Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dog Days of August

I'll be so glad when this month is over with. August has never been a good month for me. First there is the heat and I never was very good with hot weather. Fortunately this year was a mild summer, for which I am most grateful.

But it is still a month in which I have suffered a lot of loss. Early in the month there is the anniversary of my Daddy. He and I had a troubled relationship. I'll never forget the events that led to his death in 1967. First, my Uncle Wilburn died in a car wreck. I traveled to Dallas as I mentioned before. Then my Aunt Vi died just one week later. Back home I came, and we all drove on to Arkansas for her funeral. Before returning to Dallas, my Daddy and I worked on the corral. We had a bitter fight and both of us were furious with each other, and I left without making peace. He called once a few days later, but our conversation was strained and no reconciliation followed. I could be terribly vindictive and unforgiving in those days. A few days later, I was called to the phone, told to sit down. Momma was on the other end, crying. Daddy had a heart attack. He had worked out in the sun all day the day before. He felt bad the next morning, and he had a massive coronary. The doctor had been called and he rushed over to our house (they did things like that back then) but to no avail. He was gone. It would be years before I sorted it all out, and made peace with Daddy in my own heart. I used a contrivance of sorts, sitting down in front of an empty chair, listing all the things I had done wrong, not dwelling on what he had done but my part in it all. Then I asked him for forgiveness and that was it.

The year was 1988. Four years earlier Mom had a cancer scare, but it turned out not to be malignant. This time she was sent to Houston to the medical center again. She looked me in the eyes. "This time it is for real. I can tell." I believed her. We spent the next several weeks talking about almost everything. The cancer was advanced and it was just a matter of time. Difficult times as we constantly were in negotiations with the doctors who were more focused on maximizing their profit. Her cancer doctor was good, but her heart doctor was the primary care physician and he was a classic jerk.

I recall one day he walked in. "We are going to have to send your mom home. Her medicare gave out a week ago, but I'm going to try to talk them into covering this week." Okay that made me furious. I knew he was lying. As a government employee I knew they don't just cut someone off without some sort of notification. I said nothing to him, choosing instead to go directly to the hospital administrator.

"Yes, may I help you?" asked the administrator. I explained what the doctor had told me. His name was Dr. Burger, but we had secretly started referring to him as Dr. Booger. "He said WHAT? Medicare will cover the costs. That just is not true. I'll talk to him about it."

I thanked him. The glare on the doctor's face the next time I saw him was priceless. He still wanted to send her home. But under their care, she now had a bed sore and was depleted of fluids. This had to be fixed first. Then they sent her to live with me, requiring her to ride an ambulance to the hospital daily for treatments. Seems insurance would pay them more this way. One day she went back for treatment. The cancer had spread and the smell of rotting flesh from inside her lungs permeated the apartment. Her fluid levels went back to where they were before, and she had broken a rib during a coughing spell. She would be re-admitted.

The Cancer Doctor was now the primary physician. He called me over to talk to me. "What kind of treatment did she get while she was home. She was dehydrated when she came in. How did her rib break?"

Okay, I've worked public welfare almost all my adult life and I knew where he was headed. My face turned beet red and I was angrier than I had been in a very long time. "Listen, I know exactly where you are going with these questions. I was with her during the evenings and weekends, and had a professional caring for her while I was at work." My voice was controlled and trembling. "In addition to my care, my ex was involved. She and momma were close, and she was there to pitch in. She is a registered nurse who currently cares for elderly patients. Before I left this GOD DAMNED HOSPITAL before, she was dehydrated despite your "best care" and she had a bed sore to boot. Unlike you people, we got a special mattress to prevent cold sores. I guess it was too damned expensive for you all to do that. I assume she broke the rib while coughing. She really is very fragile you know. I've fought you assholes from day one just to get her the care she needed. Don't you dare insinuate one thing to me, or be prepared for a fight you didn't bargain for!"

He put his arm around my shoulder. "I'm required to ask those questions. I believe you and ask you to forgive me. With me, you're not going to have to fight anymore. She is on my floor now. She'll get the best care possible and won't be going back home again. We need to talk. This cancer has gone too far. She is not going to survive much longer. But we will make her comfortable. If anything does not suit you, let me know. If we can we'll fix it."

He kept his word. Funny, I can remember Dr. Booger's name, but I can't remember his. I know I really appreciate all that he did. One thought about momma. Even after breaking her rib, she never used pain killers. "I'm just lucky I guess. I've never had problems with pain." She really didn't. She would have dental work done without anaesthetic. Then one day I arrived and she felt wonderful. I wondered out loud if she were about to surprise everybody with a recovery. "No I'm afraid not. I do feel good today, so we can talk. But I don't have much time left. " I began to cry, and she held me close. "Watch out for your brother. He's not going to take this well at all. I love you both so much." Then she went back over the details of her funeral, how to handle the estate, where to find the will she had written. Late that night the call came from the hospital. I rushed in, and for the first time she was put on Morphine. I called the family who gathered from all over. We watched all day, and then that night while the others were gone to get a bite to eat, Peggy told us it was time. Peggy, Marlowe, and I joined hands with her in a circle with Momma and she took her last breath. The story was not over though. I got home and found a notice her insurance had not been paid and had been cancelled. I quickly wrote a check and mailed it that morning. Fortunately they kept it open. It happened in the second week of August, just a week from Momma's birthday and the anniversary of Daddy's death.

Then there was Skip. My first true love. He was a true soul mate. in 1997 he suddenly collapsed. Rushed to the hospital, he disappeared into a coma from what turned out to be viral encephalitis. For two weeks we waited and watched and I stayed by his side. At first it appeared he was going to get better, then another virus hit him and it became apparent that he would not have viable brain function. I talked with his sister and the decision was made not to keep him on a breathing machine.

One night I made arrangements for a favorite song he had helped write be played on public radio. I went by the studio for After Hours, gay programming for Houston. WE offered our love and prayers over the radio, where the nurses had put near his good ear. He was deaf in one ear. During the broadcast nurses told me they saw a tear form. It was a late night program, so I went by Charlies afterward to get a bite to eat. I got home about 2:00 AM and as I walked in the door, I heard the phone ringing. It was the hospital. Not much time remained and they needed me right away.

When I arrived, Skip's eyes were open. He could not talk, but he was able to follow me around the room with his eyes. It was time for us to talk. "Sweetheart," I began. "I love you more than the great outdoors. You are my love, my life. If it were possible for you to get better, I would be so grateful. But if that is not possible, and you need to move on, I understand. If it is your time, then you need to know I'll be okay." Well that seemed to be a bit of a lie at the time, though I did survive. "I'll love you forever, in this world and the next." There was a faint flicker of his eyelid, and I knew he had heard me. For the next several hours I held him, moistened his lips, talked to him, told him how much I loved him and his breathing became increasingly shallow and then he was gone. I called the nurse.

"He's gone I see."

"Yes," I said through the tears. "The rest of the family is outside along with the family priest."

She smiled. "I saw them. Look, I've watched you sit up here day in and day out at his bedside. Frankly most of us only dream of someone to love us that much. Who is here for you?" I mentioned the family outside. "No I meant for you."

"I'll get ahold of some folks later today."

"Right now, I'm here for you. Give me a hug." She held me for a few minutes while I sobbed. "I'm going to give you ten minutes with him before I call them in." Profusely I thanked her, making a note to bring her flowers later on. Then out I walked and in came the family and the priest and all that would remain were the memories. He died on August 17.

Lots of memories arise on anniversaries. My particularly tragic memories happen in August. No wonder I'm out of sorts.

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