Tuesday, January 29, 2013

my yesterday

I'm assuming there's no one new here, but just in case....backstory:
I volunteer at a convalescent hospital, visiting people that do not get visitors. I've been doing it since I was in my early 20's, and I work with a volunteer organization that matches you up with a buddy for one on one visits.  Except that if you visit a place long enough, you end up getting to know at least a half a dozen other people and you stop by for visits with them, as well.  Right now my primary buddy is James, who I have been visiting now for almost 8 years. I also stop and chat with 5-7 other people while I am there. I visit on Mondays.

I did not see James last week, due to the holiday. MyFavoriteKid was off school, and we had a bunch of stuff to tend to, so it was 2 weeks since I had been at the hospital.   When I rolled into James' room yesterday, I immediately saw that he had a new roommate, and my heart. just. sank.

"Where's Melvin." (It was really a statement, not a question; it was clear what had happened).
"Oh, he died."
"And when did that happen?!"
"Ohhh, I dunno. A couple of weeks ago maybe."
"Why didn't you call to tell me, James!!!" (also not a question, really)
"I didn't think to."

You didn't think to.
James and I talked for a few minutes more about it, about how Melvin had died in his sleep without a peep. That the nurse had come in for some reason for James, and noticed on her way out that Melvin had expired.  I honestly couldn't believe that James wouldn't think to have told me. James knew I'd made friends with Melvin, and I had specifically expressed that if Melvin was not looking so great, I'd want to hear about it.   James' only response to my visible shock and upset was to ignore it entirely, and to state that he didn't like his new roommate very much because he called out for "George" all night long and kept him awake.

I had to excuse myself by lying to James and saying I needed to go to the bathroom, but honestly, I just stepped out into the courtyard and cried.  Through my tears, I kept looking at this big bush that had exploded with yellow daisy-ish looking flowers. They reminded me of Melvin so much.

I think Melvin must have showed up at the hospital around September.  As a volunteer, hospital staff can't tell you diddly-squat, but here's what I learned about Melvin after a few weeks of being friendly.  He was probably in his late 50's, maybe early 60's (but I doubt it).  He was dying of cancer, and was in a lot of pain; he told me the cancer was near his spine.  His brother came to visit him often, and took very good care of him, but I also saw a few hospice people sitting with Melvin from time to time....one of them a nun.

Melvin had the bed closest to the doorway, farthest from the window....and when I first started saying hello to him, the curtain between the beds was drawn closed, so he couldn't see out the window.  I'd ask him if he wanted to me to open it so he could see outside.  The first week he said no. The second week, yes. The third or fourth week, he even asked me to do it before I could offer.  He said it cheered him up so much to be able to see the trees and flowers outside.  He must have finally started asking staff to do it earlier in the day, because after that, the curtain was drawn by the time I'd arrive.

In October, I had a potted plant left over from the admission table of our dance concert.  It was very vibrant, with shooting red flame-like flowers that spiked upwards. I brought it to Melvin, and he asked that I put it where he could see it. He knew what type of plant it was because he used to be a landscaper, and he talked for awhile about his favorite plants.  He talked about them with a love for the outdoors as if he was a custodian of nature.  I watered it every time I came in. After a few weeks, some stupid ass staff person had put the plant in the least accessible corner of his little area, with no light and no water, and it died. Luckily, I don't think Melvin could see it wither, as it was placed behind him.  Around Christmas time, I brought Melvin a Christmas Catcus, which he also loved, and the staff did the same thing with that plant, shoved it in the corner nightstand behind his headboard, but every week he told me how much he appreciated my bringing him living plants and taking time to say hello.

He kept asking to go outside and get fresh air, but I don't believe anyone ever took him. I have no idea what was up with that, but he was indeed horribly horribly week.  One day James said they weren't feeding him. I turned around and Melvin was laying there with his food tray in front of him.  He was trying to hold a spoon, and couldn't.  I asked him if he was hungry and he barely whispered a yes.  I fed him spoonfuls for the next 15 minutes or so, and he ate everything. He just couldn't feed himself, is all.  I can't blame the staff. They are ridiculously under staffed. I blame the hospital administrators. But that is a whole 'nother rant.

While I was feeding Melvin, I had this very warm and loving feeling rise up in me, and it manifested in my blurting out the total brain fart, "I don't think I've fed anyone since my son was a baby."

And a tear ran down his cheek.

I cannot even tell you how bad I felt. I apologized for making him sad, and told him that I totally meant it affectionately, and was so sorry.  He eeked out a whisper that it was okay, but we both stayed there, both of us crying while I kept feeding him mashed potatoes and "meat-surprise" and helping him wash it all down by holding a straw to his lips.  That was a very hard day for me. I cried all afternoon about it.  I knew we were both just sad because.....it's just so sad.  But that moment will always linger with me.

Melvin actually got a bit stronger after that.  He was looking good there for a while, although still in a lot of pain, and quite doped up at times, but every week we chatted and he was honestly just the sweetest guy.  I could go off on a whole tangent about our health care system and why we cant help people die with dignity, but that too is a whole 'nother rant.

So there I was yesterday, out on the patio, sobbing and looking at the yellow-flower-bush, which happens to be right outside of James' window.  The flowers were blowing in the breeze, and it sort of felt a bit like Melvin was waving goodbye.   I went back inside and James asked if I was mad at him, and I said no, just upset....but that I was very broken up about it, and needed to leave a little early.  Really, when it boils down to it, James not telling me is probably just how James processes loss.  He's only in this place because his wife died (because if someone was home to care for him, he'd be there). He's also had far too many roommates die over the 8 years I've know him, and it's a huge adjustment for him every time he gets a new one.

Before I left, the nurse assistant came in to check on James' new George-yelling roommate, and since she is a little loosey goosey and friendly, I thought I'd see if I could get more info out of her about Melvin.  She said that it was a little strange that he died the day he did.  She said that Melvin's brother had come that morning, and with some great effort, they got Melvin into a transport wheelchair and Melvin's brother took him out into the garden for a good long time.  They all thought Melvin looked pretty well that day.  And then it was around midnight that night when they noticed he was gone.

Gosh, I can cry some more over that.

I'm so glad his brother got him out there. It is so amazing what people will hold out for sometimes in their last moments. I've seen it over and over again. They wait for one last visit with someone, or one last thing to be seen or to be said.  I am so glad for Melvin that he got one more moment out in his beloved outdoors with the plants. And I totally know now that it truly was him waving his yellow flowers at me with a goodbye. 


painting with fire said...

You're a good person. I'm sorry for your loss - poor Melvin - sounds like way too short a life!

Lorena said...

I just want to say how very much I love you. Thank you, for being who you are. You are a gift.

not supergirl said...

So much to think about in this post... but I'm glad Melvin had his day in the sun, literally, and that you found his farewell wave. So sorry you had to find out the way you did, though, and that James is struggling with it, too, or so it seems.

~Donna~ said...

BIg hugs!

Long story way shortened:
Honey's grandmother was in hospice care and we went to see her on my last visit to Wales. During our visit, she asked us to open the window. That night she passed.

She was of the belief that when someone passed their soul left through the window, so she was ready to go.

Linda said...

I feel for you and your loss. My MIL was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, with metstasis to the brain. Her as****e PCP did not much of anything to help, physically or emotionally but being the kind of lady she was, she found a new PCP who continued her work up and very gently and kindly told her she needed to put her affairs in order. She and my FIL, who had his own medical problems at almost 80 could not manage by them selves so we took them to live with us. My MIL was extremely weak but on Thanksgiving day she was showered, dressed in her best and sat at the table for dinner with the family. That was the last time she sat at that table, and she died a few weeks later. She also rallied the day her daughter arrived to spend a few days with her Mom. It is so amazing what people can do.