Thursday, February 08, 2007

Death haunt me.

On Tuesday night I couldn't sleep. After a long day of classes, teaching, and training clients, I came home and promptly fell out on my bed, completely exhausted. At about 2 am, I woke up startled, shaken, and horribly upset. I started crying and I couldn't stop.

For the last few months I've had several of these bad dreams. For some reason, I keep replaying the last 4 days of my mother's life. Living through those days felt like a blur, but in these dreams they are replaying in SLOW MOTION. And it hurts...a lot.

I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd ever have to stare death in the eye, let alone with my own mother. The last time I saw my mother while she was responsive was on Friday, July 7th, 2006. It was about 6:00 am, and I was on my way to UCLA for my internship. By this point Mom was too tired to deal with keeping track of the bills, so I offered my help. That morning, she reviewed all of the bills and checks I wrote out, signing them when she was satisfied. I tell ya, she was about the business all the way until the end...Anyway, I remember jumping in the bed between her and my dad, giving her a hug and kiss, and telling her "I love you" and "Make sure you eat something good today". She responded with..."I love you too", and "i'll try to get something down". With that, I was off.

On that Friday, my mother was strong enough to sit up, pay some bills, read me the way only a black mother could, and kiss me goodbye.

At about 11 that morning, I started having another one of my 'eye headaches'. Ever since my senior year of high school, I have these irritating headaches whenever I'm stressed out or overworked. Refusing to ignore this episode, I head down to the Medical Center to get myself checked out. 8 hours in the ER later, I'm seen by a doctor and admitted to the hospital for observation and tests. I spent Friday Night in the hospital.

Bright and early Saturday morning I decide to call the house to check in. My dad answered the phone in HYSTERICS.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Jammie where are you! Your mama is not doing well! I helped her to the bathroom and she fell! When she was in there she fell again! Man I'm going crazy I can't deal with all this!!".

After having a mini-anxiety attack, I refocus and tell my dad to call our neighbor who happens to be a head nurse at County USC. He calms down, and I become the dispatcher. I call up all the brothers and sister to get their asses over there and stop playing games. I get a call from our neighbor, and she lets me know she had everything under control. I am relieved, but unsettled. I had to get the hell out of this hospital and QUICK.

I finally was released (all test negative) late Saturday afternoon. The doctors relate my symptoms to stress and tell me to "calm down". What a fucking joke that was. As I'm driving home, everything got eerily quiet. This has happened before, so I knew what was up. This is how God gets my attention. The message I received was "Get ready, and be strong". I drive up to my house. It looks as if there's a damn block party on my street with all the cars. "What the hell is going on?", I'm thinking. I walk in, and I see all my siblings, some aunts and nieces, a few cousins, the neighbors, and a nurse. I immediately start to tear up and ask "What is this?".

The nurse takes my hand and leads me to my brother's old room. In there, I find my Dad sobbing over this nearly lifeless shell of a woman. My mother. One of my best friends and source of strength. I walk forward, and almost faint from what I saw. Pale, still, skin warm and sweaty. Face screwed into a grimace. Breathing tubes, catheters, IV's. A desperate gasp for air every 10 seconds or so. This was my fucking MOTHER, Annie Mae Hopkins, a bad ass black woman from Pasadena, sitting here with both feet in the grave. I was two seconds away from a core meltdown before I remembered God's instructions. "Get ready, and be strong". I got myself together, and let God take over.

First were the instructions. The family had made a choice...Mom was in so much pain they decided to sedate her with coma-inducing morphine. Along with the IV drugs, a single pill of 'breakthrough' morphine every 4 hours to keep the sedation strong. No food allowed, only water. Food would easily choke her, and solid food would not digest anyway. The fan had to be left on at all times, or else she may overhead. She had to be turned every 2 hours to prevent bedsores. Every 30 minutes or so, a few drops of citrus juice to keep her mouth moist.

When people say death is a process, they are NOT lying. It IS. For the next 2 days, I saw my mother's vital signs gradually wittle away. Less and less natural's a process of death, and the morphine depresses the respiratory system. Very little fidgeting and moving around...the body is conserving energy to support the vital organs. Intelligible whispers and moans slowly start to fade away to silence. Except when we attempt to turn her. When we lift her delicate head and limbs, she suddenly comes alive and winces and cries loud enough for people in the front room to hear. Her face twisted in a severe grimace tears my heart to shreds. But it must be done. She made me promise that we would all go the distance. And we did.

Monday, July 10th 2006. Noon. The breathing stops. Ventilator placed to 100%. The hospice nurses call the "palliative care team". They are the end of road. They come and do the rounds this day. Vitals, medication check, bathing, and new bedding, a family meeting, and they are off.

2pm. Susan, the social worker, visits. She was great. She broke down the entire process. The imminent signs of death. Who to call. How long it will take them to come. Do we want last rites assigned? The preparation of the body for removal from the house. "In many cases, seeing the body leave is worse than the actual death" she says. She was right.

4pm. Medication and a turn. I placed the tiny pill inside her cheek, where it would dissolve. A small portion of water goes in the mouth. Half of it spills out. A small inhilation turns into a slurp as the water and pills washes down. As we turn her, she fights us. We leave her be.

6:09pm. I'm on this very computer, typing an IM to Reginald I believe. My dad calls out to me in a mournful tone "Jammie, come in here. I think it's time". I rush into the room.

6:15pm. After saying my final goodbyes and gathering up my remaining strength, I put on my professional hat. Somebody needed to check the vitals one last time, and I was the one to do it. Breathing...nothing. Skin...cold and clammy. Shit. Pulse...nothing. Heartbeat...nothing. Response to pain...not a flinch. As I pull out my mini-flashlight, I pray there is something there. I open her eyes and shine the light. Looking back at me were two large brown pupils. Refusing to contract. Fixed and dilated.

6:21pm. I check everything again. Nothing. It's over. My dad utters the saddest, most desperate wail I've ever heard. I can still hear it. I never want to hear something like that again.

11:30. The funeral home arrives, ready to take my mother away. They remove the remaining hospital equipment. They delicately wrap her in a clean white sheet before pulling out a clear body bag. They offer their condolences before they leave. As the van door closes and they drive away, a ball of grief begins to swell within me. Five minutes later, I suffer a meltdown.

On five separate occasions i've suffered from flashbacks of one or several of these events over that 4 day period. I don't know what they mean, but I know for certain that I DON'T LIKE THEM.

This past Tuesday was different, though......


Anonymous said...

Dear Heart, you are doing exactly what you should be doing in order to move beyond this. You are sharing and being of service to others. Many people needed to hear your truth and your ability to move through the hurt and execute very necessary and practical tasks that needed to be done immediately. Perhaps these were things that only you could do. And no doubt, things that you probably felt that you would never be able to pull off. But you did.

Oftentimes we seek grand purpose and divine revelations that explain and place into context what is going on and why. Sometimes it's not so grand or deep. It's simply another brick we must place along our path of life Why you? Because it is your season to reach and teach. And you have done just that. There is great utility in proper obedience. Your peaceful rest shall return and you will dream new dreams of things that will give you other reasons to write, protest and ponder the mysteries of love and life. Go and come, and rest well.

- an occasional visitor

Anonymous said...

God wants you to love him with everything.
He is with you & wants your all.
I think you are so brave for that day.
I hope you find genuine faith someday.
You'll be in my prayers.
-a random visitor