December 11, 2011 – Day 1
I thought burning my toast was going to be the worst thing that happened today. I mean, it wasn’t just the fact that the toast was burnt, it was the last two pieces of bread in the package. I tossed them in the garbage and cursed my brother under my breath for distracting me with his phone call when I should have been watching the toaster. You see, my parent’s toaster didn’t turn off. You had to stare at your toast through the red-hot slots, gauging the “doneness” of the bread. Once it looked like it was browned to your liking, you, the toastee, had to manually push the button to pop the toast out. My mom and dad never felt a need to get a new toaster. When you’re 85 and 89 respectively, I guess watching toast cook isn’t that big of a deal. What else have you got to do? They could see their TV from the kitchen, so while the toast was cooking, they’d have one finger on the toaster button and one eye on Regis & Kelly in the other room.
Perhaps if my brother didn’t call with an urgent message to get to the hospital “NOW!”, my toast would have been cooked in the 5 range and I wouldn’t have started this Sunday with a growling stomach and a bug up my butt. Instead of the leisurely morning I had planned, I threw on the same clothes I wore on the plane to Detroit the day before, tossed my little dog, Angie, into her carrier bag, pulled a baseball cap over my frizzy curls and headed out the family room door into the garage with my dad.
As the electric door lifted and the morning sun poured into the garage, it was followed by a biting gust of wind and a swirl of snow. It had started snowing about an hour earlier and a blanket of white was now accumulating on the driveway. The wind whipping the trees and tossing the snowflakes reminded me why I left this northern climate 16 years ago. Living in Los Angeles for more than a decade, I rarely ventured home to Michigan in the winter. I don’t ski, I’m not a fan of winter sports and I have spent far too many hours on airplanes warding off panic attacks waiting for planes to de-ice before taking off. Detroit was far more appealing to me in May than it was in December.
I buckled Angie’s carrier into the backseat then climbed into the passenger side of my dad’s Jeep Liberty SUV. This was my “mom’s side” of the car and it seemed odd that I was sitting here and not in the back seat with my dog. I stared at her used Kleenex wadded up in the cup holder and saddened a bit as my dad turned the key to the Jeep’s ignition. My dad – a loyal Chrysler employee even 25 years post-retirement – only drove Chrysler products. We rarely mention my Toyota Prius around him. It inevitably brings up lectures of “the Japs” and World War II and “Buying American” and recessions and depressions. I’d rather talk about the fuel efficiency, but he’ll have nothing of it.
As my dad backs down the driveway, the Liberty dovetails a bit as he shifts from reverse to drive when he reaches the street. We head to the freeway that’s slick from the new-fallen snow. I forgot how nerve wracking it was to be in a car with my dad. Though he’s 89, he drives like a 16-year-old boy. Revving up to speeds about 20 miles over whatever limit he’s driving in, he likes to race to the car in front of him, then slam on his brakes just as he’s about to make contact with the car’s rear bumper. My feet find their way to the dashboard in front of me, pushing down hard as the red lights in front of us grow closer. My hand clutches the handle above the passenger door and I can feel my fingernails burrowing into my palm anticipating the moment of impact that we miraculously miss every time. I know better than to say anything.
After a 35-minute drive, we arrive at Bon Secours Hospital in Grosse Pointe. I wipe the sweat from my palms onto the pant legs of my jeans and climb out of the Jeep. I sling Angie’s bag over my shoulder. Man is it cold here. I pull my scarf over my face as we walk toward the hospital’s entrance. We take the elevator to the second floor and a case worker for my mom greets us at the door to room 216. Why a greeter? Uh oh. This must be serious. My stomach takes a dive and my palms begin to sweat again.
The greeter escorts us to my mom’s bedside and sits beside my mom on the edge of her bed. My mom looks like she’s aged 20 years overnight. Her 70-pound body is swimming in her nightgown. A giant black and purple bruise, caused by the port for her kidney dialysis, covers her chest. She’s so fragile, I hesitate to even lean on her when I bend over to kiss her cheek. I settle at the foot of the bed holding a shivering Angie in my arms, and my dad sits at my mom’s right side holding her hand. My mom – never one to mince words – says, “I’m done with dialysis.” Not “Hello,” “How are you?” “How was your morning?” But, “I’m done with dialysis.” My first thought was, “She’s healed! She doesn’t need dialysis anymore!” Unfortunately, that’s not what she meant. What she meant was, “I’m done with dialysis because I can no longer live with the fatigue and nausea and discomfort that the three-day-a-week treatments burden me with.” She wanted to die. And she wanted to die now.
Um, okay. Wow. My head starts processing the information like the inside of a computer. Stringing together ones and zeroes . Processing. Processing. Trying to grasp what this means.
Suddenly the cold and the driving and the snow didn’t matter anymore. Burning my toast was not the worst thing that happened to me today. The worst thing that happened to me was that I looked into the eyes of the first person who ever held me, the person who let go of my hand when I took my first steps, the person who released the back of my bicycle seat when I pedaled on two wheels for the first time, the person who grounded me when I got drunk on Mad Dog 20/20 in high school, the person who sat on the kitchen floor with me when I sobbed my eyes out over a boy, the person who told me I was the most precious gift she ever received and that she was so glad I was born – and that person told me she was done. Like the toast she was ready to push the button and pop herself out of this world.
Not giving it a further thought, I looked into her eyes – now a shade of grey-blue clouded by cataracts – and said, “I support your decision.” She shook her head in acknowledgement and looked up at the TV as Vanna White revealed three Rs in the puzzle that was a “Thing.”
And with that, I fished through my purse for my phone, texted my boss and said, “I’m not going to be in for awhile.”
And so begins Day One of what will become a 14-day vigil.
(An excerpt from “14 Days – A Memoir” – by Lisa Goich-Andreadis)
If you liked this excerpt, and would like information on the book when it’s published
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