Thursday, May 17, 2007

Time Moves Quickly and Slowly--at the same time

Justin and I are used to living our lives in fast-forward. We get things done. We become doctors and professionals and presidents and leaders and we get all this work done without grimacing much under the weight.

And then someone gets sick.

The time around that person (Toni, now) moves in slow motion. We want to know what the next steps in her care are, we want to set up her home-health care in whatever way turns out to be possible, we want to know when they will give her a mattress to prevent bedsores (especially bad for a slow-to-heal diabetic), we want to know when they will help her get strong enough to sit up in a regular wheelchair, instead of a giant recliner on wheels, we want to know when they can take her home, we want to know when she will be covered by Social Security or Medicare or Medical, we want to know when....

But life in a Skilled Nursing Facility in the subacute unit crawls. We wait to get past the old man who is wheeling himself through the hallway, occasionally asking how he can get out of here (we want to point to the giant french doors at the entrance, but he's been by those--he knows). We wait for the nurses to transfer her to the chair, to push her out to the courtyard, to put her back in the bed, to change her diaper, to hook up her IV and her feeding tube (still through the nose), to finish her oxygen treatment, to draw blood for labs, to tell us nothing we don't already know--nothing.

We drive the hour and a half to the facility, leaving behind our San Diego speedy lives and enter the time warp, then we drive back and are so emotionally and physically exhausted that we cannot do what we would normally do on the next day because we have to make up for the time we have lost.

We are lost.

I want things to move faster. But the hearts of the husband and the son of Toni are holding on and pulling back---as if they were on the winning or losing end of a tug-of-war game. I know the outcome: death.

But no one wants to face it, discuss it, prepare for it. How to handle the next close call is a family decision, but the family doesn't want to prepare for that decision now, while things are relatively stable (in a subacute, tube-living kind of way). But I do not want to make these decisions in the middle of the night again, through the fog of Ambien-sleep, on the telephone with the man on the other end acting like a deer in the headlights of reality.

So my grip on reality seems callous. I seem like the harbinger of death. I am received with the quiet eyes of horror looking at truth; if it were a soap opera scene there would be yelling and I would be throw out, I am sure. But it is not. It is two stoic men, two traditionalists who appear strong but I know are squishy inside. I go outside and cry, wipe my eyes and come back in to appear strong and capable.

But I am capable of nothing but waiting. Waiting is all any of us can do.

It has been more than two weeks though, and someone needs to earn some money, someone needs to finish his third year of medical school, someone needs to take care of household matters.

I teach my kids about the Existential view of time--how it's fast and slow depending on perspective. And now I see this multi-layered view---fast and slow at once. It's like being transported between worlds and realities and fantasies--though we do not get to choose when we go. We wait for the phone to ring. We wait for the answers to come when they feel like coming. We wait.

I spend a lot of the time thinking about how long I want to live and what I want to allow to be done to my body to keep it alive once it starts to consider letting go of this experience of life. But even for my own life I cannot decide--so many mitigating circumstances would affect my desires. Does she stay so she can smile at her husband and son one more time? Does she want to watch more episodes of Animal Planet and Magnum PI? Does she want to eat Mexican food if she can ever swallow again? Does she want to see Justin graduate from medical school? Does she want to meet grandchildren that are not likely to ever exist? What would I be waiting for? What would I hold on for? Would I hope to die at home, in my husband's arms, peaceful and quickly or slowly... but no tubes. Just pain killers and numbness and ending; while someone read me a story and someone sang a song and someone rubbed my feet and I looked at flowers or paintings or God?

Life is such a strange occurrence--statistically speaking it is so unlikely that children are ever conceived, yet people somehow get pregnant accidentally. And then, when just decades or even one century ago, people are old or sick and nature would have taken its course and people would have been mourned and allowed to die, we hold onto them so tightly with our medications and our wires and tubes and love.

And there is a population control problem. Go figure.

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