It is 1 am. I am holding the plastic IV needle firmly, but gently.. She receives the fluid without looking, as if she doesn’t want to know her frailty.
I love her, but this is some place I don’t want to be. I never wanted to be here again. Never wanted to be responsible for someones last moments, days, months.
Never wanted to be holding this needle again. But here I am. I have seen inside her heart and she wants to live. So I hold the needle steady.
Though this time is different, it is eerily the same. When the patient was my mom, it was 2010. We were on vigil, I was on the night shift. Our mom would die “any moment” the medical professionals had said, and we didn’t want her to be alone. Yet six months later, there she was, watching the the Thanksgiving Day Parade. “I am not afraid” she said. Then on December 5, our mom was gone. On her own terms.
Having been denied much medical treatment, so she could “die peacefully” the doctors said, she fought on. And so did I.
I wanted my moms vitality respected. She did too. She sent away many a medical care professional who did not understand.
Every time she rallied, they would recoil, not rejoice “Look, I actually think she is tracking my movements with her eyes.” and
“Did she say something? No, it must have been a sound from outside.”
And this Thanksgiving week, the situation was the same. Only it was a microcosm in fur.
After a sleepless week of begging for the doctors in the ICU to respect the vitality of our 18 year old family cat, Angel, she had been sent home to die.
Every scene was all too familiar. Rushing to the hospital, experiencing the slow motion, inexplicable ignorance of medical professionals in the”failure to thrive” mode thrust benignly upon older patients, begging for the simplest things: getting her medical history reviewed, food, water, her much needed medications.
Five hours passed before they put Angel on IV fluids, though she came in extremely dehydrated and needed them at once. The parallels between my mom and Angels peril didn’t end there.
We were fine with letting her go, if we had done everything possible.
But every change of shift at the hospital required renewed resolve, on fragments of sleep. I had to be alert.
Each shift change issued forth conflicting, disconnected updates.
Some doctors never read her record and made unneeded tests and some overemphasized it
“Well, she has a LOT of issues, so it may not be worth testing her, just let her go,” blaming her age for much of her issues.
They forgot to give her her regular medications, like her thyroid and heart medications, which put her in unnecessary danger.
After being assured that Angel finally had received her heart medications, a scene in the suburban hospital with my mom floated up in my head, disturbing me. “Let her go.” they insisted. She is in a fatal heart rhythm. I phoned her cardiologist. She discovered that they had misread her record and hadn’t given mom her much needed heart medications. “It is her time.” They said, and set my sister and I up with two tissue boxes, and two snack boxes and two chairs facing mom. A firebrand herself, mom sang and recited poetry all night. Though they refused, I made sure she got her heart pills anyway. It was not her time that night and not for a while.
My resolve was strengthened by memory. So the other night, when the vet told us to put Angel to sleep, “We don’t know why these things happen suddenly, they just do. Don’t let her suffer.”
We took her home.
We have given her IV fluids, and herbal remedies and protein for her anemia and
most importantly, a reason to live.
Angel is cat who is much more comfortable conversing with humans. Perking her head up, she spends her days strolling out to the adjacent walk path to talk to every passerby. She hasn’t done that in a while, perhaps feeling mortal, and weak. But today, we gave thanks and sat on the grass with Angel as she ate a plate of turkey and greeted Thanksgiving families strolling in the unusually warm November day. By the afternoon, she had the strength to walk back inside by herself.
When the day ended, she looked different. Her face filled out. Like a new suit of clothes.
Gleefully, for the first time in a while, Angel drank a long drink from her water bowl before going to sleep in such a peace as I have not seen in weeks.
Bliss it seems is in our friends. New and old.
The first time my mom was sent home to die, twelve long years ago, and she couldn’t/wouldn’t eat. She was scared from the hospital, frightened of their certainty that she would die. I had hydrated her, but I was unable to help her to let go of her fears. Then, came the package from Tim Russert’s office and the personal letter he sent from his home on the Cape. They had met only once but had bonded so magically, that, as she lay there dying, I called his office, hoping for a photo. Tim sent so much more. After several days of wearing her “Meet the Press” hat and reading his words to her, over and over, .mom let one single strand of spaghetti pass her lips, and then she ate more and got strong, and had a reason to do physically therapy. She was later able to get out of bed, and live many more years.
Truly. One ripple can make a glorious current. Your eyes, Martin, meet a man, then your hand, then your heart. You truly see him and what happens next is as difficult as it is beautiful.
Elements do not leave, they only rearrange. So the current you created together, by joining hearts with William, will last forever.
I have helped my mom, and Angel and others by hearing their hearts too. Tenacity and tenderness is what makes us unique.
We are the carvers of a gentle path by which fragile souls can flow freely and joyously, for as long as they can on this earth, and beyond.
And in creating this path for others, we create a path for ourselves as well.
As I create light based on my knowledge of and frustration with the darkness, I am lighter.
I get closer to the sky.
And when I am there, I know that you are there too.
Then the sky is not such a big place anymore.
Hugs and many Thanks for friendship,