WASHINGTON — Suspecting a blood clot, doctors wanted to operate on U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young but warned him it was highly risky and he might die.
So at 2 p.m. on Oct. 13, Young gathered his family around him at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and told them he did not want to have the surgery.
"He said he was sorry he couldn't take the pain anymore and was it okay?" his wife, Beverly, said in an interview Sunday with the Tampa Bay Times. "He was willing to keep fighting. But the kids all said, 'Dad you don't need to be in pain because of us.' "
Five days later, at 6:50 p.m. Friday, Young was pronounced dead, ending a political career that spanned five decades. He was 82.
"The cause of death was complications related to a chronic injury," a family statement read, but many wondered how a back injury could lead to death. Mrs. Young provided a fuller understanding Sunday.
"His whole body started shutting down," she said.
The Republican lawmaker, who announced Oct. 9 from the hospital that he would retire when his term expired in 2014, had planned to be back in Florida now, getting rehabilitation for his back injuries.
He promised his grandchildren he'd take them trick-or-treating for Halloween. His 7-year-old granddaughter Anna Young sang him Tomorrow, from the musical Annie, in the hospital each day, reassurance he would be okay.
But hanging over him was the surgery.
"He offered to let go. He couldn't stand it anymore," Mrs. Young said, crying. "He said 'I don't want to do it.' He said he would rather have his last days with his family and his grandchildren than go into a procedure and not come out."
Young said her husband went to Walter Reed two weeks ago because the pain in his back had become unbearable. "He was so determined to not let this beat him down."
Something else was going on. One morning while eating breakfast, the congressman started coughing and motioned for his wife to bring him a tissue.
"When I got him the Kleenex, I saw bright red blood and I didn't tell him," she said. "I ran and got the doctor. He was still coughing it up."
Doctors suspected it was a blood clot and an X-ray showed fluid in a lung, Mrs. Young said. He had been on blood thinners since a 1996 open heart surgery. He also had diabetes.
His back was an ongoing ordeal. Young suffered injuries in a 1970 plane crash and in recent years had surgeries that were met with tragic misfortune. A couple of years ago, a young medic dropped him while trying to put him in a wheelchair.
"He picked Bill up in a bear hug. I said no!" Mrs. Young recalled. The wheelchair had moved slightly and Young fell on his butt. There was talk of a lawsuit but Rep. Young waved it off.
"He would never sue his country," she said, declining to name the military hospital because she said it was not the hospital's fault or the fault of doctors.
While hospitalized last week, Young's right arm swelled and he got pneumonia, his wife said.
"He didn't expect this. We thought we were going to be okay. We were going to go to rehab. But things just went bad. It all just spiraled out of control."
A public funeral is planned Thursday in Largo and should attract top politicians from Washington and a large contingent from the Pentagon. Plans were being arranged for planes to take a congressional delegation.
While in the hospital, Young was surrounded by family and friends and followed TV coverage of the budget showdown at the Capitol.
"He complained about things going on the House floor and the fact that nobody could work together," Mrs. Young said. "He told the kids it's just so sad sitting here watching what is happening, that you can't make them work, you can't make them do anything."
Young lost consciousness a couple of days before he died. His last conversation was with President George W. Bush, who called to thank Young for his dedication, as a top budget appropriator, for the armed forces.
At the end, Bush told Young he loved him. Said Mrs. Young: "He said, 'George, I love you, too.' "
Young was visited Thursday by Gov. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, a former Democratic House member who worked closely with Young on appropriations. Young was unconscious but his friend leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.
Tributes continued to roll in Sunday. On her phone, Mrs. Young had a missed call from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
All Children's Hospital of St. Petersburg issued a statement praising Young for his role creating the National Marrow Donor Program: "Through his role in creating the NMDP and supporting its lifesaving work for nearly three decades, he provided help and hope for children and adults waging a fierce battle with cancer. We are deeply thankful for those efforts and all of his work as a great statesman."
Mrs. Young returned to Florida on Sunday and spoke by telephone as she walked into her condominium, her crying growing louder. "He's here. His clothes, his chair and his glass and his pajamas. It's not going to be a pretty sight because he's not going to be there."
Mrs. Young went on: "It happened so fast. You expect something else, a heart attack. You don't expect this. He was going to go in the hospital and get fixed."
Contact Alex Leary at email@example.com or on Twitter @learyreports.