Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Am I Dying?

One day we had a five-hour staff retreat at work starting with Mediterranean food for lunch. In the course of the afternoon, my boss mentioned that when Jonas left, among other things, we lost the person who trains others how to use the electronic charting system. I’m pretty good with that system and my former computer job often involved training other people, so at the end of the day, I offered my services and she said that before Jonas left, he told her I’m good with the computer, so she would take me up on that.

She also said she would like me to apply for a part-time job when one becomes available (this would be a step up from my current per diem position), that I have a lot to offer, that I’m a good team member, and that I’m doing a great job. I was flabbergasted. I told her that her words meant a lot to me, and that I’m happy at this hospital, both very true. I had been worried that she was secretly fuming about how much time I take off work, between school and vacations, so that was another reason I was relieved and delighted to find out she is glad to have me around: she’s not trying to figure out how to trade me for a per diem who doesn’t take so much time off.

In mid-May, I went to see Mason, my peer from my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, receive his M.Div. degree in Berkeley. It was an inspiring ceremony, and Mason got one of three special awards. Quite a number of his family members came from New Mexico to see him graduate.

When I got home, I called Emily in hospice, and this time I did much better when she asked me a tough question: “Bugwalk, am I dying?”

I said, “Well, a person goes to hospice when a doctor believes she has six months to live or less.”

“Which doctor?!”

“I imagine it was one of the doctors you saw at the hospital.”

“Oh. Yeah. I didn’t get along with that guy. I don’t think he liked me.”

I thought of saying I hope a doctor wouldn’t send a patient to hospice because he didn’t care for her personality, but in case she wasn’t already thinking that—though she probably was—I decided not to introduce that idea.

Then an interesting thing happened, which was that she changed the subject. A bit later, she returned to it, saying she felt frightened, and asking what she should do. And then she changed the subject again. That was a powerful learning experience: I don’t have to be afraid of telling people the truth, because a natural defense mechanism such as denial or avoidance will come to the fore when needed. These get a bad rap but are perfectly reasonable means of self-protection.

One Saturday, Sam and I met in the Castro for Thai food, and the following day Ann, Jill, Tom and I had lunch at Au Coquelet and went to Berkeley Rep to see Heidi Schreck’s play What the Constitution Means to Me. I enjoyed it. Each member of the audience was given a copy of The Constitution of the United States of America. I probably will never read it, but I feel like a better person now that I own a copy.

The next time I called Emily, I found that she was still distraught about finding herself in hospice. I managed to convey to her that, when she declined to take medication, her doctors likely interpreted that she didn’t want treatment and accordingly sent her to hospice. She said, “Oh. Well. I still don’t want to take medication.”

“Then you might be in the best place!” I shrieked. It can be kind of a maddening experience to talk to her on the phone because I have to bellow into the receiver, and she still misses thirty percent of what I say.

“What do you mean by that?”

“How do you think things would go if you were back at home?”

“That’s a good question.” I can’t remember what she said after that, but I was relieved that she is sure she doesn’t want to take medication, because that does mean she probably is in the right place. I was also kind of surprised by that. I sort of expected her to say, “What?! In that case, of course I want medication!”

When Sam and I had lunch the prior Saturday, we were dangerously near where Emily is. In fact, we walked over to look at it, because Sam had never been there. It’s quite a lovely place, on a very pleasant block. But having learned by calling Emily that I shouldn’t have done so, I knew better than to initiate in-person visits. That would not be sustainable on my end, and I would disappoint her. Having said that, I have asked the staff there to let me know when she is within a couple of hours of dying, as best they can tell. If I can, I will go over there and hold her hand.

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