Saturday, May 24, 2014

A will to live and a time to die

I'm sitting beside my mother's hospital bed, reading a magazine. Mom was finally calm and asleep, after undergoing yet another pleural draining. A full liter of black, slimy liquid was taken from around her lungs, making it easier for her to breathe, and with the aid of morphine, she had fallen into a drugged oblivion. I read my magazine, trying to calm myself after witnessing the traumatic procedure.  A drain tube had been inserted into her pleural cavity to drain off the liquid, and although heavily sedated, she had moaned and cried throughout the ordeal.
Before she had been wheeled down to the procedure room, I had taken Mom outside to the parking lot. She cried, big tears sliding down her face and wheezed, "If I'm going to get better, I want to get better, but if I'm going to die, I want to go now. I can't take this any longer". She had been ill with ovarian cancer for 2 years then, once going into remission and actually going back to work for a short time. She got to see me, her only child, graduate from college. She told me that it was the proudest moment of her life. We spent the graduation weekend together, shopping and just enjoying being together outside of a hospital room. She felt like she had her life back after venturing too close to the other side. Then, the cancer came back. She had been back in the hospital for two weeks now.
I sat on a bench next to her in her wheelchair, holding her hand. I wiped the tears from my eyes and I didn't know what to say. I knew she wasn't going to get better. People with Stage 4 ovarian cancer didn't get better. I didn't want to lose her. I was afraid of losing her. How would I cope without my mother? She had been all I had for so long, and even though I was married now, I completely depended on her for so much. I had tried for 2 years to prepare myself to be without her, but I could not imagine it. What could I say to her but I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry.

Mom breathed deeply and quietly, sleeping peacefully. I finished my magazine. It was getting dark, so like I had done so many times in the past 2 years, I kissed her forehead and whispered that I would see her in the morning and to sleep well. I walked out to the parking lot and drove home to my husband. We didn't talk much, we just watched TV in silence then went to bed. I slept exhausted but dreamed fitfully.

The phone was ringing. I sprang up out of bed and ran to answer it. This was the call I had been dreading. A nurse told me that I needed to come to the hospital. IMMEDIATELY. That word reverberated in my head. My husband started to get dressed to come with me, but I told him to stay home. He wanted to come with me but I said no. I had to do this alone.

I got to the hospital and stood outside her door, watching 5 people huddled around her in bed. One of them was frantically trying to resuscitate her. Mom's naked left leg was hanging off the side of the bed. One of the night nurses noticed me standing there looking horror struck and she pulled me back towards the waiting room. She told me that Mom had woken earlier that evening not long after I had gone home. She had forgotten where she was and had tried to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. Her heart had given out and she collapsed on the floor, pulling out her IVs. The nurses heard her IV alarm go off. They had almost gotten her breathing again and were still trying. The nurse asked if Mom had a living will or a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) Order. Mom had filled one out a month before, when she realized that she was not going to get better.
 I whispered to the nurse that Mom had told me that she didn't want to be resuscitated. She had told me that she never wanted to be a "vegetable".  She didn't want to be hooked up to a lot of machines, depending on a mechanism to keep her breathing, a tube to carry away her waste, a pump to keep her blood circulating. That wasn't living, she had said. If it came to that, please let me go, she said.

The nurse told me to wait there. She went back into the room and came back out a few minutes later. She sat beside me and took my hand.
"I'm so sorry. She's gone."

I stared at the nurse uncomprehendingly. My Mom was dead? I had just been with her a few hours earlier and now she was dead? After all the pain and misery she had gone through in her 58 years, after two failed marriages and so many years working hard to raise her only child by herself? She was gone? I guess I should tell everyone. That's what people are supposed to do, right?
The nurse gives me a phone and the code to dial an outside line. I called my Uncle first. He was stunned and asked if I wanted him to come there to get me. I said no. He told me he loved me. Then I called my grandfather, letting the phone ring a long time. He burst into tears, the first time I had heard him cry. I couldn't bear it. I called a couple of others, then I went back to the waiting room and sat down again, staring at the floor.

It dawned on me what I had told the nurse. Had I told them to kill my Mom? They were keeping her alive when I got there, now she wasn't alive, all because I had told the nurse about the DNR Order. A loud moan escaped me and the nurse rushed over. She put her arm around me and said that Mom was not suffering anymore. She wasn't in pain anymore. She said that I had followed my Mom's final wishes to the letter and to not worry. I calmed myself down after a bit. I called my husband and told him that I would be home in a little while but I had to say goodbye first.

I was allowed me to go to Mom's room a few minutes later. All of the life saving equipment had been removed from the room, and Mom was laid out on the bed, covered except for her face by a blanket. Her forehead was cool and smooth and she looked so peaceful. I held her face and kissed her temples, smoothing her hair. I told her I was sorry that I had not been able to buy her the diamonds I had promised her when I was a child. I wouldn't be able to buy her a fancy new car that wasn't always breaking down, like I had planned. I said I was sorry I had worried her so much through my depression and suicidal episodes. I told her I was sorry for everything.

I stayed in her room, my lips on he forehead, for quite some time, until a nurse came in and asked if I was all right. I was not and I would not be for some time to come.


Tracey Fields said...

Thanks so much for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

I love you Lisa! I loved your mom too. She was a good mom and she loved you more than life. Sometimes life is just not fair.

Anonymous said...

Aunt Carol

fergusk66 said...

I was sitting with my Dad when he died from cancer. As much as you want your parent to be free from pain, there isn't anything you wouldn't give to have them back when you finally comprehend that they have died. Although it was difficult, I am grateful to have been with him when he died.

Anonymous said...

I love your writing elle! - Adrian.