The Healing Trip (Part 21)


From my journal dated Monday, August 12, 2019:

I received two calls last night. The first came at 11:30 p.m. Van letting me know that his J-tube is not working again. Then fifteen minutes later, he called to let me know not to go to Social Security (today)*. He wants me to come right away to the hospice center.

I had trouble falling asleep after that.

Around 5:30 this morning, he called again, but hung up, then called back. "I told my night nurse my whole life story," he said, his words somewhat slurred.

"Okay," I said with a forced smile. "I hope she enjoyed it."

"I need something for anxiety."

I understood then. He wasn't doing well. Things were happening, as they should, whether I wanted them to or not. No, no need for Social Security. "I'll call your nurse," I said. And I did.

When I arrived at hospice, I was met by his nurse, Holly--a pretty woman with caring blue eyes and a mop of short curly blond hair. She told me first that my brother had called 911 during the night. "Don't worry. They're used to those calls from here." Then she sobered and said, "We need to make a decision about the J-tube."

"It keeps messing up," I told her. "We've had it replaced several times, but it seems like it's been more trouble than anything else."

"We were not able to get the food to go through it," she told me.

So why bother, I wonder. But, if we stop the feeding ... "Isn't that starvation?" I asked.

"Yes, but it's the next thing to do," she told me. "We've run out of options with the food."

I went to Van's room and began by asking him why he called 911. He looked at me as if I was the one confused and said, "Isn't that who you call when you have a problem?"

I smiled. "Yes," I said. There was nothing left to say on that. I then explained everything about the J-tube to him. He agreed with Holly. It was time.

Carla, my lifetime best friend and former nurse, walked into the room and we spoke to her about the decision. She agreed as well.


It was done.

He almost changed his mind. I waited outside the room while the nurses removed the tube, but within a few minutes, one of them stepped out of his room and said, "Your brother would like to see you."

I walked in, our eyes met ... fear and confusion rested in his. "If I do this," he said, "there's no going back."

I didn't know how to react. What to say. I had always told him that he was driving the bus, but at the same time, this bus was headed over a cliff. There was no way to avoid it. No other roads to take that wouldn't end up at the same cliff. Still, we were "signing" his death warrant. "No," I said finally. "There's no going back." I took a breath. "Van, if you want to get another J-tube, we can go back to Candler, but I think the tumor has gotten so large, it has become the culprit. So, you can get another one, but the tumor is going to do the same thing with it as it has done with the others."

Van looked at the nurse, then back to me. Then back to the nurse. I could see the calculations adding up to his demise in his eyes and expression. He knew what this would ultimately mean. Finally, he looked at the nurse and said, "Let's get this over with."

He wasn't speaking of the removal of the J-tube. He had just signed his own death warrant.


Early afternoon they moved him to another side of the hospice center ... to Room 102. With that, he became confused. Agitated. Anxious. Said things that frustrated me. I won't say what because I want to forget the words.**

Later on, after his friends Julie and Ronny and their kids arrived, I left for home. I did laundry. Made calls. Ate. Cleaned the bathroom. Vacuumed. Paid his bills. Answered some emails. Sent Kathleen*** a text message with the latest and asked her what she thought. "Thursday," she said. Thursday? That's Dennis's birthday. And tomorrow is Daddy's. No good days. But if not this week, the next? How long can he suffer?

How much longer can I watch?

--------------


We attempted to sleep in a little later than usual. After all, it was after midnight when we'd arrived back at Clare's after our exciting two days in Scotland. I woke up that morning, padded down the hallway and into the bathroom, knowing that, even though I'd slept later than usual, I was still the first up. I took a quick shower, then went back to my room and got dressed for the day.

In the kitchen I made myself a cup of tea, which I drank with two slices of toast slathered with butter and jam. I looked out the window and thought, "This will be my last morning doing this," and the very notion made me sad. I had come to enjoy this Irish kitchen, this typical breakfast, these early morning quiet moments.

This . . . Ireland.

I returned to my room, put on my makeup, and dried my hair. Then began packing a few things.

Tomorrow, by this time, I'd be at the airport in Dublin.

Tomorrow, by this time, I'd be in limbo . . . no longer in Northern Ireland, passing through Ireland, but not quite back home in the US.

What an odd thought . . . not really here. Not really there.

What an odd thought . . .


*We had discussed me going to the Social Security office to talk to someone about long-term benefits. I didn't think it was necessary, but he wanted me to go. I believed he wasn't really aware how close he was to dying.

**I did forget the words. I have no memory of those hours other than what I wrote in my journal.

***Kathleen is our daughter-in-law who is an RN extraordinaire.

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