the hospital and
just have the leg looked at but he refused and when Townes didn't want
to do something there was no talking him into it. He kept saying "If I
go to the hospital, I'll die." and then he would say it's getting better
anyway but I could tell it wasn't. Harold came to town because they were
scheduled to go into the studio with Steve Shelley to record his "new"
album. Townes was determined to go. Harold and I both told him that he
should cancel and let us take him to get medical attention but he
wouldn't. We assured him everyone would understand. He promised he would
go as soon as he got back. Steve call from Memphis to tell me he was 
cancelling the sessions on the second day because he could stand seeing
Townes in such pain and I called Townes at the hotel to tell him and he
said he had just left Steve and he hadn't said that when Harold came
into his room and confirmed it. I got Harold on the phone and told him 
that I didn't care if he had to drag Townes kicking and screaming that
he was not to let Townes talk him out of it. Harold pleaded all the way
from Memphis to Nashville and Townes finally allowed him to take him to 
one of those Conveniate Care Emergency Centers because he knew they 
couldn't keep him there. The doctor there said are you crazy, it looks 
like you could have a blood clot that could kill you. Get to a hospital
immediately. Harold called to report that Townes had finally said he
would go but only with me. I packed up the kids and hauled ass to go get
him. When I got to the house Townes was on the phone with a friend(who
I found out after Townes died was Jimmy Jingles a good friend of ours
and I asked him what they talked about. Jimmy said Townes had called him
and told him he was surrounded by spirits "They're thick in here",
They're everywhere." Jimmie asked him if they were friendly spirits and
Townes said he thought that they were but he was afraid they were going 
to push him into the fireplace if he leaned over to poke the fire.
Townes had a thing about keeping the fire burning all the time.
At that point Jimmie said he heard me and the kids arrive. Even then
Townes tried to put it off till morning since it was so late but I told
him If he didn't let me take him I was going to wash my hands of the
whole situation and he was on his own. I said "look at you Townes you
can't stay like this, do you want to walk out on stage or be wheeled
out. What do you want me to do I'm not a doctor, I can't make you better
by myself. He finally agreed he had to go so I called Jim and Royann
Calvin who lived nearby to help me get him into the car and stay with
Will and Katie. By this time it was past midnight. On the way there he
was his old self and he talked alot about about how much he loved me
and in his lifetime he had loved 4 maybe 5 women but none as much or as
deeply and as long as he had loved me and he wanted to know that I still
loved him and I told him I always did and always would. He was happy and
playful. He had brought a jug with him and had a few hits on the way.
At the hospital the took him into x-ray and I was shocked when they
came out and told me his hip was broken. They took me to him and I asked 
"Townes how could you go eight days with a broken hip and not know it."
He said "Babe, this looks like it they want to opperate. Promise me you
won't let them keep me here." I said, Townes you agree that the hip
needs to be fixed right?" He said, "I know but that's all and you'll
take me home." I promised. As they wheeled him into surgery he gave me 
That Look of helplessness and said again "Well Babe here goes, Looks
like this is it." The surgeon told me to go on home to my kids that
Townes was in good hands and he would call me at home to let me know how
the surgery went. He called at 2:30 and said that the surgery went well
and that Townes was resting well and go get some sleep myself. When the
kids and I arrived the next morning I could see that the DT's were
coming on fast and strong. I called the nurse in and said give him
something before he went into convulsions. She said I had to talk to the
doctorand I said get him here. This was a different doctor than the
surgeon and they got him on the phone and he had a very bad additude
and kept insisting that we detox Townes and put him into alcholhol
treatment. I told him that he was way too weak and that that would kill
him and I had promised him we wouldn't do that. To that he responded
"Well then I guess he'll just have to go home and drink himself to
death" I told him that I wasn't willing to sit here and watch him die
and to please give him something. He asked for the nurse and I put her
on the phone. She went and got a shot for Townes that knocked him out.
I told her to get his papers ready that I was going to get my children
settled and then I was coming to check him out. At this point I was
crying and she said she understood that she was going through the same
thing with her father right now that he was an alcholholic and had
fallen and broken his hip and was in the hospital. She said he would
sleep for a couple of hours. I went to take care of some last minute 
things and asked Jim and Royann to come be with the kids and be here
to help me get Townes out of the car. I got a flask and filled it to 
take with me to the hospital. When I got there Townes was awake and was
in very bad shape with the DT's He was hullucinateing and shaking very
badly. I wispered in his ear that I had a jug in the car because there 
were two nurses in the room and he kept reaching for it thinking I had
it in my hand. He was franticly searching his bed for it. As soon as 
the nurses and I got him in the car and they walked away I helped him 
get the bottle to his mouth which went against everything I had been
through with him all those years trying to keep him away from the bottle
but at this time of his life it was too late for that and I had had to
put that dream behind me and just accept what was and just Love him as
he was. The house is about 20 minutes from the hospital and by the time
we arrived he was doing better. He was lucid. Still a bit shaky. But he
back in the same time zone as us. Jim carried him inside and I wanted
him to be put in bed but Townes told Jim he wanted to sit in his
wheelchair for a while. Sipping all the while he seemed to get better
and better and within an hour he was joking and laughing. I was looking
into his medication and realized all we had gotten were antibiotics 
so I called the hospital to ask why they hadn't given him any pain pills
because he was in pain and they said the doctor wouldn't permit it
because he knew Townes was going to drink. She suggested we get Tylenol
PM. I told Townes he needed to be in bed and I insisted. Royann and Will
helped me get him into bed and Jim stayed to watch him while Royann and
I went to the grocery store to get the pills. I picked up all his
favorite foods and the pills and returned and Townes was doing fine.
I told Jim and Royann thank you for all your help but Townes wouldn't
rest as long as anyone was there and they agreed and said their goodbyes
to him. It was New Years and they still hadn't had their cabbage and
black eyed peas. I brought the tylenol and Townes said "Better give me 3
it's starting to hurt pretty bad" so I did and left the kids with him
while I fixed him something to eat. I fixed him a plate of cheese and
crackers, sliced apples and sliced roast beef so
he could nibble and not have to deal with utensils as his hands were
still trembling some but other than that he look comfortable and
relieved that he was home in his bed. He really did look comfortable
and I asked if there was anything else that he needed and he said
"Thanks Babe this is great" refering to the food. So I kissed him on the
cheek and told him I was going to call Susanna and let her and Guy know
he was home and OK. The house is set up so that you can walk in a circle
through the whole house including the bedroom, and I was talking to
Susanna and circling and watching him and he was nibbling his food and
Katie was talking his ear off. Will got up to go to the rest room just
as passed through the room and I heard him ask Townes if he needed
anything and I heard Townes say, "Thanks son, I'm fine." I stopped in
the living room and sat on the couch and two or three minutes later Will
rushed in and said "Mom you better look at Dad, he looks dead!" I rushed
in and as soon as I passed through the doorway I knew his spirit was no
longer in the room and as soon as I saw him I knew. Katie was standing
next to his bed looking at him. I started screaming his name and shaking
him. I still had Suzanna on the phone in my hand I told her I have to
call 911 and hung up. I called 911 and started CPR which I continued
until help arrived 20 minutes later. When the first fireman arrived he
was trying to make a tube with his hand to blow into Townes' mouth. I
could tell he DID NOT want to put his mouth on Townes' mouth so I told
him to move over and do compressions and I would breath for Townes which
we did till perimedics showed up about 10 minutes later and then they
chased me out of the room telling me my children needed me.
The OFFICIAL cause of death was #1. Cardiac Arrhythmia #2. Myocardial
Ischemia for all you doctors out there, I would like to know exactly
what that means. I spoke to the man that analized his blood at the TBI
and he said he blood was loaded with Diphenhydramine a type of
antihistimine which I didn't understand how he got that. I went to his
nightstand drawer and found a bottle of antihistmines from Europe and
all I can figure out is that while I was at the store for the Tylenol
he must have found them and thought they were pain pills and took a
bunch and it freaked his heart out. I had nursed Townes back from the
brink of death so many times and he look so good right before he died
and it was so sudden that I was sure it had to be a bloodclot. God I
guess with everything combined it was his day and Townes himself dealt
the final blow to his body.          Jeanene VZ