I have many things to be thankful for. Aidan is a happy, healthy, giggly little 4 month old. He is quick to smile at anyone he meets, rarely ever fusses, sleeps through the night, and is willingly handed off to anyone that wants to hold him. When my wife recently worked a craft show, we brought Aidan along and joked that we should have charged people for baby cuddles. He is easily amused, and has the start of that perfect baby giggle that I adore. He also can kill you with his baby gas. Balance in the universe, I guess.
But life changed for us on the morning of December 10, 2014.
My wife and I received a text from her father that her mother was showing signs of having a stroke. He had called for an ambulance, and was on the way to the hospital with her. My wife left work, I left work, and we headed up to meet at the hospital.
I got there first, and walked through the doors of the emergency room. I immediately heard a woman angrily yelling from the opposite end of the building. I walked down the hall, past the other rooms in the emergency area, past the hospital personnel busily tending to their patients. The farther down the hall I went, the louder the yelling became. I started to recognize the voice of the woman yelling. It was my mother-in-law, but it wasn’t my mother-in-law. People who are familiar with stroke victims, or the effects of a swollen brain know what I mean.
The curtain to her room was closed, and I didn’t know if I should go in. So I just stood there, transfixed while the hospital staff went about their business around me. I just stared at the curtain, listening to the sounds coming from behind it. Every sentence she screamed was repeated several times. Every word was angry, and painful to hear.
A nurse finally saw me, and asked if I needed help. I told her who I was and of my hesitance for continuing into the room. She opened the curtain, then came out and said that my father-in-law thought it best if I sat in the emergency waiting area for the time being.
I sat there, waiting for my wife and wondering what to do next.
We lived at the hospital for the next few days. The doctors told us it was bad. The entire back half of her brain was damaged, and in both hemispheres, which was rare. The neurologist said that what she thinks happened, is that Debi recently had a stroke on one side of her brain, in an area of the brain that people don’t always notice as a stroke. (And several days prior, Debi had been complaining how tired she was.) The doctor thinks that the swelling from the first stroke, caused the second stroke.
My wife’s Grandmother passed away almost exactly 5 years ago. She had no living will, no instructions, and my mother-in-law watched her mother suffer and it almost killed her. She was determined not to put my wife through that. So after her mother died, my wife’s parents both sat down and made emergency plans. Debi was very specific. No extraordinary measures. No feeding tubes. She did not want to suffer, and she didn’t want her family to suffer.
The doctors said she would most likely shut down when the swelling from the second stroke occurred. If she recovered, she would never be able to walk again. Her brain would be unable to process what she was looking at. She would see a dog, a chair, my wife, but would be unable to process it. She would be confused all the time.
She was moved to Hospice the Sunday after she had the stroke. Per Debi’s wishes, she was taken off of dialysis. They are making her comfortable, and we wait. Either my wife, her father, or my sister spends the night with Debi. there is never a point where a family member is not in the room with her.
There have been agonizing, heart-breaking moments. Brief moments of lucidity that the nuerologist said would come.
Debi sitting up in bed and repeating in her robot voice, “Please kill me.”
My wife leaning over to say good bye and having Debi kiss her cheek.
The nurse, asking Debi “How does that feel?” while washing her back, and having Debi reply, “Good. Fucking good.”
But she looks through you. And in the rare instances when she does speak, it is more instinctual. She isn’t able to respond to commands. She can’t squeeze your hand when you ask, she can’t open her eyes when you ask, she just isn’t there.
And I am helpless. My wife loves her mommy. And this is killing her and her father. My wife never knew her Grandfather. He died before she was born. But Debi spoke of him so often that Caitie missed him, even though she had never met him. And now Caitie is hurt, and angry that Debi is doing the same thing to Aidan. Aidan is never going to know one of his Grandparents. Because Debi didn’t take care of herself. Because Debi wouldn’t take her medications, wouldn’t eat right, wouldn’t exercise. Because Debi used to joke about how she never did anything she was supposed to do, how she never did anything the doctors told her to do.
And now we are waiting for her to die. And I don’t know what to do for my wife, or her father, other than be there for them.
We’ll be having Christmas at hospice this year.
Debi had already purchased years worth of gifts for Aidan, and was really looking forward to Christmas. She was really looking forward to spoiling him rotten.
So much for that.