I was about 28 years old at the time and life had gotten very complex. I was barely hanging on to my sanity, my job and my family.
Stepping off the elevator I turned left towards the Recuperative Care Unit of Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz. I worked full time at Mountain Computer in Scotts Valley and lived way out on Pleasant Valley Road in Aptos so the hospital was just about half way for me on my way home from work.
Standing in front of a big picture window stood a young woman about my age. Jeans, tee shirt and sweatshirt, long brown hair falling in her face, I could see she was crying. Since that’s about all I did anymore, I thought I’d stop and see what was up.
I stood next to her, touched her arm and quietly asked “Why are you here?” I’ve always been willing to speak to a stranger and my style is to talk to them like I know them personally. I figure, “Why not?” we’re pretty much all the same when it comes to this sort of situation.
Her answer was unsettling to me. She wiped her tears with the back of her hand, looked at me and said “My mother has been here for 3 months and I am taking her home to die. To my home.”
My immediate response was “Oh, no. Three months? How did you do it?” “I couldn’t do three months!” “No, I can’t do three months.”
She looked at me with pity in her eyes. She, too, had thought, “No, I couldn’t do that.”
But life has a way of showing you just what you are capable of and it’s always more than you thought you were able to handle.
A couple of days after we’d admitted her I was at the hospital to visit my mother. She had cancer that had metastasized from her breast to her bones. She was bright, vibrant and had been in charge at work and at home and was only 56 years old. She’d been fighting her cancer for about 6 years already. She’d done the surgery, the chemo and the radiation. Then she decided to follow the Gerson Therapy, illegal in the states, an alternative nutritional therapy and had gone twice to the clinic. I went with her once and learned much about life and death at that renovated Mexican motel in Rosarita Beach. She’d forged a gallant fight for so many years.
I remember her crying to me after breaking her leg at my house on Mothers day that she’d go crazy in bed for the next two weeks but she refused to go to the hospital. Little did she know that those two weeks would turn into 6 months. The morphine she took for the excruciating pain was provided by a holistic hippy doctor and administered by a holistic hippy nurse who was also a neighbor living up in the Santa Cruz mountains.
For those six months during my one hour lunch break from work, I’d drive the 20 minutes it took to get to Ben Lomond, run in the back door, make the healing drink of liver from a calf no older than 3 days mixed with chopped carrots and apples and centrifugally spun into a juice. She drank so much carrot juice that her skin turned orange in those months. She consumed two 25 pound bags of organic carrots a week. This was in the mid 80’s and it was lucky for us that we lived near Santa Cruz because organic was just becoming important and it was available up in the mountains.
Though on December 1st we just couldn’t manage her pain anymore and decided it was time to admit her. Our family friend Barbara and I had spent the night sitting in small wooden chairs on either side of her bed watching and waiting for each individual breath willing her to live.
The next morning we called the window company to come out and remove the picture window of the room my mom had hibernated in for the last six months trying to heal herself. She could no longer move and would have to be carried out on a stretcher and the stretcher wouldn’t make the necessary turns to go down the hallway. A lack of foresight on my Mom’s part, I’d say and she’d agree with me. Though she nor anyone else ever thought it would be 6 months that she’d spend in that room and even though at some point we knew it was not working we never thought that she’d have to be carried out still alive.
Once the window was removed we called the ambulance and they came to take her to the hospital, I rode with her in the ambulance leaving her home for the last time.
My father sat by her side morning till nightfall day in and day out. I was her sunshine and she needed to live vicariously through me. She was on a permanent morphine drip and was alert and sociable. She had many visitors and often it seemed she held court. I came 6 days a week.
For the next 15 months I worked full time, and 5 nights a week I would stop by the hospital and visit with my mom and dad in her big double room. Saturdays were spent in her sunny room with the entire family watching sports
Some days I’d have our Nanny bring the kids to me at the hospital after she fed them but other nights I’d stay for only an hour or so and rush home to be mom and to do homework and baths and bed.
This was a time in my life that I often thought I couldn’t go on but somehow I did though to this day, those 21 months have caused me to carry the burdens of the stress those hours, days, weeks, months and years heaped upon me.
When you think you can’t go on you take it one day at a time and if that get’s too difficult take it hour by hour or even breath by breath, but when given no other choice know that you can do just about anything.
I wish I knew this woman I’d talked to that day on the way into seeing my mom. How had I thought this was going to end? How long did I think she had to live? I knew I couldn’t do 3 more months. I remember thinking it might be days, maybe weeks but never months! We brought her here to die.
I once met this woman who told me she’d just done 3 months…I said, “no, I could never do 3 months.’