Twelve o’clock Wednesday. It was a short drive from work to the hospital. Lunch traffic was busy but light. Trying to find a parking space in the four-story garage was always a challenge, regardless of the day or time.
Casey smiled and waved at an old man. He motioned he was leaving and that she could have his spot. “Thank God.” She glanced at the clock on her dashboard and mentally calculated the time she had to see her mother, then grab something at a drive-thru as she rushed back to work.
She got on the elevator, rested her head against the cool metal wall and closed her eyes. Stepping from the elevator, she took a few deep breaths before heading to the ICU. Mandy, her sister, was waiting for her. The pungent smell of hand sanitizer and a jumbled mystery of odors permeated the air. It was almost too familiar.
Only two years ago her father fell ill and passed away, three weeks after being admitted to the same hospital. Irony put her mother in the same ICU ward, in a room facing the room her father died in. Her mother had only been vaguely aware of where she was when they moved her in there.
Two long hallways and a quick left turn past the waiting room and she was standing in front of the ICU’s doors. She smiled as Mandy came out to meet her. She hugged her sister–her sanity in line at the moment–but didn’t feel the comfort that Mom’s arms would have given her.
“The respiratory doctor came by. Wants to talk about her tube,” Mandy said as she pulled away.
Casey nodded. “It’s been two weeks, were her other doctors around? What did the nurse say?”
They entered the ICU. Casey waved at the nurse. She put her purse on the cart outside the room and sanitized her hands with the anti-bacterial foam located outside just about every doorway in the building.
Casey put on a yellow paper gown and green gloves. Her mom developed a staph infection five days ago and precautions needed to be taken not to carry it outside to others, or to infect mom further. It was so routine she felt like a pro putting on the gloves without pinching the skin at her wrists.
“Let me say hi, tell her I’m here. Then we’ll go find the doctor and have a talk.”
“Okay. Are you going back to work after this?” Mandy asked.
“I don’t have a choice. I still have to make money and pay the bills.”
“I told you. You should get a job with the school board so you can have the whole summer off with me. Just think of all the beaches we could visit.”
Casey smiled at her sister. “Yeah, too bad the school board doesn’t need an electrical drafter.”
Casey glanced at the dialysis machine that pulled the water off her mother’s heart. The bags were almost full and she couldn’t quite remember if it was good or bad. A quick glance across the bed and she could see the bottles of medicine dripping into an IV attached to her mother’s left arm.
Even though her mother’s body was hidden under a sheet, Casey could tell it was still swollen, filled with water, regardless of how much the damned machine pulled out of her.
“Hi, Mom,” Casey said as she gently picked up her mother’s hand and looked at it as Mandy joined her. “I’m here. I’m going to talk to the doctor with Mandy. I’ll be right back. Love you.” She clenched her mother’s delicate hands. Hands that once held her, taught her, reprimanded her, loved her, once so busy with life, now lied motionless in her own.
Casey could never remember the man’s name, but he was short, with dark hair, and had a thick accent that she’d finally gotten so used to she hardly had to ask him to repeat himself.
“You know,” he said to Casey “She’s had the tube fourteen days, and we can’t keep the tube in without risking infection. We have to do the tracheotomy either today or tomorrow.”
Casey’s heart pounded. It’s her decision. Mom left it up to her to make the right choices when to say enough is enough. The nurse had already confronted her about the medicine and the original tube but that had been mom’s call. She’d been awake, lucid then, she wanted to keep breathing and the tube would help. The doctor asked mom in front of the nurse and the visiting nun and Mom said, “tube.” Her health never recovered.
“No,” she looked at her sister. “If the tube isn’t doing any good…”
“It’s keeping her alive,” the doctor said.
Casey shook her head. “It’s not what she wanted.”
“This tube she has now,” the doctor said. “It is helping her to breathe, but we can’t keep it because of the risk of infection. We have to remove it.”
“We can’t,” Casey said. “It goes against what Mom wanted. She didn’t want to be put on life support, not a vegetable. I can’t say yes to the tracheotomy.” She looked at Mandy.
Mandy nodded. “I’ll back up whatever you decide.” She looked at the doctor. “Give us a minute to talk, please.”
“Excuse me, ladies?” It was the nurse. “We need you inside.”
They couldn’t walk fast enough through the doors to get to their mother. The small room was crowded with nurses. Casey caught sight of the crash cart and looked at the male nurse holding onto it.
He nodded. “Okay,” and moved it out of the way.
“Come in,” the nurse waved at them.
Casey made her way to the other side of the bed with Mandy standing beside her. They touched their mother, holding her hand and rubbing her leg as they watched the blip on the monitor fade. Her mother’s face was empty now, gray and lifeless. The short doctor with the thick accent pulled the sheet back and put his stethoscope to various parts of her mother’s body, searching for life. He said nothing as he left the room.
Casey couldn’t move. There were no more decisions to make, no more lunchtime visits, no more hunting for a parking space and eating a greasy lunch on the way back to work. Her Mom was now where she had wanted to be for the past two years – with Dad.