She was the type of old lady I want to be. She was sassy and opinionated. Mostly confused but, had moments of crystal lucidity. Her eyes were set on a fellow resident and no amount of reasoning could dissuade her that this was going to be her boyfriend. She loved Diet Coke, but, fountain only please… Her accomplishments were many in life during a time when such fetes were limited to those with an Adam’s apple.
Gold hoops were always glimmering from her ears. A former hairdresser, the hairdo was never in question. Sometimes she loved me and other days she would look at me, questioning loudly “What in the hell are you doing here?”
We shared chocolate bars and man stories. She always told me that while other parts might not work, her eyes never stopped. As her mind allowed, we talked about trash reality tv. She was my patient for a long time. Far longer than is usual for hospice. I had a nickname for her, only know to me, Kitty.
Just as Medicare requirements dictate, we had several team meetings and the talks of discharge would go round and round. But, just as the time would grow closer, something wildly unexpected would occur and discharge became a non possibility.
As rapidly as her descent was, her resurrection was equally as fast. Non responsive for days, she would just open her eyes as if she never skipped a beat. To say that this made me feel clueless would be an understatement. Just as I prepared family, boom, she was roaring right back.
I had begun to accept my lack of knowledge and power. Just as discharge talk began, the crisis began. Making sure to prepare family just in case, I found myself disbelieving they words I was uttering to them. Guiding them through the journey of end of life, I was expecting to receive calls daily that she had sat up and was demanding food.
This time was different. There was a little nagging voice urging me to keep my eyes open. There was gurgling. There was lack of waking up. My comforting and preparation of her daughter continued, even though I still felt beyond skeptical. The motteling. The fever. And yet, she had bounced back before.
Her preacher came and along with the daughter said some prayers. I had asked him to go today… nagging feeling. My phone rang as I was with another patient and noting the number, my thought was that I probably had forgotten my stethoscope there – pretty typical.
“Helen… it happened”
With my best attempts as hiding my shock failing, I wrapped up my visit and headed over to pronounce. Even still, I half expected to walk in and a deep sleep to have been misread as an eternal sleep.
But, she was no longer.
Her face peaceful. Her life lived her way. Her journey traveled her way. Her death beyond question on her terms.
There were moments it felt she had 99 lives. That ended today.
As my heart continues to swell with gratitude which express as tears from my eyes, I cannot believe my good luck.
Her 99 lives have given such profound meaning to my one.