The characters belong to Stephenie Meyer...the story, is my experience. I felt the need to write it down in some form as therapy. Everything is true besides there being a handsome respiratory therapist. That's a little creative license I threw in. There are no lemons, there are some swear words, and I cried while I wrote it. You have been warned.
This is dedicated to my Mom.
Carry You Home
Trouble is her only friend and he's back again
Makes her body older than it really is
As she says it's high time she went away
No one's got much to say in this town
Trouble is the only way down, down, down
As strong as you were
Tender you'll go
I'm watching you breathing for the last time
A song for your heart
But when it is quiet
I know what it means
And I'll carry you home
I'll carry you home
James Blunt ~ Carry You Home
I walked into the ICU room, taking a quick glance at the numbers on all the monitors. I always hoped that sometime overnight there would be some change. Some sign that my mother's body was trying to heal. After all her health issues I knew enough to recognize all the different readings that came from the numerous wires. No change, not really. She was still at the same ventilator settings. Her heart rate was still having moments of tachycardia where it would beat too fast and erratically. The reading that told me the levels of the carbon dioxide in her blood hadn't dropped either.
Ten days. It felt like a lifetime since this had all started. Ten days ago my mother had agreed to be put on a ventilator. The doctors were hoping if they gave her lungs a break, they might be able to halt the inflammatory process that was causing them to harden. Every moment her lungs were getting less elastic and making it harder for her to breath. Mom wanted to fight. She wasn't ready to give up. I was there when she made the decision, and stayed until it was time to sedate her and place the tube. She looked up at me and cupped her hand on my cheek. "My poor baby. It will be okay." I was trying to hide my fear, to be brave for her. She saw through it, but she was doing the same thing. Her pulmonologist came back in and I had to leave. We exchanged I love yous, and I told her not to make trouble. When I exited the ICU I sat down suddenly in the hall, my tears that I had held back flowing down my face.
That was where her cardiologist, Dr. Ducet found me. He sat down on the floor next to me. My mom truly had some of the best doctors ever. Even though he really wasn't that young, Mom always called him Doogie Howser. My guess was he was in his forties really, with a wife and young sons that Mom always asked after.
"I'm afraid that once that tube goes in, it's never going to come out." Had I just talked to my mother for the last time…..I didn't want to think about that.
Dr. Ducet nodded and put his hand on my shoulder. "And that is a real risk." He'd always been upfront and honest with both of us. "She might recover. But I can't tell you that the chance of her not being able to come back off the ventilator isn't there."
I was quiet, wiping my face with my sleeves.
"But we know what a fighter your Mom is."
I nodded. That was true. She had more health problems in the last eight years than some people had in their entire lifetime. It hardly ever got her down. Sometimes I wondered where she pulled that strength from. I was sure I couldn't handle it with the same level of grace.
"All we can do is give her body time and hope for the best."
I dried my face for the moment. I wasn't going to go back in there tonight. I would face seeing Mom on the machines tomorrow. I thanked Dr. Ducet and he promised he would keep in touch and check in regularly.
I had been here every day since then. I watched daily as they adjusted medications, altered settings. They had to give her a drug to paralyze her, so she wouldn't fight the ventilator. Every morning I would walk in, and I would say the same thing. "Hi Mom, I'm here." I would walk over and take her limp hand in mine, kiss her cheek. I would tell her about the pets at home, or any news items I thought she would like. Then I would sit down next to her and read to her.
I decided it was the best thing to do. Mom loved to read, and had passed that love on to me. Her health issues had slowed down her reading speed in the last few years and I knew it frustrated her at times. The other bonus of reading was it kept my mind occupied. She could hear my voice, even sedated. I knew she wouldn't remember from one moment to the next what I had just said. That was why I kept reading. I figured if my voice kept going it would help remind her I was right there.
I was reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to her. Mom loved Harry Potter. I wanted something light and fun. So I sat and read to her. The nurses would come and go, checking machines and levels. We would chat a bit. She was fortunate to have some of the nicest nurses I had ever met. They were always so good at filling me in on what was happening.
The tachycardia alarm went off. "Mom….you can't let your heart get that fast, slow it down please." Her heart rate dropped. I never knew if it was coincidence or my words every time that happened. But it made me better to say the words. I knew the different sounds of the different alarms I didn't even have to look to see what was beeping anymore.
I left to go grab some lunch in the hospital cafeteria briefly, telling Mom I would be right back. When I returned the respiratory therapist was there checking her ventilator settings. He was one I hadn't seen yet. He gave me a smile as I came in. "You must be her daughter?"
I smiled back. "Yes, Bella."
"I'm Edward, one of the respiratory therapists."
I nodded. "That's what I figured. Everything okay?"
Edward nodded. "No better, but no worse." He suctioned out her tube, which always sounded worse than it really was. Carefully he readjusted the tape and strap holding the tube in place. I came over and smoothed her hair back again, refastening the elastic I had keeping it out of the way. Edward helped me get things situated for her. He gave me a warm smile as he left. "I'll see you later."
"Thanks." I sat back down and picked up where I had left off in the book.
That was how the days had been going. At night at home, the quietness of the house without Mom there would eat at me. She'd been in the hospital numerous times, but this time was different. This time it felt like preparation for something more permanent.
The next day there was a change, and not for the better as I had been praying for. Her kidneys were starting to fail. I knew what that meant. They were going to put her on dialysis. I sat there reading to her with a pit in my stomach, pausing to stare at the numbers hoping the power of my mind could somehow change things.
A figure in the doorway caught my attention and I stopped reading. A middle aged woman and a man stood there. He was wearing a priest's collar. Oh fuck no. Goddamn fucking vultures. I knew why they were here. There was only one reason spiritual counselors showed up in an ICU room. The word among the staff was things didn't look good for my mother. Fuck I knew that, and didn't need them here to rub it in. I wasn't ready to have the vultures show up. Like somehow their presence would bring about the end I feared faster. I knew I was being irrational, but I couldn't help it.
I was polite. Under the façade I was screaming curse words at the top of my lungs. They just wanted to let me know they were available if I needed anyone to talk to. The chaplain offered to say a prayer so I agreed. I wasn't religious, but I would pray to anyone about now if it would help my Mom. After they left I sat in the chair with a sigh. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
"You okay Bella?" I opened my eyes to see Edward in the doorway.
"Yeah." I picked up the book to find where I had left off when I had stopped reading.
My eyes shot up to his and I think I may have glared a little.
"Sorry. I can just tell you aren't. You don't have to talk about it." Edward pulled some gloves on so he could start treating Mom.
"No, just had a visit from the vultures."
"Vultures?" Edward raised an eyebrow at me.
"Sorry. The hospital chaplain and counselor. I call them vultures because I know why they came by."
Edward nodded. "I get it."
"I don't need the obvious rubbed in. I know they mean well, but…."
"But it doesn't really help you any." Edward moved around behind me so he could check the ventilator settings.
"Not really. I don't think there is anything that will though." I felt the tears I had been suppressing for the last week and a half rise. I set the book in my lap and set my face in my hands. I focused on my breathing trying to keep from falling apart. I couldn't do that now. Not in front of a stranger, and not around my Mom. She may be unconscious, but I was determined to still be strong for her.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see Edward looking at me with sincere concern. "If you ever need an ear, I'm a good listener."
I swallowed and nodded. "Thanks."
I watched as Edward went through his routine. I was impressed as always that the staff always talked to Mom as if she was awake. They would tell her what they were going to do before they did it. Edward finished up and washed his hands. Walking over he handed me a slip of paper. "If you need anything, here's my cell."
My jaw dropped a little at the gesture. "Thank you. That's very nice of you."
"I mean it. I haven't seen anyone here with you all this time. So if you need an ear, call me."
"Okay." Edward gave me another smile and left to see his next patient. He was right in that there hadn't been anyone else here. I had a few friends that checked in on me regularly. My boss knew where I was and had graciously allowed me as much time off as required. I knew I wasn't really alone, but in a sense, it felt that way most of the time.
Mom's pulmonologist came in and pulled me into the hall for an update. I leaned against the counter for support as he told me the dialysis wasn't making a difference in her kidney function. They were continuing to shut down. It was taking more medication to keep her stable. He asked about what my Mom's wishes were. Mom had always been very clear fortunately. She didn't want to be kept alive on machines for an extended period. If there was hope of things improving that was one thing. However it looked like that hope had come and gone.
Dr. Ducet walked over as her other doctor left to consult with a nurse. He gave me a look that told me everything I had feared since we had talked outside the ICU. Mom wasn't going to wake up. I signed off on a DNR that the nurse had brought over while he watched. I knew that if Mom's heart stopped, I didn't want them trying to keep her going. Her body was already telling me what I feared when this all started. It was tired. It couldn't keep doing this. If her will could power her body, she would stay. However that wasn't going to happen.
The time to make hard decisions was upon me. Harder than signing a DNR. I looked at Dr. Ducet and said, "I don't want her dying with a tube down her throat. But how….I mean what happens if…"
"If you ask us to take her off life support?"
I nodded, unable to finish my question.
"If you decide to extubate her, we would take the tube out and pull all respiratory support. There is no way she can breathe adequately without that support. Lack of oxygen will cause her systems to shut down one by one."
"Will it hurt? How long?" I whispered.
Dr. Ducet leaned back on the counter next to me. "No it won't hurt because we will keep her sedated. She won't be aware of what is happening. How long is a little harder to say. But given how weak she is, and the fact that her lungs are basically no longer functional, maybe a half an hour."
I closed my eyes. "Okay. I need some time."
"You have time. She's stable for now. You don't have to rush into anything."
"How long do you think she has if I didn't do anything?"
He thought for a moment. "Probably a couple days."
I thanked him for all he had done. I knew he felt like it wasn't enough. But there were some things that just couldn't be fixed. Evening was approaching, I needed to go home and get some dinner. I doubted I would be able to sleep, but I needed to try. I went in and kissed Mom goodbye, telling her I'd see her in the morning.
I lay in bed with my mind and stomach in knots. How do you decide when? How do you know today is the day, or this hour is the hour? I felt numb and in disbelief. Was this really happening? Had it all come down to my choice? The final thing I would do for my mother was let her go? How could I do it? She was everything to me. She was my rock, my crusader, my cheering section. I always feared the day I lost my mother. I could never imagine that I would be able to function once she had died. Even now just thinking about it I could barely breathe.
The numbness transformed into a raging mix of emotions within me. Anger, grief, denial, sadness, and despair. I fell asleep with a heavy heart and tears drying on my cheeks.
My cell phone ringing at seven am woke me suddenly. I recognized the number as being the hospital. I felt my heart leap into my throat as I answered. It was one of Mom's nurses, one I had talked the most to. Mom's vital signs were getting erratic, and I better come.
I had never been more grateful that we lived minutes from the hospital. I ran into the ICU. Mom was still alive. I knew by the numbers on her monitors, the time had come. Her heart rate was already slowing, in spite of the support her body had. Her carbon dioxide levels were high. She was asphyxiating on a ventilator.
I walked in and took her hand. I shook my head to myself as I realized Mom had done the last thing she could for me. She had taken the decision of when out of my hands. She had decided it was now. I stood there with silent tears running down my face. Edward arrived quietly, giving me a look of sympathy. I knew he was there to pull the tube. Dr. Ducet was hovering in the hallway watching the monitor screens out there.
I sat in the chair and continued to hold Mom's hand. "Mom….it's time. Time for you to go. I'll be okay. You can let go."
Edward looked at me. "Ready?"
I smiled through my tears. "No, but yes."
He nodded with understanding. Gently he pulled the adhesive that helped hold the tube in place. He detached the ventilator and carefully pulled the tube out. He suctioned her mouth and wiped off her face with a damp wash cloth. Then he stepped out to leave me alone with her.
I sat there telling her how much I loved her. How grateful I was for everything she had every done for me. I kept repeating it was okay for her to go. I admired her hand in mine. She'd always had nice nails. I remembered how much these hands had done for me, including comforting me before she was put on the ventilator.
She wasn't really breathing. Her body was going through the reflex, but I knew she wasn't getting any oxygen. I watched her heart rate continue to slow, fifty five, forty, thirty, twelve. It was a countdown of the most morbid kind. Over and over I told her I loved her. It was all I could say. Then the number reached zero, and the line went flat. There were a few more gasps, and then silence.
I was still telling her I loved her. I felt a puff of breeze against my forehead. I looked up but there was no vent. A final kiss maybe as she left? I wasn't sure. I sat and held her hand for several minutes. I could feel her body starting to cool already. I didn't want to still be holding her hand when she was cold. Gathering my strength I stood up and leaned to kiss her forehead. "I love you Mom." I let go of her hand with a final stroke over the top. I took a breath and left the room.
There were murmured condolences from the staff as I exited. I thanked everyone for all they had done. The nurse promised me they would take good care of her. I knew they would. Edward was off to the side, watching. I gave him a little wave and left.
I walked outside, looking up at the blue sky. A beautiful day. Proof that the world would go on. I sat on a bench and asked Mom for a sign. I needed to know she was okay. Send me an eagle I thought. We didn't see eagles in the downtown area. They stuck to the forests and coasts. Mom always loved eagles.
Someone sat down next to me. I didn't have to look to know it was Edward.
"I'd ask if you are okay, but I know you aren't. But I don't know what else to say."
"It's okay. It's the thought that counts." I gave him a weak smile and took the Kleenex he offered me. "Thanks."
We sat there silently for several minutes. Finally I said, "I realize how lucky I am."
Edward looked a little puzzled. "In what way?"
"That I was able to be present for that moment. For the moment she slipped from my life. She was there when I came into the world. I was there when she left. It's an honor really." I twisted the Kleenex in my fingers.
Edward's voice was low. "It is. Not everyone gets that."
My thoughts were just kind of falling out of my mouth. "It has been both the worst and best day of my life."
"Not many people would see both sides of the coin Bella. You will be stronger for it."
"It still really fucking sucks." Way to state the obvious, but I just really didn't have the energy for a verbal filter at this point.
Edward chuckled and I did a little too. "Yes, it does Bella."
Silence fell between us again. I could feel the warmth from Edward's body against my side. "I'm keeping you from work Edward."
"No I'm on break. It's fine."
"Hmm?" I blinked because I had found myself staring at his bronze hair.
"I wanted to say, and forgive me for the inappropriate time, that I would love to take you to lunch sometime. If you'd like to go. Feel free to call me an insensitive prick too."
I smiled at him as I shook my head. "You're forgiven. And if there is one thing I know, you aren't insensitive. I'll call you when I'm ready."
Edward nodded and stood as I did. "Take your time Bella." He offered me a hug which I took gladly. I needed some comfort, and I wasn't about to turn down a hug from a guy I had just noticed was extremely good looking. My mind had been pretty much tied up with more critical issues than noticing my Mom's respiratory therapist was handsome.
Edward squeezed my hand. He looked up at the sky for a moment, squinting his green eyes in the sun. "Look Bella. An eagle. You don't see those often around here."
I felt tears come to my eyes as I looked up where he was gazing. A lone bald eagle soared above on some unseen wind. It dipped its wing before it flew off towards the mountains.
"No Edward, you really don't." I squeezed his hand back as I watched the eagle until it disappeared. I released his hand slowly. "I'll call you?"
"Anytime Bella. Take care." With a final smile Edward headed back into the hospital and I started walking to my car.
As I walked, I felt a slight lift to the heaviness around my heart. Thanks Mom, for the sign. And for letting me know that there are bigger things at work that I will never understand, but can still be grateful for. There would be tough days ahead, with lots of tears. Somehow I knew that I would survive, and Mom was still my cheering section.
Most of you know my Mom died. I lost her in April of 2006. Not a day goes by that I don't miss her. But she has always made it very clear that she's around. She is definitely still my cheering section. And she still sends me eagles.
I'm forever grateful that I wasn't really alone on that day, that my older sister was there with me. She has been my rock ever since, and I don't know what I would do without her.