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MEMORIES WE SHARE – Part 13
On July 30th you announce you are going to die on July 31st. You have expressed deep concern about my financial well being and have decided that if you pass away at the end of the month you will some how beat the government’s system of taking back the Social Security Disability for the month in which you die. I try to convince you that they have it covered and no matter what day you die they will recover that month’s check. The Hospice social worker visits and she promises to look into finances and come back on Tuesday. I try to assure you that I will be fine, financially, but you know that with my check being even less than yours it will not begin to cover the bills … that you can remember.
My daughter and our teen granddaughter come out to visit and you are semi-alert while they are here. She has done our grocery shopping and it has now been over a week since I have even stepped outside, not that I’d want to with temperatures in the 115 to 117 degrees range with the heat index added in. You joke a little but mostly you speak of dying. My daughter says she will come and stay with us the next day and overnight. I sleep on the floor next to the couch where you lay – refusing oxygen, not wanting your pills and I hold hands with you.
Sunday, July 31st – Your color is not good today and I remember the words spoken by the social worker, “I would not discount a person being able to will themselves to die on a certain day. I think we’ve all seen a steady decline in Gary’s health these past three weeks. Try to keep yourself prepared, and call us day or night, whenever you need anything at all.” By 10:00 a.m. I really start to become concerned. The spasms now rock your whole body and jerk you from side to side. You can barely sit, let alone get a glass of water to your lips, with or without my help. I suck water into a straw holding my finger over the top and release it into your mouth and you choke, no matter how slowly you try to swallow. I phoned the emergency number for the Hospice nurse on call for weekends and she returns my call almost immediately. I let her know what’s going on and ask her to call the doctor and have him prescribe something different for your spasms and I ask that she come out and take your vitals and possibly start an IV for fluids because I know you are dehydrated. My daughter arrives and talks you into sitting back in your lift chair, your feet elevated and a pillow under you legs for added support and comfort. She also talks you into putting on the oxygen. I fill her in and she asks how long it has been since I talked with the nurse. Three hours – three hours I have sat alone with you, watching you jerk, watching you not being able to swallow. She says this is completely unacceptable and to call the Hospice nurse back or she will.
Friday August 12th
These past days have become a blur of pain then hope, suffering then a remission of symptoms. Matters that seemed paramount now are just barely remembered slips of the flotsam and jetsam that float in my rattled brain.
What is fresh as new shed blood is the thirteen day old kitten that died in my arms at almost 2:30 this morning. What stands out is the upper respiratory virus infection that has been working its way through our pets and even your failing system and how I administered antibiotics all around, pills for you, drops for the cats. Lil-Bit, the momma cat, caught it and soon enough one of her babies started failing to thrive. It lay by itself instead of in the cozy huddle of the other three. I fed it with a dropper and even made a tiny oxygen tent from your main oxygen machine and dish towels tucked around him secure and comforting. The kitten seemed to follow your lead, rallying for a short time and then succumbing to a presence that hung in this house so thick it was almost visible.
They changed your pain medication and magically your spasms disappeared, nothing but a horrible memory. You were back, strong, clear headed and on the go for two days. The kitten, who gasped for air with his mouth open like a hungry baby bird, would settle right down and sleep peacefully inside the makeshift, oxygen giving, covering. He would drink from the eye dropper and smack his lips for more of the formula rich with nutrients and life giving protein. You ate whole meals, ribs, corn, potatoes and salad and I cooked and grilled and did dishes in a state of complete and utter gratitude and marvel. Then your mind clouded again and tremors took the place of full spasms. The Hospice doctor had visited just the day before and said if your symptoms continued to be managed so well they would be graduating you out of the program but would be a call and a reassessment away if your condition turned worse again.
I awoke to find you wandering the house, defensive, drugged, and confused. The kitten was no longer content with the oxygen and its mouth kept opening and closing as if controlled by a most cruel marionette. I begged two different vets to see him and was told it was a waste of time … it was just too young to help. I started to give you Haldol which has calmed you and helped clear your mind. I needed to get you into the car with me and the kitten that surely the vet would help if only he laid eyes on its perfectly tiny body that still fought to live. But while I was opening the Haldol I noticed your pill tray had three empty compartments. You had taken pills from three different days, some afternoon pills which were of little consequence but at least two sets of morning pills which contained Oxycontin and Dilaudid. I called Hospice and this time a nurse arrived within half an hour taking your vitals and telling me to keep an eye on you. Your breathing was shallow. The kitten rallied. I sat in a chair next to your hospital bed watching for your breathing. I would peek into the towels and watch for the kitten’s breathing. Your Hospice health aid showed up and I nearly took her head off when she wanted to wake you and give you a shave.
I started the kitten on the liquid antibiotics, just one forth of a dropper full. I fought with Lil-Bit as she’d drag her kitten from the towels, back to the closet where she and the other three were, only to leave it far away from the others after she cleaned it. I withheld any pills from you and watched you, as instructed. You woke long enough to try to drink some Ensure and to my horror it went flying across the bed. The spasms were back, full tilt, as if they had only hidden in the shadows waiting for the most opportune moment to strike. You would not let me strip your bed and laid in the sticky chocolate liquid glaring at me.
As the two of you slept, I escaped to the computer and searched out distraction on Face book. A friend and fellow writer had just published his first book on Kindle! Another had written and I soaked in his words as I would a warm bubble bath if there were time. I peered into other people’s lives and tried to ignore ours. I laughed and commented, read more, looked at photos and refused to think about what was happening just a few feet away from me.
Toward evening you awoke again and used the restroom and then asked for your pain pills which were now in a lock box that the nurse had brought with her. I tried to explain you had become confused and overdosed so it would be best if you waited a few more hours if the pain was not too much to bear. You were very displeased with this news and also wanted to know what was going on. I was at a loss to explain the hours you were missing to your satisfaction and finally gave you a Haldol, telling you it was a pain pill. You finally settled into your clean bed that I hurriedly changed while you were in the bathroom and you allowed me to use wipes to clean most of the Ensure from your face, arms and legs.
I lay, on the couch, propped on three pillows and held the oxygen to the kittens nose and mouth. His mother had become very insistent on taking him but he could not breathe at all without help so holding him was the only assurance I had that she would not steal him away when I drifted in and out of a disturbed sleep. As if on cue he started crying while you sat up in bed and dangerously swung your legs over the side of the bed and tried to stand too quickly. I ran to help you before you fell, kitten and towels in my hand. You sat in your lift chair and I in the recliner and I unwrapped the almost lifeless now baby. I grabbed a couple of pillows and lay with him outside of the closet, bringing his mother out so she would be near him as he died. She cleaned him, one last time and went back to her other babies. I spoke softly to him the words I will one day speak to you, telling him he had been very brave and fought so hard but now it was good for him to rest. I told him it was all right to stop fighting, that he could just go to sleep now. Sleep, rest and be peaceful little one, you don’t have to struggle any more now.
And he died as I held him.