My friend Julie Guy is brilliant.
“You will ask organizations for things and they’ll say no,” Julie said on March 23 in accepting her nomination to the YWCA’s NW Women’s Hall of Fame 2013 for her community building and activism. “But no is just the beginning of yes,” she promised.
I said no on Monday. The topic was life and death.
The doctor’s office called to ask for Mom to get a CT scan to try and figure out the cause of her recent lung problems. She’d been in the ER twice this month for this problem, and no one had mentioned the use of this scan as useful in figuring out the cause.
Mom’s decline in the past week is startling. She’s confused, detached, sleeping. She’s losing strength in her limbs. Her hands sometimes tremble. I listen from another room to her breathing over the baby monitor, reminding me of a benevolent Darth Vader. All she seems able to eat is ice cream or applesauce.
No, I said, to the request for the scan. She’s now too weak to get from home to anyplace with a laboratory and scanner on the premises. Here’s why no was hard: the results of the CT scan are needed by the doctors before determining any further or more appropriate treatment. We have Tylenol. A prescription cough medicine that makes her throw up. An inhaler. Every 6 hours.
No one can say if her condition is terminal. Every doctor has a way of saying, with varying degrees of frankness or kindness, that the life expectancy of a 93-year-old woman is probably not that much longer. Is aggressive intervention appropriate, or even desirable?
Without help in sight, I’m on the high drive, staring down into a shallow, empty pool. No way back, no safe way onward. My mission is not getting her more impossible tests or aggressive intervention. My mission is to find more comfort and, hopefully, a bit of grace to her final days. Doesn’t everybody want that, doctors and nurses too? My mission is to spare her the ugly, racking, endless cough and hard-fought breath. Where can I find help for that?
A magnificent RN becomes my lifeline. She calls back and listens when I need to talk through the options. I don’t want to hang up until I see the first step of this new, shortening path.
“What do we need in order to qualify for Hospice care?” I ask. I assume it takes an MD, and/or the results of the CT scan, and/or a terminal diagnosis of exact dimensions.
“I can refer you,” the magnificent RN enlightens me. “Do you want me to call them right now?”
That was yesterday. Today Mom is in Hospice care. Oxygen arrives and is helping her breathe. There is a sparkle in her eye again when a dear friend visits, and the pastor. She eats another ice cream cone, licking the chocolate off her fingers.
- Thank you, Julie. Thank you, PeaceHealth people and Hospice people. And Jean and Pastor John. And Roberta, Nancy, Hope, and Migden.
I bring Mom daffodils still in bud. She smiles as they blossom.