On Christmas Eve, my husband Bob launched into the second crisis of what the on-call doctor called “end stage.” The uncontrollable vomiting was familiar. It was what was coming up that froze my nerve ends: darker than the blood I had seen before and with an alarming stench. I dashed to and fro, emptying and rinsing the basin, rushing back to him. I wondered if he would die that night. Desperate to relieve his agitation, I injected a dose of Atavan into his catheter, waited twenty minutes, and then administered another. But he kept suddenly sitting up and grabbing a towel, holding it to his face and retching in misery. I would recommence my race. The washing machine and dryer ran non-stop.
I telephoned the visiting nurses, in hopes that someone would come and help me. Dennis was on call. He had been to see us a few times. “Wow,” he said. “It sounds like an upper GI bleed. You should call 911 and get him to the hospital.” The hospital! Visions of paramedics struggling to get my six-foot-seven husband down the steep front stairs, the ambulance, the imprisonment of the ER all swam before me. Even delirious, Bob would know where he was, and he’d hate it. “But, the doctor told me he’s at end stage now,” I said. “Why would I make him go to the hospital?”
“If he broke his arm, you wouldn’t leave him in pain, would you, even though you know he’s dying?” I swallowed hard, trying to move my heart back down to my chest. I phoned the doctor again.
“Yeah, you could get him to the hospital. Or, you can try to make him as comfortable as possible. It’s up to you.” I hung up and sat for a moment, my lungs tight, the air shimmering around me. The phone rang. I stared at it, then picked up.
“Hi. This is Liz. I just called to see how it’s going.” Liz. No face came to me. “I’m sorry, I don’t know you,” I replied. “Oh, Cheryl, of course you know me! Jim and Sandy”s friend.”
“Oh, hi.” I knew this woman, but not well, merely as a friend of a friend. She continued, “So, about an hour ago I was crying, and I realized I was grieving for someone, but I didn’t know who, and then I remembered Bob. I just called to tell you that whatever you decide is okay.”
I stared at the ceiling, listening for a rustle of wings. I looked over at my Buddha ho-tai, placed so I could always see his smile from my chair. The air was thick with hopelessness, yet I felt a kind of hope. Liz went on, but I could hardly hear her. I rang off and administered another injection. Then I set up camp on the couch where I had a view of Bob in the second parlor. Faith had reentered my life.
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