Marty Sundvall (12/12/1965 - 5/13/2012)
WARNING: Some of this post may be too graphic for some readers.
My friend Marty was looking pretty bad back in February. His legs and feet got so swollen he couldn't even tie his shoes and his skin and eyes were taking on a sickly yellow hue. In his words:
I had been feeling weird for a couple weeks. In that time my energy was zapped, I was very disoriented, my abdomen and feet started to swell and my eyes were an ugly shade of yellow.Being a stoic Minnesotan, he ignored it and continued life as usual, teaching classes at SCSU and the Minnesota School of Business, and having a few cocktails at the White Horse. But his Saturday and Sunday sojourns to the bar left him feeling sick and he was in bed by early Sunday evening.
Monday morning he could barely walk.
I got up in time to catch the bus to St Cloud State and opted to tough it out. Well, the bus stop is probably 500 feet from my office and I had to stop 4 times to bend over a garbage can or retaining wall before stumbling into my office. My department chairman took a look at me and immediately drove me to the hospital. Once there the admitting nurse looked at me and said, "liver disease."He was admitted to the hospital where they pumped him full of fluids, did ultrasounds of his innards and took a lot of blood samples. He didn't sleep at all that night.
On Tuesday he got a visit from a worker from the Chemical Dependency Department of the hospital who asked him when he'd had his last drink. He told her that it had been on Sunday. She told him that when he came in on Monday his blood-alcohol level was .22 -- almost three times the legal limit. Marty started to cry.
They stuck a tube into his belly and drained a liter and a half of liquid which they sent to the lab for analysis. Tuesday night he slept, but it was one of the longest nights of his life.
I just had no answers.Wednesday: more ultrasounds, more IVs, more blood samples... then some good news: the fluid they took showed no signs of cancer, all his hepatitis tests came back negative, all the veins and arteries to his liver were open and flowing, and although his liver was inflamed, there were no clots and it showed no signs of cirrhosis. That was the best news he'd gotten in days.
Meanwhile, however, his blood refused to clot, his magnesium levels were low and a few other items, so they kept running IVs and testing his blood. His arms were black and blue from all the attention they'd been getting.
A couple of CAT scans showed no other damage. A scope down his stomach and a colonoscopy showed no signs of varicose veins, which sometimes occur with liver disease. The doctor said that with time, maybe 6 months or so, Marty's liver would regenerate itself.
The rest of the week was spent getting his hemoglobin count up so that his blood would begin to clot again. By Monday all his levels were in the green and he was discharged.
Now the hard part starts. I cannot drink. Cannot. Cannot. Cannot. Cannot. I drink; I die. And I am limited to 2 grams of sodium a day. So a complete lifestyle change, and day one and two have been a success.The next time I saw him he looked a little gaunt. He'd lost 70 lbs. off his 300 lb. frame and he looked like a man who had seen a ghost. But he improved, and those of us who know him would probably all agree that he kept improving and it looked like he was going to make a complete recovery.
He quit drinking completely, he cut sodium from his diet and actually started cooking for himself, rather than eating fast food, he started riding his bike again and his doctors said he was showing improvement. In fact, one day I saw him wearing a Buddha-like smile and he told me that his doctor had given him the okay to eat a Reuben sandwich, "It was delicious!"
That was that, Marty was supposed to make a full recovery in time. But that's not what happened.
The week before his death, Robert, his roommate, noticed that he was spending a lot of time lying down in his room, he was moaning to himself, which he would stop doing when he knew Robert was in earshot. He started doing little else than walking between the bathroom and his bedroom, a trip of around 10 feet. Robert had a few conversations with him through his bedroom door. On the Friday before his death, Robert asked him if he was okay and if he should call anyone, Marty replied through the closed door, "I'll be fine, I'm a hard-headed son of a bitch." As far as we know, those were the last words he spoke to anyone.
Several people tried calling him on Saturday, but got only his voice mail. More people tried texting him and received no reply. Robert was one of the ones who called. He tried again on Sunday, Mother's Day, still no answer.
Robert called Knuckles and asked if he could look in on Marty since he hadn't heard from him. Knuckles called me as I sat on my porch on a beautiful Sunday morning
"C'mon, man, it's Marty," I said, "he'll do what he always does on weekends: sleep until 2 PM. We'll see him at the White Horse tonight playing poker. Like always."
Then I got a call from Robert. Kate and I were out of the house and walking down the street to Marty's before we even hung up (their house is a block from ours).
When we got there we found Knuckles, a little frantic and very concerned. The house is a rambler that was built somewhere in the 60s, just like the house I grew up in, and they're not very difficult to break into if you have to. We found a basement window open with a loose screen and Kate, being the skinny one, was able to shimmy through and let us in the side door of the house.
All three of us approached Marty's bedroom door, I think we all expected what came next... we found Marty lying on the floor, face up, naked as the day he was born.
"Oh, my god! MARTY?!" Knuckled shouted.
I knelt down and was going to feel for a pulse in his neck. There was no need, he was cold.
We called 911 and waited for the police to show up. They took statements from each of us as we called person after person, friend after friend, to give them the bad news. Brad came over, as did Rebecca Rose, some other friends showed, too. We all stood there in shock and sadness.
A huge number of people gathered that night at the White Horse to remember our friend. We drank, we laughed, we cried, we stood in silent thought, we sang.
On Monday a group of us gathered to meet his mother and brother and to help them clean up his house.
On Thursday there was a memorial service, the best I've ever been to. People shared stories and memories of Marty. They spoke of friendship and kindness and told amazing and hilarious stories. He touched more lives than I'll bet he knew. Personally, I don't think I've ever met a kinder man.
At this point you may wish to stop reading as the following details may be too much.
I discovered that he died of a ruptured vein in his stomach. Judging by the position his body was in when we found him, I assume that he had gone to the bathroom and was on his way back to bed when the vein burst. He had an instant drop in blood pressure and passed out. He bled to death internally.
That's better than a lingering cancer, I guess, or a million other more nasty ways to die. He passed out and never woke up, and I suppose that's not so bad.
He's the first of my current circle of friends to die and that really puts my own mortality in a harsh light. I'll die, too, one day, but I'm trying my best to make that day be a long time off. I'll miss his laugh, I'll miss his jokes, I'll miss how he genuinely cared and how well he listened. And I'll miss hearing him say whenever he saw me, in his best Mel Blanc gangster voice, "Mugg-say!"
RIP, Martoon. You were truly on of a kind.