24 October 2007

From Hospital to Hospice

Just as the ad campaign says, what a difference a day makes.

We're no longer in the hospital, but at an inpatient hospice facility. This place is amazing, soothing, beautiful. I can't say enough nice things about both the facility and the staff, who are forever asking what they can do for us, for my aunt.

I've gained a whole new lexicon of words; palliative, subcutaneous line, comfort-care. A whole new understanding of what it means to pass on.

She's comfortable, and the decision has been made to discontinue any invasive medical procedures, which includes IVs. The hospice nurses take her blood pressure, listen to her heart and lungs, and administer the strangest medicine I've ever encountered in my life. More about that in a second. It is an enormous relief to not have them drawing blood, poking, prodding, waking her up. Anything she wants is provided in minutes. We should all be so lucky as to have people like this care for us at any time during our lives.

They don't administer medication in any manner that I've ever seen before in my life. Not in pill form, not through an IV, not inhaled. Instead, she has a morphine pump that gives a small dose of pain medication every hour. The line is directly into muscle tissue, and keeps her comfortable. But then the other medications they're giving her are absorbed through the skin.

They bring a syringe without a needle (can it still be called a syringe then? I don't know.) that has a brownish gel inside it. They rub that gel into her arm, around the veins in the wrist and up the forearm about halfway to the elbow. The meds include something to help with the swelling where her IV lines were, something else that has made her much more aware of her surroundings, something that has a calming effect. It is a rare and wonderful thing to have medications that clear the mind and soothe the pain.

Sometimes she's frightened. Dude, I'd be freaked right out of my mind if it was me. Mostly, though, she's peaceful, so much less agitated than while in hospital. Personally, I am at peace with the decisions that have been made to stop invasive procedures, to make her comfortable. I've had my meltdown moments, don't get me wrong. Mostly those come during or just after talking on the phone with other family members who are far away about what's happening at ground zero, as I've had to explain that yes, the end is coming soon.

I was on the phone with my youngest sister, talking about the last few nights that I've spent by her side and my sister said, "I'm sorry that you're the one {of the three of us} that has to go through this." I responded immediately, "I'm not." Because I am not. I'm glad I'm able to be here. This paragraph makes it sound a bit like I'm the only one with her, but if that's the impression that you've got, it is incorrect. My other aunts and several of my cousins also take shifts with her. I've volunteered to be with her overnight because I'm the logical choice. No kids, no job, therefore I can sit up all night and not have to worry about being somewhere on 2-3 hours of sleep. But as a result of my usual routine of gym, run errands, send out resumes, make dinner being disrupted, I can't tell you what day it is. Forget about what the date is, no clue.

There's a commercial for Travelocity where the gnome that is their symbol plugs an American appliance into a European wall socket. He gets zapped and flung across the room, and then as he's lying there, he asks plaintively, "Am I going to die?" and it is funny. My aunt hasn't asked us that; instead, the other night she told her daughter and I, "I'm going to die." It was heartbreaking, and neither of us knew what to say----'no, you're not' would be a lie----but it was spoken as plain, simple fact.

I don't believe in an afterlife in the traditional sense of heaven and hell. Telling me that she's 'going someplace better' holds absolutely no water with me. I haven't believed that since my young cousin died at 28 leaving her 3 young children to grow up without her. But I do think that my aunt will be at peace when she breathes her last, and I take great comfort from that.


MotherMe said...

Oh, Lucy, I have been where you're at, and my heart totally goes out to you all. It's hard watching (and letting) someone go. I think your aunt is so lucky to have you staying with her at this moment, too. We all have to die someday, but I would much rather do it surrounded by people who love me than all alone. Let me know if I can do anything (grocery shopping? meals for DH? errands?). Keep in touch. ~mm

Lucy Arin said...

Thanks, hon. What I want---to not be an adult and have to deal with this---no one can give me. What I am in desperate need of is sleep. Heading to bed now, will call ya.

Dawna said...

Hospices are amazing, are they not? I find it funny that not many people are aware of them, and would rather spend their dying days at home.

I consider myself quite fortunate that I have rarely come into death. My uncle's passing lasted several years (AIDS) so the grieving process was a very smooth transition.

Interestingly enough, your words of how you are taking care of her and having a hard time juggling your own life sounds much like life with a newborn baby...

Lucy Arin said...

It is a bit like caring for a very young sick child, and I say that because she can still tell us what hurts and what's wrong.

I love the hospice for letting her die with dignity, making her comfortable and letting the family do almost whatever we want.

Unfortunately, this isn't my first brush with the death of someone I love, but this is one that I feel very peaceful about.