Thursday, March 1, 2012

They Live On: Just Take Her: Scheduling Death

This chapter of They Live On was one that elicited a lot of emotions. In the first part (the previous post), Patricia talks about the impending death of her mother who has brain cancer. She doesn't want her mother to leave her, but she cannot to prolong her mother's suffering. It is a horrible thing to witness.

One section of her chapter is a journal entry called "Scheduling Death." You spend your whole life being told that you never know when you are going to die. You're aware that some day your parents are going to leave you. But you can never fully fathom when or how that loss is going to happen.

I had a strong sense of my father's end. I had talked to him on April 13th about my arrival Friday night. He told me that there was a good chance he would be in the hospital by the time my sister and I got into town, because he just wasn't feeling well. He had been complaining of headaches since his fall, but refused to go see the doctor. He was not someone who got headaches, whereas my mother and I are notorious for our migraines. I was worried about his headaches. I think he was, too, hence why he didn't want to go to the doctor. As we chatted, I started to get a little flutter of concern in my stomach.

When I got the phone call from relatives on April 14th at 10:30 pm telling me that he been taken to the hospital via ambulance, the hand holding the phone started to involuntarily shake. I could hardly hear what Bob was saying. There was something about a brain bleed and him being moved to the neurological ICU at a different hospital the following morning. And I ended up with a full-blown pit in my stomach.

It took another hour for my hand to stop shaking. I texted a couple of my friends and called my boss to say that I needed to leave first thing on Friday instead of a little early on Friday. She agreed. I even called my ex-boyfriend. We had just broken up a week before, but were going to try to stay friends. He talked me down to the point where I could finally fall asleep.

I talked to my father on April 15th and he seemed in good spirits. He was excited we were coming to town. The doctors had confirmed a brain bleed, but thought surgery could wait. At the very least they may have to drill a small hole in his head to drain it. He told me to watch my football game Saturday morning (Michigan's spring game) and then to come up with my sister in the afternoon.

April 16th the nursing home called my parents' house because there had been an incident with my mother. Dad hadn't put my sister and I on "the list," yet, because this was all still so new to us. I had to call the hospital so that he could call the nursing home and tell them it was okay to speak to us. He didn't answer the phone. The nurse did. She said that Dad was unconscious and had been intubated overnight. That gnawing pit returned to my stomach.

I took notes on my game for a later article. My sister and I also worked on some of Mom's laundry and on cleaning up their place. We headed up to the neuro ICU. The nurse sat and spoke to us and told us that Dad had developed pneumonia and needed to be intubated to help him breathe because of his emphysema. I burst into tears. We were offically on Death's schedule, but I still didn't know exactly when it would arrive.

Dad had his surgery on April 19th, but didn't wake up again. As I have said many times, it was Memorial Day that we met with the doctors and determined that he needed to go to Hospice. His kidneys were shutting down. Instead of processing fluids and food, he was just bloating more and more. We were causing him more pain. It was time to stop the fluids and feeding tubes.

My sister and I were obviously in town. One of my father's sisters was already in town. We had asked her to be there with us for the meeting. His other sister was due to arrive early the next morning. His brother couldn't make it until Thursday. Death was then scheduled.

The nurse told us that she was giving Dad a little bit of fluids whenever she gave him medicine, to keep him a little more hydrated. Her goal was to help him make it until his brother could come to town. She had just gone through a similar situation with her mother a short time before and wanted to help us as much as she could. I cannot remember her name, but I can remember her face and her hugging me as we both cried.

Thursday, June 2nd, my father was moved to Hospice. I knew that morning that he was going to go. I got there by noon and I never left. The whole day I was paranoid that he was going. He woke up a lot and also napped a lot. I kept a close eye on him, making sure he was still breathing. I kept checking his hands and feet for signs that Death was approaching. I learned in 2007 how to watch for signs of death during the week that my great-uncle was there. As I scrutinized every inch of his being, I compared notes with his nurse. She and I agreed that he was going to go that night.

The rest of my family arrived just after dinner, having just picked up my uncle from the airport. We spent a few hours surrounding Dad, sharing memories and laughing. Everyone spent time holding his hand. We all cried over our impending loss. They finally left to go get dinner. As soon as they left, I had an overwhelming feeling that he was going to go while they were gone.

I took a few moments to say my final goodbyes to my beloved father. I changed into my pajamas. The nurses rolled in the cot for me. We were laughing and joking when he gave that final cough. And then he was gone. Just as I had figured.

This is the four siblings over 30 years ago. Dad is the one on the left. The two paintings in the middle (behind his sisters) are his.

This book is also available at Yesterday's Muse.

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