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Summer Hospice

I have begun googling “Do hospice patients live forever?”
I am not a nurse, but this summer I am my mother’s hospice nurse. Every two hours, I administer morphine sulfate, and every 4-6 hours, lorazepam, which together with the morphine, helps manage her pain.
Because she is dying.
It was sudden. Bacterial meningitis, a result of the rotting in her uterus from endocervical cancer that had spread. No one knew. Where she grew us, my brothers and me, grew death as well.
Meanwhile, she lives. After they unplugged her from life support, we thought she would gasp for breath, crash, her organs shutting down one by one.
It’s day 19 of “does not have a week” according to the palliative care doctor, whose bill for conversing with us for a few minutes is $1000.
Staying alive is expensive. Turns out dying is as well.  Two weeks in ICU, three surgeries, now hospice. Funeral, burial, coffin, headstone.
She’s moaning, in pain.  In the beginning, we turned her every two hours, after her morphine. Now, the slightest touch brings on a grimace. Sometime last night, her moans became constant, with every breath. The night nurse said it was involuntary as it was rhythmic. I don’t know. All the nurses that visit or stay say different things. Every time they tell us to say our goodbyes, that today will be the day, my mom hangs on, like a zombie.
“Still zombie-ing,” I update my brothers on gchat, and they know who I’m talking about, though I could just as well have been talking about myself.
She’s moaning every second now. My dad, who has given up sneak feeding her his ginger concoction against doctor’s orders, still insists on force-exercising her, as if his physical therapy would make her get up and walk again. As he moves her legs and arms in circles, she grimaces and the nurse looks horrified.
“Stop it, you’re abusing her,” I bark at him.
He stops, but is not happy.  None of us are happy. She’s dying and there’s nothing we can do.
Nothing besides the morphine, lorazepam, and hyoscine tablets so she doesn’t choke to death on her own terminal fluids. It actually says “for terminal secretions” on the orange CVS bottle. The bottle looks exactly the same as any other prescription med.
Nothing is ever what you expect.
All four of my grandparents are still alive, yet here’s my mom, dying. We blame it on American healthcare, or lack of it. She was afraid to go to the doctor because of the cost, and now she’s dying, and racking up the medical bills anyway.
The morning nurse comes.
“This isn’t right,” she says, when she hears the rhythmic moaning. “I don’t like it.”
She gives my mother an extra dose of morphine. She is too weak to even choke on it now, slowly calms down, and stops moaning.
“Anything you want to say to her, tell her while you have a chance,” the nurse says.

I trudge over to my mother’s bedside, mumble some vague thank-yous, and look at her face. It’s white.

*This piece was part for the Healing Voices OnStage: Caregivers Stories performance March 31, 2016 at The Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum by the New Jersey Theater Alliance.


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