June 12, 2005
Long Day’s Journey Into Night Tuesday morning, at about 2:40 the phone rang walking us both up. By the time I reached it in the living room the voice mail system had already grabbed it. While I was waiting for the message waiting light to flash I checked in the incoming call log to see who had called. The number started with the (252) area code for eastern North Carolina where Michele’s mom lived.
I knew that the call was not a wrong number, and that it was bad news.
The message was that Michele’s mom, Virginia, was in the hospital and was not doing well. Over the next hour or two we had a series of phone conversations with the medical staff, and Michele’s Aunt Betty about the situation. Virginia’s condition was severe and her prognosis was bleak. She was not expected to live the day.
Michele said that she wanted to go there to be with her mom. Calling the airlines I was able to reserve two seats on a 1:30 flight out of KCI that would put us into Norfolk VA by 7:00 pm Eastern time. Her mom had been transferred to a hospital there, as the smaller region hospital in her Outer Banks home was not equipped to provide the care she needed.
While we waited for more details and packed our bags the day nurse, named Heather, at in the Critical Care Unit where Virginia was, called; she had Virginia on the line. Michele was able to talk to her mom briefly. She was able to tell her that she loved her, that she was on her way to see her, and to hear her mom say she loved her back.
Thank you Heather, you provided Michele with the last chance she had to talk to her mom.
By 10 am we had borrowed funds from my family to help us cover the travel expenses, talked to the apartment management about watching our cats, called both our employers, and were on our way to the airport.
On Flying the Same Day You Buy Tickets Flying in this country since 9/11 has been a miserable experience. While I appreciate the need to take steps following the horrific hijackings four years ago, the systems in place are often frustrating for travelers. Take us for example. We were traveling on “medical emergency” tickets to reach a dying family member before they died. But since we purchased our tickets at the counter mere minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave we were “selected” for additional screening. Every item in our checked baggage was taken out and inspected. Every item in our carry on luggage was similarly handled. We were both extensively scanned with a handheld wand before being lightly patted down. You see, by not having the grace to schedule this bereavement flight in advance, we matched a profile the air traffic security people feel is dangerous.
Everyone was incredible polite and gentle throughout this process, but it was hard given the stress of the moment and the purpose of our trip not to give into indignation over our treatment.
Saying Goodbye We arrived safely in Norfolk on time, and were met by Michele’s brother, Lee. By 8:00 we had arrived at the hospital and were in Virginia’s room in the CCU. Her mom had been admitted to the hospital in incredible pain from an untreated blood disease that was causing her body to die. Virginia had refused all medical treatment of her disease for almost three years and her internal organs were dying. Before we left Kansas Michele had talked to her brother and to the attending doctor about providing her mom comfort care only. As a result Virginia was on a morphine drip, but no other measures were being taken. Before we arrived they had even stopped measuring her vital signs, as they were no longer detectable. Only the strength of her heart was keeping her alive.
Michele was able to sit at her mother’s bedside and hold her hand and tell her goodbye in person. I know that walking into that room and seeing her mom’s frail and withered body was the hardest thing Michele has ever had to do in her life.
We spent a couple of hours with Virginia that evening; sometimes talking to her, some times talking to each other, always accompanied by the slow labored sound of her breathing. A gasp followed by a long gurgling exhale before a long pause, and then over again.
About 10 that evening we decided that we would go get a room nearby and try to get some rest. Three of Virginia’s six sisters were present, as well as Michele and her brother; they were getting ready to return to the Outer Banks. Everyone leaned over and said goodbye to Virginia with a soft caress, gentle words, and love.
We had not been in our room for more than 5 minutes when my cell phone rang with a call from Lisa, the night nurse, informing us of Virginia’s death. She died peacefully in her sleep shortly after 11:00 pm that evening.
Over the months leading up to her mother’s death, Michele had known it was approaching, and had talked to her mom about her wanting to die, and about saying goodbye. Michele was able to reach a place of peace with her mom; being able to say good-bye in person one more time was just the final measure of peace.