Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Most People Just Can't Handle It....

For the first six years we were married we had no children, although I had suffered three miscarriages. So, I dove into my volunteer work head first. During the third pregnancy I was serving on the board of the American Cancer Society and was on the board of the original steering committee that brought the first Hospice to our town. Each member of the steering committee was given 5 people to look after, which meant almost daily visitation to each of our people. These were, of course, people who had all been given 6 months or less to live by their doctors.

Another committee member I'll call Don, was a local pharmacist and was licensed to administer the *Hospice Cocktail* as we called it, which was the morphine that allowed terminal patients to get through their last days in as little pain as possible. We also had several well known local nurses on the board, as well as a minister from the Episcopal church. Together, we were able to finally set up a real Hospice, as the need for Hospice was growing stronger by the week.

Anyway, one of the people I looked after was this precious little Latino lady named Rosa Carillo who was confined to a run down nursing home for her last days. She told me that she had family in town but they never came to visit, which just broke my heart.  I made it my personal mission to see that this sweet little woman had someone she could rely on during her last days. I would go nearly every day to visit her, taking cookies I'd baked, or magazines and sometimes flowers from my garden.

The first day that I went to visit her I was completely appalled by the conditions in this so called nursing home. When she rose from her bed to a sitting position I saw that she had more bed sores than I'd even known was possible to have. I could see cockroaches scuttering about on the filthy floor and spider webs in the corners of the ceilings. The entire place smelled horrid and was not as clean as a nursing home should legally be. Well, I proceeded to raise bloody hell. I became such a thorn in the side of the nursing home employees that I was almost certain they were going to have me assassinated at any given moment. The staff was always sitting and doing nothing or watching TV when I came in, which was clearly not what they were being paid to do. So I'd bitch and complain and at least get things done for Rosa. It got to where if they saw me coming, they would all suddenly be busy *cleaning* when the entire place would have probably been better off if it were just imploded. Yes, it was that dirty.

The more I got to know Rosa, the more I wondered why her family didn't come around to see that all of her needs were being met and at least tell her hello. But, she was old and very sick so perhaps they just couldn't handle that. There are many people who can't handle watching death take someone they love. I have become well versed in watching death descend on those I love over the years but I'm still not calloused. It still hurts inside, although I can always manage to put a smile on my face for them and be there for them.

I spent three and a half months looking after Rosa and I got a fair amount of improvement in living conditions at the nursing home. Even though I bitched and moaned to the employees, I was always polite about it and I also brought the staff goodies from time to time, which certainly helped my cause. As far as I could tell, the only inmates patients that were well cared for were the ones who had visitors. Honestly, criminals in prison were treated far better than most of these people were being treated.

I repeatedly asked the staff to call me if Rosa's condition worsened and they agreed that they would. One morning I rose to drink my coffee and read the newspaper before making my daily rounds and I was suddenly cramping and bent over in pain. I knew what was happening. Next there would be blood. I'd already been through it twice before, so I called my OB and by that night was in the hospital waiting to have yet another D&C (dilation and curettage) to clean out the *leftovers* of my miscarried child.

I was sad and I cried my eyes out but deep in my heart I knew that there must have been something not right with the baby and the miscarriage was God's way of taking care of it. When I was allowed to go home the next day, I received a call from one of our Hospice nurses, telling me Rosa had died peacefully, in her sleep the night before. Frankly, we should all be so lucky.

I was doubly devastated by this news which sent me into tears for days. I had really become very fond of Rosa. However, I felt that somehow, Rosa was taking care of my little one for me. I realize that probably sounds a little cuckoo but I was totally convinced that she died the same night as my miscarriage so that she could care for my unborn child the way I had cared for her. Well, this line of thinking got me through the devastation anyway. I do believe that as human beings, we do what we have to do to get through difficult situations, even if it means delusional thinking.

After a month or so I was finally back to doing my normal things and visiting my Hospice people, but Rosa had somehow carved her way into a little corner in my heart and I knew there would not be someone like her again. The hardest part about working with Hospice was knowing that the people you were looking after were going to die soon. Most people just can't handle it. I couldn't handle it for very long. Thankfully, after we eventually got the whole program set up and the needed number of nurses on board, Hospice was up and running. After that, I stayed on the board for a couple of years and then resigned when our son was born.

I still think about Rosa from time to time and the way her face would light up whenever I would walk through her door. It always gave me such an elated feeling to know that I could brighten someone's day so much by my presence.... Honestly, I don't think anyone has ever been so happy to see me as Rosa was during those months. I kind of miss that.

Oh, and I helped get that nursing home closed down until it could find someone new to buy it and do the necessary improvements and upgrades. It was eventually purchased by a medical group out of Dallas that manages several nursing homes around the state. It's still not nearly as nice as the other local nursing homes, but it is clean. Just because you don't have a big bank account is no reason for someone who has reached the end of their life to be mistreated or neglected. Everyone deserves to be cared for properly in the end.


Green-Eyed Momster said...

What a touching post. I always remember my friend who passed away. I am one of those people who can't handle watching someone's life come to an end. I don't know what it is about someone reaching the end of their life that just wrecks me. You have real big heart, Snooty!

And, you carried your babies like I did.... ;)


Sjn said...

you're a saint girl!
It is a heart ache to have a miscarriage, I had one before my 3 daughters came along.
You were a comfort to Rosa and she turned out to be a comfort to you. A blessing.

Pink Martini said...

An earth angel. I knew it! :) xoxo

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! Thank God for people like you!

I completely agree that it is everyone's right to die with dignity. It is also everyone's right to have their wishes respected when they are in their last minutes, and after they have passed. That's why the discussions that doctors will be paid to do, under the new healthcare plan, which they aren't paid to do now, are so important.

It's also important that all of us volunteer to help others, like you did.

I really admire you.

What an amazing thing to do.

Snooty Primadona said...

You know, I was so young back then... 27 I think. I was too young & bullet proof to yet be depressed by death. Now, it's gotten easier to bear, but it still hurts to lose anyone to cancer. It's also gotten scarier, although people in my family tend to live well into their 90's. That said, I must also say that I am not as afraid of death as I was during my 40's, while I watched my in-laws deteriorate from the cancer that was eating them alive.

When you have no choice but to watch someone die, it doesn't make it any easier, but if you view it like there is yet another angel watching over you, it certainly helps....

noble pig said...

I knew you were an angel. I was right. I loved this story.

Sjn said...

I'm not afraid for me, but for my daughters and husband. My dad died of malignant Melanoma when he was 57, I was 32. I all to well remember the pain, and my biggest fear of cancer is to do that to my girls.

Snooty Primadona said...

SJN: I understand. None of us wants to be a burden to our children, much less responsible for the genes they inherit from us. Believe me, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't worry for my own children, mainly because of hubby's family history with cancer. It scares the holy crap out of me but if I don't dwell on it, I have faith that it will have less of a chance of being... I hope that makes sense.

Both of our children went through the cancer chemo routine of hubby's parents right along with us, back when Hospice was here but didn't yet have a grief support program. At that point I was really *out of my mind* because had I been thinking clearly & functioning properly, I would have started one myself. The pain of their cancer gripped me so deeply within the depths of my soul I thought at one point I would never overcome it. It took a couple of years but I finally came to grips with their deaths, but the toll it took on our family would prove to have long term effects that we are still struggling to overcome.

Heather said...

Your strength is amazing and an inspiration. Watching my grandmother in a nursing home was difficult. It was a nice place but I was always so saddened by how many people had no one visiting them.

My grandmother had my parents and us. We brought her dog, Kiwi, over daily whose wagging tail brought a smile to so many patients faces. It would take me at least half an hour to get to her room when I had Kiwi with me because so many folks wanted to pet the dog and feel a little love. And this dog gave lots of love.

Years after my grandmother passed away, the dog became very sick and ended up dying way too young. My parents spent a small fortune trying to keep Kiwi alive, but to no avail. They felt they owed Kiwi the best medical attention after he had given so much to my grandmother and many others.

After several days in ICU it was clear Kiwi had to be put to sleep. Fortunately we were allowed to bring him home for our own little "hospice" time. We all had a chance to say goodbye and see him without all the wires and tubes.

I've always believed that Kiwi must be having a blast in heaven. I'm sure he had a huge group of folks waiting for him.

Mental P Mama said...

What a sweet post. It takes a special person to do the hospice work. I don't know that I have it in me....Bless you.

imom said...

I really enjoyed reading that Snooty! Very heartwarming and I believe Rosa is taking care of your baby too.


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