In the last two posts I wrote about a difficult time in my twenties. Today I'm going to write about another challenging time - not so long ago.
In late 2004, my mother was suffering from Peripheral Vascular Disease (www.americanheart.org) which caused terrible pains in her legs. That led to one health crisis after another: horrible infections in her feet which almost went to the bones, the possible amputation of her legs (I've learned this is something that doctors often to do older people and in my mother's case it was unnecessary), diabetes, kidney failure, tremendous weight loss.
There were so many problems, I felt that rather than staying in a hospital and being tortured with unnecessary procedures, perhaps it was time to consider hospice care. I knew a little about hospice care because a friend of mine volunteered at Jacob Perlow Hospice.
When the hospice doctor who came to examine my mother called me, I was walking in Central Park, the place I go to calm down and breathe. He said, "I have never in all my years seen a patient so desperately in need of hospice."
They rushed her that afternoon from Long Island College Hospital into Manhattan's Jacob Perlow Hospice, at Beth Israel Hospital, where Pippa volunteered. Pippa met us there and introduced me to the staff (my mother was completely out of it and had no idea where she was.) My friend Bella came too, took one look at my mother, and I'm quite positive she thought, "Oh, God, it's just a matter of days."
The hospice doctor on duty told me later that evening, "I think this weekend will probably be the end for your mom. She's not eating and her organs are shutting down. I wouldn't recommend a feeding tube, I just suggest we make her comfortable."
The woman in the bed next to my mother got a feeding tube. I remember sitting with her husband, a man in his 70's from Poland. Most of the conversation was him talking about his wife coming home. I don't know if he understood completely that this was a hospice and his wife was extremely ill. I just listened. She died on Sunday.
My mother made it through the weekend and then the week. I had signed all the papers, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR), a Living Will, Power of Attorney. Everything was in order. She weighed around 85 pounds and looked like a Holocaust survivor. The hospice was the saddest and most comforting place I have ever been. The staff was amazing, kind, gentle, caring. Julliard students performed mini concerts in the hallways. Students from the Swedish Institute of Massage gave free massages to the patients and their families. Delicious suppers were delivered twice a week from two of Danny Meyer's restaurants, Blue Smoke and Tabla. Those two nights had more volunteers and family members than any other night. It almost felt like a party.
My mother survived one week, then another. I remember many of the patients calling out for their mothers. I remember that almost every one of her roommates died. I remember feeling very alone, because none of my family members were there with me.
They took some x-rays and found a tumor in my mother's lung (I think she'd had it for years) and they suggested that if she was still alive by the end of the following week, she should go to Calvary Hospital, which takes cancer patients. I didn't know what to do, but I begged my sister to come to see my mother, so finally she drove down from Pennsylvania with her husband. She told me she had a cold and there was no way they would allow her into the hospice with a cold, so she went Christmas shopping instead (it was November 2004.) As she and her husband were loading presents into the back of their SUV, a driver swerved off the road and ran right into her. She flew 15 feet into the air and was rushed to a hospital on Long Island.
I was on a bus headed up Central Park West when I got the call from my sister's son, Andrew. "My mother got hit by a car and they don't know if she's going to make it. She's being operated on now."
This was the start of a very dark night of my soul.
To be continued.