Memories We Share – Part 9
My Mother has died at the hospital, in the city where we used to live, three days ago and yours is now in the hospital with bone cancer and pneumonia. She has chosen not to be treated for either, but kept comfortable. It is Memorial Day weekend and my Mother’s body awaits an autopsy because hospital policy states that anyone who dies within a certain number of hours after admission must be autopsied. I try not to think about it. My sister steps in and has taken our stepfather home and made sure the obituary reaches the papers. Her body will be cremated as per her request and after they release it. We plan to get together in the community room of their elderly high-rise apartment building and will have a light meal and a celebration of life … this too is not a definite date as we don’t know when everyone will be finished. We spend the night in your Mom’s room and she keeps looking up and over her left shoulder, reaching out and smiling at something or someone only she can see. I smooth her hair back when she becomes restless and she takes my face in her hands and smiles at me, patting my face. I smile back at her.
”You’re going to slap me any time now aren’t you?” She is not a demonstrative woman when it comes to love. I have had to leave the house when we’d visit and sit outside when she and your sister screamed at each other over trivial matters. She would always be apologetic and I knew that if she knew any other way to live, she would have. But your upbringing was at least as dysfunctional as mine.
It seems we have always had several crises back to back or simultaneously, doesn’t it? That was in 2000, eleven years ago and I’d dare say things between then and now haven’t been too much smoother. But we have always survived, haven’t we?
In the hospital after all of you leave, I settle in and get about the serious business of trying to relax and get some rest. You are staying alone over night and that is not making me happy or relaxed but my son is a phone call and about fourteen blocks away. The other option is having you admitted to a nursing facility during my respite care and that is not an option as far as either of us are concerned.
The fifth floor is jumping and nurses are hurried. They say every room is full and I’m praying I don’t get a roommate. The room is already claustrophobic and I’ve not had my anti-anxiety or anti-depressants yet. They did kill a sparrow and offer up half of its breast for my supper, along with half of a baked potato that caused our grandson to question if our potatoes were normally that small here in Iowa. He is visiting from Arizona for the summer and we’ve barely seen him with all that we have going on. You catch a ride home with my son and his family and promise, PROMISE, you will call him if you need anything at all.
After an evening and the next morning of blood draws every four hours, blood pressure every hour and a Nitro drip which gives me a headache from Hell, with nothing but Tylenol for the pain, I am ready to leave. I have called home twice and you don’t sound very coherent but you say you are fine. I get no answer the third time and imagine you are sleeping. The doctor finally comes for rounds and says as soon as the last lab results are back he will release me with a Holter monitor if I promise to wear it for the next forty-eight hours and then return it on Monday so they can read it. I am showered and dressed, strolling nonchalantly by the nurse’s station every fifteen minutes, least they forget me. My poor daughter arrives sleepy eyed and with only one cup of coffee which I have yet to see and it is now 10:00 a.m. She goes ballistic and leaves the room returning with one cup for me and another for herself. Five minutes later a breakfast tray arrives, complete with apologies from my nurse. I really only wanted the coffee but I ate the egg beaters so I’d have something in my stomach and thankfully drank the acrid coffee which triggered the strongest nicotine craving I’ve had since admittance.
A tech finally shows and cleans my skin with alcohol and then uses a fine sandpaper to prep my skin to assure the contacts stay on. This is almost as unpleasant as it sounds and my nerves are bouncing off the walls by now. I am released, my daughter pulls up to get me and I beg a nasty Camel Crush cigarette. If you crush them it releases menthol into the filter, which she does and I do NOT. The cigarette tastes like dirty feet smell but I happily feed my addition, regardless. I have two before we reach home.
Just WHAT does it take to stop smoking anyway???
We arrive here and I call in to the house, “Any one in here need a wife?” You come stumbling from your chair and give me an unsteady hug. I start looking around and find one cat has a swollen paw and he is limping. You have two scrape marks on your right leg, our long haired red cat, that has never seen the light of out-of-doors is missing, along with the pregnant female, there is a burn hole in the lift chair and three more new ones on the carpet. You are not hungry but have not eaten since yesterday noon so I go in and start some lunch for you. My daughter comes in the kitchen and says she thinks you are awfully drowsy but I assume it’s because it’s eighty-five degrees and humid inside and you do not have your oxygen on and can’t remember if you’ve used it or not. I close up the house and try to get the one window air conditioner to cool things off by turning on the floor fan which will eventually suck cool air into the living room. You are very drowsy still and don’t want to eat so I offer some juice made by the makers of Boost and you agree to drink some but only take a couple of sips. Finally I check your meds and find you have taken all of today’s pills and those for tomorrow morning. Compassion flies out the window and I am as hot as an asphalt highway in mid-August! “Damn it! Damn it, damn it!” You open your eyes a little and ask me what’s wrong but I’m busy calling the Hospice nurse to find out what I should do.
By evening we have your pills straightened out and have a new delivery system. You are not to touch them! If you have break through pain you let me know and I’ll get you the Dilaudid they have prescribed for break through pain. I hide the morphine completely and coax you into eating some supper. Halfway though eating, both of your arms go into the hard jerking spasms and the bowl of Mexican rice with hamburger, cheese and topped with sour cream goes flying all over you and the floor. “SHIT” we each say at the same time and look at each other. I try to laugh it off as I’m cleaning you up and kneeling on the floor scrubbing the carpet but you are humiliated and say gruffly, “Will you just hand me the spoon?” I swallow my frustration and tell you I will get you a clean one as soon as I get the food off of the carpet because by now the pregnant cat has returned home and is busily feasting on sour cream and rice that contains chili powder. The very last thing I need is a new litter of kittens brought on by kitty stomach cramps and premature labor!
By nine-thirty I am ready for sleep and write down, as best as I can remember, in the Holter monitor diary what has transpired at various times since my return home so if it has affected my heart beat they will note it on the report to my cardiologist. I almost immediately fall asleep and do not wake until 6: 40 a.m.
I’m having my second cup of coffee when you awake and we have coffee together and I try to explain I am not mad at you, only furious at this disease and the circumstances and that I don’t like being the “mean nurse” when all I want is to spend time with you as your friend, love and wife. You are more alert and assure me you understand this but if the shoe were on the other foot, I wonder what my feelings would be toward you?
Your appetite is wonderful today and I happily prepare French toast and smile inside and out as you eat four pieces with butter and a lake of syrup. By one o’clock I find you in the kitchen rummaging through the refrigerator and tell you I’ve made chicken salad and pea salad but you want left over chicken – nuked – you direct. So I wash and slice fresh mushrooms and sweet onion and sautee them, piling all of them on top of your nuked chicken breast. You nod off and on while eating but finish it all eventually as I fight off our pregnant cat who is determined to eat all of her extra food and yours as well. Your pain returns as do even more severe spasms so I once again call the Hospice nurse and she gives permission for two more Diludad an hour early and a Valium for the spasms. It is now after four p.m. and you are napping peacefully. Legs elevated, belly full and the oxygen sish-chuggung away you are as comfortable as we can accomplish and I may take a nap too.