WITHIN THE FIRST SEVEN WEEKS OF 2018
FROM JANUARY 7TH – FEBRUARY 19TH
Every three weeks, since May 2017, I accompanied my dear friend to her oncology and chemotherapy appointments. Every three weeks, like clockwork, I met her at the breast cancer pavilion at Mount Sinai, on West 15th Street, where Doreen laid in a bed for six hours while the harsh poisonous chemo meds ran through her IV into her body. She had survived breast cancer twenty years earlier. I was with her then, also. But this insidious disease returned with a vengeance metastasizing into both of her lungs.
Doreen became weaker and weaker as the months and treatments progressed. And the symptom side effects – the neuropathy made it impossible for her to drive to Newark, NJ as the Chief Academic Officer at a charter school district of seven schools comprising of elementary, middle and high schools.
One afternoon in December, as Doreen dozed while receiving her chemo, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize but I knew the area code very well. It was an incoming call from Dothan, AL, so I answered the call. On the line was the granddaughter of our mutual friend, Lydia. The young woman informed us that her grandmother had been taken to the hospital with severe stomach pain.
Doreen and I began to pray for our friend.
The next day Lydia had an operation where they removed another eight inches of necrotic intestine. Eight inches had been removed six years earlier and this time they inserted a colostomy bag.
Doreen suggested that I go to Alabama to be with Lydia and that she would pay all of my expenses. This very generous offer eased my anxious spirit. It was going to make for a wonderful surprise for Lydia since I hadn’t seen her in three years, though we spoke almost every day on the phone.
A week later Lydia called me with an urgent prayer request saying that she was in a lot of pain and that the doctors wanted to decrease her meds. Her family thought that it was because the medication that she needed was too expensive. Oh God please help my friend. You, Lord, lace her medication with Your goodness and spike the strength of them to give Your precious daughter relief from this pain and discomfort. Amen.
Not specifically mentioning the situation in Alabama with Lydia, I attempted to question Doreen about when exactly I could make the trip down to see her and Doreen brushed me off vehemently because she was coughing and having trouble breathing. I was unaware, at that time, that she had been taken off of the chemo and was breathing through a steady stream of oxygen.
I was shocked when I met Doreen and her mother at Mount Sinai on December 27th. She got out of a taxicab carrying a portable oxygen tank with the attached tubing strapped across her head and nose. While Doreen went in to have a lung biopsy, her oncologist explained to her mother and I that she imagined that Doreen’s cancer was progressing very rapidly and that if a new prescribed protocol did not work that there would be nothing else medically that could be done.
One week later, Patricia, Lydia’s daughter, and also a nurse, texted me to say that her mother had been “forcibly” released from the hospital and that she had taken her mom to the rehab facility where she worked. The text also said, “Mom will ring you when she can talk. We love you and thank you for your prayers.”
When Lydia called on Sunday, December 31st, I did not know that that was going to be the last time that I would ever hear her sweet voice…although her voice did not sound sweet at all. I now understand that what I heard, at the time, was what is called the death rattle. Her voice was soft, weak and very gravelly. I had to keep asking her to repeat herself because I couldn’t understand what she was saying.
Lydia lived in a state of constant pain because she also suffered from fibromyalgia. The pain at the insertion site of the colostomy bag produced even more severe pain because it was not attached properly or securely. Fecal matter leaked out onto her already raw tender skin with a burning stench. So on January 6th, Patricia brought her mother to her own home to administer hospice care. Lydia rested there comfortably taking morpheme and other drugs that could dissolve on her tongue. Patricia assured me that she was not in any pain. And surrounded by her four children and eight grandchildren on January 7th at 8:12 PM, CST, my dear friend Lydia passed into eternity.
I didn’t tell Doreen that our dear friend had passed away until weeks later because Doreen’s breathing was becoming more severe. Her mother was staying with her 24/7 now and Doreen asked me to spend the night with her while her mom went home to get her own meds and some rest. This is the text that I sent to my niece on January 15th:
This is soooo hard. Doreen can’t speak because of the shortness of breath and she has coughing fits. This is so unreal being in this beautiful apartment on Rector Pl. looking out at the Hudson River and Staten Island and her sitting/dozing on the couch with the oxygen machine’s motor humming loudly, the drone of the TV and her intermittent coughing and choking fits. She asks me to bring her water or juice, or to heat up some morsels of food from time to time. She only gets up to go to the bathroom dragging the cords of the oxygen behind her. Her mother won’t be back until this evening. And my friend Sharen fell in her apartment, dislocating her shoulder on Saturday, and has asked for my help this week. Lordy Lordy, give me strength. I can’t even call my prayer partner Lydia because she’s dead. Lol… I know I know it doesn’t seem very funny but God is love and my support team is on the case…checking in with me with encouraging texts. I have the bestest friends!
On Friday, January 19th, Doreen was rushed to the hospital because she was having trouble breathing.
I woke up one morning, a few weeks later, ready to face whatever challenges would come my way. Fortunately, Karen called, and I had an opportunity to pray with her regarding her health, her sister’s health, and my health, collectively. After a few moments of worship, Karen began to pray in the Spirit. She prayed for my decision to go and visit Doreen at the hospital that day because I had not been able to visit my dear friend in almost 3 weeks. I was gripped with fear, doubt, anger and that I did not honestly know what to expect as her health had been failing. They had stopped the chemo because the cancer had progressed too far.
I knew that I wanted to go. I had missed her so. But I was gripped with ambivalence and fear. Since she was still in medical ICU, it meant that she was still on oxygen and would not be able to…or even want to…talk. I had a therapy session the previous evening and my therapist told me that I should go to the hospital and visit Doreen. She said that I didn’t have to stay for long — maybe five or ten minutes; and that probably, in her current physical condition,
Doreen would not be sensitive to time, anyway. There would even be no pressure on me to actually see her. I could just ask the nursing staff or find her doctor and question them about her condition. That made a lot of sense to me and it took the pressure off of my emotions, thinking that I’d have to stay there and keep her company for hours like I used to do when I’d accompany her to her chemo treatments every three weeks.
Karen prayed for my peace and comfort and that I would have a good visit with our dear friend. She prayed that Doreen would be better and alert and that I would be able to see God’s creative miracle healing process being made manifest.
The subway ride was uneventful, thankfully, and I found my way around the 14th Street station and up above ground. But, as usual, I had to ask someone which direction was east. My mom, dad, and sister would have gotten a big kick out of that. On any other street I probably would have figured it out because odd number streets go west and even number streets go east. Even-goes-East. I learned that as a child growing up in New York City, but I was on 14th Street and the traffic goes in both directions — so now there was the rub.
A headphone-plugged-in-the-ear young fellow caught my attention as I flagged him down asking which way was east. He pointed in the direction that I almost swore should have been west by my internal compass. I chuckled, thanked him and headed eastbound.
The day was cloudy, breezy…in the low 50’s. Many pedestrians were hatless and winter coats flung open with each gust of wind. They scurried along only to stop, impatiently, at the red light and the oncoming traffic.
The last time I had visited Doreen, she had asked me to please bring her a bag of UTZ potato chips from a CVS store. I was obliged to do this and found it amusingly frustrating to find that of all the drugstores and candy stores that I stopped at to purchase this particular brand of chips, none of them had UTZs. Doreen has a very sensitive and selective pallet…rather she is an extremely picky eater. So, I dutifully ventured towards 1st Avenue and found the neighborhood CVS and purchased two bags of my girl’s faves.
As I approached the hospital I realized that I didn’t remember what floor the ICU was on. I stopped at the security desk where a young man of color was seated on a stool and I say, “Good morning. What floor is the ICU on?” He mumbles something unintelligible and I say, “What?” And again my ears are accosted by his mumbled jargon. He then calls over another security person, an older gentleman of the Caucasian persuasion, standing near by. This gentleman tells his colleague to call blah blah blah, which he does. My security guard is now speaking to someone on the other end of the phone and then asks me the patient’s name that I’m visiting. I tell him. Then he hands me the phone. The female voice on the other end informs me that I am speaking to Brooklyn Mt. Sinai and there is no patient there by that name. I thank her and hand the receiver back to the, shall we say, relatively incompetent young fellow, and I ask again. “I just want to know what floor the ICU unit is on.” He finally admits that he doesn’t know and sends me around the corner to the ER to ask their receptionist.
I go through a corridor and down the hall where two women are seated in a surprisingly empty ER waiting room. There are two window booths, one empty and at the other is a nurse taking the blood pressure of a surgically masked female patient. The nurse very politely asks if she can help me and I repeat my mantra of the morning, “What floor is the ICU on?” She sweetly tells me to go back down the hall to the security guard for that information. Ugh!
“Miss, I just came from there and they sent me here. Please, I just want to know what floor it’s on.”
“Well, he’s going to have to tell you. Ugh! Wait one moment and I’ll walk you back over there.” Ugh!
This very sweet and patient nurse guides me and her masked patient out into the corridor approaching the security lectern. She walks over to the security person and informs him that he has to call “0” and get the information that I’m requesting and that he should stop sending people over to her area for any information because it’s taking time away from her tending to her patients.
Authoritatively and sternly the ER nurse says to the security guard, “Pick up this phone and dial “0” and get this woman the information she needs.” Well, the next thing I knew the young man was telling me that the Medical ICU was on the 10th floor. Victory!
My visit with Doreen was basically uneventful in that every time she exhales it sounds like a raspy sighing moan. She says that she’s not in any pain, thank God, but it is like she’s bored out of her gourd. With the help of the oxygen tubing in her nose and much effort, she takes in each new breath.
I prayed over here and anointed her with oil on her chest very gently and carefully as if it were Vicks Vapor Rub. I prayed the prayer of faith that the Lord would restore her lung capacity and ease her breathing. Her eyes were closed as I prayed.
I offered Doreen her favorite potato chips, which she graciously declined. Her tray was already loaded with several unopened bottles of Ensure. A Styrofoam cup of untouched oatmeal, with a plastic spoon sticking straight out of the top; as if the oatmeal had been stabbed. Ironically the container was very near the edge of the tray. I happen to know that Doe hates oatmeal and gags when she tries to swallow it. There was a full breakfast plate of French toast, hash browns and something else also untouched, abandoned, shunned by her indifference; in full view under a plastic cover.
Also on the tray were her dead iPhone, various other electronic gadgets like headphones, and just a lot of stuff. I don’t remember what. But her phone was dead and I was looking among the junk for her charger, which I eventually found, plugged into the wall behind her bed. I plugged her phone in. As the power revived the dead phone it began to sputter sounds of life like phones do once they’re able. She said that she didn’t want the phone so I left it on the back counter behind her bed to get more power. Oops, as I’m writing this I realize that I left her phone there. Oh God, I pray no one steals it.
I read a little bit of Joyce Myers’ devotional for that day. I asked her very few questions because it’s an effort for her to speak. Bummer! No conversation. So I said I’d just sit there and keep her company for a while; which I did and then a specialist came in to give her a lung treatment. I leaned over the bed railing and kissed her on her forehead and told her that I love her…that I’m proud of her…and that I’d see her later.
Doreen remained in ICU on the 10th Floor, Bed #5, until Monday, February 19th, when she and Lydia…embraced.