Thursday, June 12, 2003

March 2002
Part Two

Three days later, before I can absorb what LL has told me, I return home after dining out to find a frantic message on my answering machine from my sister in Denver. She called our mother's doctor to discuss some things about our mother's treatment and he told her Mom was in a coma after being rushed to the emergency room at the hospital. By the time I get a hold of my sister again our mother has been moved to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. This we know is a death sentence. The ventilator is very hard on healthy lungs, what is it doing to her damaged lungs? My sister has talked to our brother and he said Mom is now conscious. He asked her if she wanted to be on a ventilator. She nodded yes. He asked her if she wanted to be on the ventilator after a week. She shook her head no.

I wait until midnight to call my sister in the Netherlands so as not to wake her in the middle of the night when she cannot do anything. She will go to her travel agent's office as soon as it opens and book a flight to California. My youngest sister and I now have to decide how to get to San Diego. We are not sure how much time we have; do we drive again or fly? We will fly; I will get the flight tickets tomorrow. A day and a half after finding out our mother is in intensive care my sister and I are in the sky and heading to San Diego.

Our sister, on her way from the Netherlands, has reached London when my youngest sister and I land in San Diego. My brother has come from the hospital to pick us up and on the drive back to the hospital my youngest sister's cell phone rings. It is our sister calling from London. She just talked to the doctor at the hospital; Mom is in a coma again. We cannot believe it, my brother was with her 30 minutes before and told her he was going to the airport to pick up "the girls." Mom nodded in understanding. Now, she is in a coma? She was doing reasonably well after they put her on the ventilator, just a little frightened by what was happening to her, but well considering what had happened. We thought we had more time.

Only two people are allowed in the ICU at one time and my brother takes me in first. My mother's bed is surrounded my medical equipment. She has a ventilator, heart monitor, a brain wave monitor, various IV's, and a dialysis machine. There is also a machine that controls the amount of medication she is receiving and a machine that sends heated air into the special mattress she is laying on. This is attached to the end of the bed. I inch my way around all this until I am standing beside her. I reach out and put my hand on her arm and burst into tears. I lay my head on her belly and sob, "Oh, Mom."

The instant I touched her I knew she was no longer here. She is not dead but the "her" part of her is gone. Gone somewhere deep inside her brain and I don't think she can come back. After a bit I stop crying and my brother and I leave so our sister can come in. When I see my sister-in-law outside the ICU I blurt out, "She not there anymore." My sister-in-law gets a panicked look on her face and I realize she thinks my mother has died and her body moved somewhere else. I say, "No, no, she's not there anymore." Her face registers understanding and she reaches out and pulls me into a hug.

I wait in the hall with my sister-in-law until my brother and our youngest sister come out. My sister is handling this better than I am. She had her emotional breakdown when she made the phone call to the doctor the other night. Our brother is handling our mother dying the best because he had a better understanding of how badly our mother was doing. My sister and I are now both in the same place, understanding Mom is dying but shell-shocked at the same time.

This is surreal in a way my walk wasn't. Everything that happened on the walk I accepted as if it was normal while it was happening. Dreams are like that, it's not until you wake up the next morning and think about them that you see that what seemed normal to you in your dream was actually strange. But this, my mother dying, makes me feel like I am in the middle of a dream about a car accident. I've stepped on the brakes but the car keeps sliding toward a tree. I want the slide to stop. I'm saying, "Wait, wait, don't let this happen." But, just as there is nothing I can do to keep the car from hitting the tree, there is nothing I do can stop my mother from dying and this frightens me.

I though I understood about death. I always felt sorry for other people when they lost someone close to them. I thought I knew what they were feeling but I see now I had no clue about what they were really going through. I know people die every day but this is my Mom. I know mothers die every day but this is my mother. This is the only person who can truthfully say she has known me all my life. This is the only person that I can truthfully say I have known all my life. This is my Mom. When she dies where do I belong? When she dies who am I? When she dies my life changes and can never be the same again. I am no longer someone's daughter.

After a restless night, my brother, sister, and I, drive back to the hospital. We are walking from the parking lot to the front door of the hospital when my brother's cell phone starts ringing. It is the ICU telling my brother that our mother has crashed again and we should get back to the hospital as quickly as possible. He says we are at the front doors of the hospital and on our way up. When we reach the ICU we all walk in and straight to our mother's room. I know things are going badly because no one tries to stop us. Her doctor is there and he tells us Mom almost died last night and then again just a few minutes ago. Keeping her here was getting harder and harder. The next time they would have to use "heroic measures"- doctor talk for opening her chest to get her heart started. We should think about what needs to be done next.

My mother always told me she did not want to be kept alive by machines and that if we let the doctors take heroic measures to keep her alive, she would haunt us after she died. I tell my brother and sister I think we should let her go. My brother agrees but our yougest sister had promised our other sister that we would try to keep Mom alive until she got to San Diego. I say Mom is trying to leave us and we keep letting the doctors pull her back. We should let her go, she never wanted to die while hooked up to machines. My sister still wants to try to wait until our other sister gets here. I tell her if it is down to doing what our sister wants and what Mom wants, I have to do what Mom wants; which is not to let her die on the machines. My sister finally agrees to let her go.

We ask that all the equipment that can be removed from the room be removed. While they do this we wait in the hall. After they are finished we return to the room and find Mom hooked up to only the ventilator and the heart monitor. The room seems twice as large with all the other equipment out of it. The nurse removes the ventilator and then leaves the room. My sister walks over to the right side of our mother and takes her hand. I walk over to the left side of her and take her other hand. My brother stands next to me and puts his hand on her leg. We are surprised to see how strong she is breathing off the ventilator. We talk to her and tell her it is OK to leave. We tell her we love her. We thank her for being our mother. We watch her breathing as it slowly gets shallower and shallower. We listen as the silence in between her breaths get longer and longer. We alternate between watching our mother and watching the heart monitor as the sharp spikes recording her heartbeats get weaker and weaker and slower and slower on their march across the monitor's screen.

Then something amazing happens as her heartbeat slows even more and her breathing stops. I feel her presence floating above and behind my left shoulder between my brother and me. It is the same sensation I have when someone behind me invades my personal space by standing to close. At first I think someone is standing behind me and I turn to look at them, wondering what they are doing there. Then I realize it is my mother's spirit and , without thinking, I glance up at the ceiling over her bed. Goodby, Mom. I then turn back to my mother and then look over at the monitor. Her heartbeat has dropped to only two or three weak blips on the screen at a time. Then there is only one and after that nothing, just a straight line. I relax and feel my brother and sister do the same thing. It is over. Then, in the middle of the screen, one unexpected spike and a very strong, " BEEP". We laugh and I say, "Very funny, Mom."

The nurse has been watching another monitor outside the room and he rushes in when he hears us laugh. We explain what happened and he explains that this last strong blip happens sometime but we know it was our mother say, "Gotch ya!" The nurse turns off the monitor and says quietly that we have made the right decision. He has a 96 year old man at the other end of the unit who is in the same condition our mother was in but his wife cannot let him go. That poor woman. We go out in the hall and thank all the nurses who helped take care of our mother. I look at my mother's body lying there in her room and feel guilty about leaving her. I think I am deserting her but at the same time I know that she is no longer in her body, so how can I be deserting her?

I am surprised by how I am feeling. I feel sad but also very peaceful. I thought I would be afraid to watch my mother die but it has turned out to be the most spiritual experience I have every gone through. Thank you, Mom. Thank you for the honor of being with you at the end.

No comments: