I can’t really remember the beginning of this story. There have been so many versions of the beginning that I can’t quite place the proximate cause. And the initial what really isn’t important.
Where my memory–and this story–starts is driving up to Henry Ford Macomb Hospital on 19 Mile Road. It was dark, but that doesn’t mean too much in mid-December Michigan. If it was dark it could have been 5 pm, but I think it was closer to eight.
I don’t know if I checked into the hotel first, but I must have so I wouldn’t be distracted by that personal logistical detail of where I would sleep.
Although she’d been at Henry Ford Macomb before, I hadn’t. She had been abulanced to the ER the day before. There was confusion about whether she was getting admitted so I flew in to see what was happening.
I walked into the hospital to find her room. She didn’t have one. Somehow she was still in the ER and had been for 36 hours. The nice lady at the desk told me to get back in my car and drive around the hospital to the ER entrance. I asked if I could walk and she looked at me like I didn’t realize that I was in the Motor City where people do NOT walk when they could drive.
She was in an observation bay at the far end of the ER, a little bitty lump underneath a bunch of blankets that doubled her silhouette. She was asleep so I brushed a kiss on her wisps of white hair. Her skin was gray. I followed the IV to see that she was getting blood. To counteract that gray, I supposed.
There was a bunch of untouched food on the tray next to her and some empty blood bags.
This joint was a disaster. Patients in ER limbo for days. Improper biohazard handling. An impotent patient advocacy process. (Why would an organization create multiple ineffective avenues for remediation? You only need one ineffective procedure.)
She was surprised to see me when she woke up, except she really wasn’t. Waking up in a hospital bed is accompanied by a through-the-looking-glass haze, and, while I didn’t belong in this scene neither did she.
Her smile was weak, but it was sunny and I was so happy to be there: to advocate for her; to make the nurses really see her; to argue about a room with the moronic patient advocate; to steamroller through to the hospital president; and to get what she needed.
I was there to watch the miracle blood bring back the color in her cheeks and watch her lose her wilt. I sat with her for a few days. I held her hand. I made sure she ordered food and that she ate it. I positioned her poinsettia so she could remark again and again on how beautiful it was. I held her hand again, and rubbed her back. And she melted at the touch. I sat next to her with my computer on my lap so she would wake up and see me. We chit chatted about pretty much nothing.
I did this, I thought, for her. But when she peacefully died in her sleep in her own bed a short few weeks later, I knew that I had done it for me and that it was my hand melting when I touched hers.
How fortunate that the hospital was such a shit-show. I am grateful for a last intimate connection. I am happy that I was present with her and she with me. It was a good-bye that I didn’t recognize in that moment. But it was good.
Thinking about you, Mom, especially today, the anniversary of that last time you snuggled up in your bed and went to sleep. Sweet dreams.