It’s been many hours since she last spoke, but her breathing is steady, loud and labored. My sister and are sitting in a shit-smelly room in the Albany Medical Center, 5th floor, neurology unit. My sister is reading her kindle by the light of the patient’s bathroom. I am writing this backlit by my mac. The music is something Bach-like via Pandora. It’s not exactly a softly lit, pastel colored hospice room. There was no room at the hospice, but at least they got my mother out of the “stroke room” where an eager neurology resident made idiotic statements about an 89 year old woman with advanced CHF and coronary artery disease making “a full recovery” in 6-12 months.
When confronted with the information that she’d had a heart attack as well as a storke and cardiology had told us they couldn’t treat the blockages because of the stroke risk, Doc Bollywood didn’t blink. He just said, “Well, that was cardiology. I’m talking from a neurological standpoint.”
To which my brother-in-law replied, “Are you saying she can live without a heart? Who do you think she is, the Tinman?”
That actor had it wrong. Comedy is easy; dying is hard.
Physical therapy also stopped by earlier. We sat astounded. “I guess she’s tired. We’ll come back later.”
Yeah, tired. She’s just resting.
Not everyone who works in a hospital is crazy. Only the doctors and the physical therapists. The nurses get it. Comfort care when nothing else can be done.
My mother hasn’t said anything in the last six hours or so, and hasn’t said anything we could really understand since yesterday. — though there was a moment earlier today when I thought she understood me perfectly and I imagined I understood her grunted, garbled reply. I was telling her how great Jack — her husband, my father was and how much he loved her, how I still felt his presence, and the caring never dies.
She looked at me, and mumbled something, which I imagined was, ” He was a great husband and father.”
Now my sister and I just sit in a dark room and wait. My mother gasps for every breath. She was gripping our hands hours ago — holding on for dear life. Holding on to dear life. But that’s stopped. Her knees are bent up, the way we remember our father’s being.
On the phone to my friend, a nurse practioner in New York, my friend overheard the 9 PM announcement telling all visitors to leave.
“That doesn’t apply to you,” she said.
“I know,” I told her.
They finally gave her morphine. A tiny bit. My sister was worried. My mother once had a bad reaction to it. It was after a fall. She was in pain, but the drug made her paranoid, hostile. “I don’t want her to go out that way,” my sister said.
But finally my sister agreed it was time.
1 miligram to start. It’s already quieted the breathing.
We’re staying the night. Maybe in shifts. I used to work a night shift in a hospital. That was years ago, psyche, not medicine, but still it seems familiar to be here and odd, watching the woman who gave birth to me, contracting into herself, becoming smaller, smoother, more fetal.
Her strangely unwrinkled face. Dying has a beauty too. It is as elemental, fundamental as birth, but not celebrated. Still, there’s nothing tragic here. We are not meant to be too long lasting. None of us gets more much more than a century, and no one gets out alive.
The morphine is helping.