I have read that when men are dying they call for their mothers. I can’t swear that’s true, but I can say that some women call for their mothers. At least my mother called for hers when she was dying, not caring that her mother had been dead 50 years.
After my mother died I distributed a dozen copies of her death certificate to interested parties like bankers, and claims adjusters, and government bureaucrats. Each time I picked up a copy I saw her cause of death, which was “necrosis.” That means her body tissue died, which seems a little obvious, I suppose. It’s something a doctor can write on a death certificate that sounds better than, “I have no fucking idea.”
In the days before my mother died, her doctors talked about transferring her to another hospital, and they almost came right out and said it was because they weren’t as smart as the doctors over there. I’d have been impressed by their near-honesty if they’d suggested it a month earlier, when it might have done some good.
But they didn’t transfer her. Instead they brought in a carnival of specialists who each said the problem wasn’t in his specialty and then handed things over to the next specialist. That went on for several weeks while parts of her body proceeded to die. I probably don’t need to explain that it hurt. Her doctor dangled her deeper and deeper into the ocean of painkillers, until she was taking enough morphine to vaporize a spider monkey.
The day at last came when morphine was no more effective than Mountain Dew. The doctor decided to tie a heavier weight onto her, one that would drag her deeper into painlessness, and the nurse brought the pill to make it happen. It transformed pain from a shark that was biting her in half into a shark that was rolling her around in its jaws to savor her. That was about as good as it was going to get.
My mother fell unconscious that night. On the continuum of becoming unconscious, she didn’t slip into it, nor did she drop into it. She did the equivalent of falling on her face into unconsciousness. The new painkiller had been a poor choice. My mother lacked the full complement of working kidneys, and this drug considered dialysis nothing more than a veiled suggestion to leave her body in a timely way. As the nurses gave her more doses, the stuff packed her body like it was Labor Day at the beach. Instead of just reprimanding the shark it started draining the ocean.
The doctor employed some vigorous and red-faced medical gymnastics, which brought her back to consciousness a day or so later. That should have been a good thing. But since the doctor had almost killed the shit out of her with the better-than-morphine medication, he was afraid that any other painkillers would shove her right into unconsciousness, breathlessness, and lifelessness. So, he refused to give her any painkillers. Not even aspirin. It was the ultimate cold turkey.
Over the next two days my mother rarely responded to anything we said. Maybe she wasn’t too aware of us. If so, I hope she wasn’t too aware of herself, either. She cried for help throughout the sleepless days and nights, which is worth remaining unaware of, if you ask me. She called for her mother a lot, who was dead and couldn’t help her. She often called for my father, who was there holding her hand, but he couldn’t help her either. A little hand holding isn’t much help when your body is dying and you have to participate in such an intimate way.
I guarantee that two days can seem like a long time. I feel silly now bitching about weekends being too short.
At the end of two days we could see that things were not going to get better. My father insisted that the doctor at least give her morphine, and he did. She went to sleep. She died the next day.
Looking back, I recall sitting there when the nurses first brought in the ill-behaved painkiller. I looked it up online before they gave it to her. I looked up every medication because I’d learned not to trust doctors any farther than I can fling a chimpanzee that’s flinging its own poop. I didn’t see anything that concerned me, other than the usual giant list of horrific side effects, so I didn’t object.
After my mother died, I looked that drug up again for some reason. At the very bottom of the page, under pharmacokinetics, an unambiguous statement warned never to give the stuff to renal patients or people on dialysis. I hadn’t checked that far. I’d allowed my vigilance to wander away.
It’s crazy that it falls to the vigilance of an untrained dope like me to catch unruly medications, but it does, and I knew it. Growing up with my mother encouraged vigilance. You didn’t want to get caught not paying attention at the wrong time. I find it ironic that the quality she unintentionally ground into me is the quality that failed at the end.