One Traveler

amywink February 3rd, 2017

My last words to my mother were “I love you and remember we know how to do hard things.” 6 hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, I was sitting in the Cardiac ICU waiting room, searching for the right words that would allow the doctors to let go of her heart and end their attempts to resuscitate her.

I had spent the time between the hospital phone call at 11:30 pm –when the nurse told me my mother had lost her pulse and had received CPR and her heartbeat had returned–and the moment of decision alone but not isolated, texting my dearest friends as the moments crawled by.

When I had first arrived back at the hospital, blurred by my interrupted sleep, unable to focus clearly except on each moment as it happened, the weekend cardiologist had come in to explain what had happened in what seemed clear terms but my mind was slow, grappling back into wakeful consciousness. Something larger was happening. I had felt it at home when I got ready for bed, like the brush of a light breeze, the slight scent not yet identifiable. Something is ending, I had thought. Something is ending.

My mother had her heart attack in February 21, 2016. She had been experiencing shortness of breath, chalked up to asthma, and episodes of “panic” at night for a long time, during which she felt she suddenly couldn’t breathe. She had a complete cardiac assessment just 4 years earlier when she told me about her chest pains after a shower. The chemical stress test showed nothing and we were under considerable stress because of my father’s Parkinson’s disease so that seemed a likely culprit. Her kidney failure kept everyone distracted and so did her bi-polar disorder: Stress, anxiety, “panic attacks”, asthma, acid indigestion.

All distractions from the actual problem: blocked arteries and a failing heart.

Actual symptoms of a larger problem with her heart.

When we arrived at the hospital, the cardiologist put the pieces together. The next morning, an angiogram revealed the extent of the problem. She was put on a heart pump to prepare for quadruple bypass surgery when she was strong enough. My brother and I spent traded the hours in the hospital, him driving from Houston every day. Friends came to be with me when they could. I was never lonely.

It was a lesson in living in the moment. No plans could be made except in the vaguest way because we were not sure of what we might be facing. Too many “if’s” existed, too many paths diverged from that decision point and like Robert Frost knew, in the moment of looking in both directions, each way “leads on to way.” Though my brother and I talked about what we might do, we didn’t know what we would be doing.

The only thing clear was she might live. She might die.

I could not be “one traveler and travel both.”

My mother died.

In the very early hours of March 7th.

She had survived the surgery and had just been moved out of ICU into “Acute Care” where her heart and lungs suddenly stopped working. The care team resuscitated her and called me out of an exhausted sleep to the hospital. I saw the cardiologist who seemed to think her heart was strong enough. We’d have to wait to see. Hours passed. Friends kept texting. I was not lonely.

When the another doctor arrived to sit and tell me “things were dire.” I asked him what were the words I needed to say to allow them to stop working on her. Was it “no heroic measures”? He thought that was as start and yet clearly, not the right words.

There is lightening in the right words, as Mark Twain knew.

“I love you and I know how to do hard things.”

I slowed myself to think and breathe.

May she be happy.
May she be well.
May she be free from suffering.

May she be free from suffering.

I turned to the doctor, “Let her go.”

One Response to “One Traveler”

  1. Brendaon 05 Feb 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Beautiful.
    Brave.

    You and your words.

    And your action.

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