It’s the morning after my third night shift. My sister had offered to pick me up and relieve me with Swapna, my mom’s caregiver, but I decide to stay till lunchtime. Mom is bringing up lots of fluid and I hope the doctor can find a way to give her more relief. The siphoning procedure they’ve used till now, when they insert a tube down the throat and vacuum up the liquid in a few seconds, is not just unpleasant but also less effective than before.
It’s Saturday morning, Shabbat, and regular doctor rounds won’t take place. Tomorrow morning, Sunday, a workday here, will be very busy by 7 am and big decisions will be reached, in particular returning my mother home for hospice care. There’s less active care on the Sabbath, but I don’t mind because it’s also quieter.
One of mom’s two room companions, a short Sephardic woman who has the bed by the window, is away for the Sabbath so I actually lay down on her bed and slept in half-hour intervals this past night, diving deep into sleep, waking up to see the thin chest of the woman near me bobbing up in short, superficial breaths. She was more at ease during the night, so I’d return back to my dive, but at 5:45 the gargling breath had returned. They did the suctioning procedure, but this time it’s not enough and she hasn’t had ease since.
This is a religious hospital and the main entrance is closed, as are the shops and cafes downstairs, so no coffee yet. You get in through the children’s emergency entrance in back and you use the stairs rather than elevators. There’s a synagogue on this 8th floor, segregated between men and women, and as I pass I can hear them chant Shabbat services. Funny, even after so many years of disconnection from Jewish tradition, when I hear the blessings they chant I know precisely what they refer to and where they show up in the long service.
Old memories don’t always go away, sometimes they just get older.
The last two nights have been quiet because we switched rooms to avoid the noisy neighbor who talked loud and nonstop the entire first night I was here. As the night wore on I became resentful of all the attention she needed, my limits of patience and physical endurance breached by early morning, and we asked for my mother to be moved. Since then things are quieter.
I would like to leave this Hospital Kingdom and bring my mother home. I don’t think it disturbs her to be here—she’s probably beyond that now—but the Hospital Kingdom has its own rules and laws, religions and gods, and you need to adapt to them just as you would when you visit another country. It’s not your home, not your language, not your culture. The population’s hard-working and conscientious, but its sense of time and pacing is different. They go slow when you wish they’d go fast and you can’t hoist your priority on them. You’re a visitor and a tourist, you don’t rule.
The woman in the bed on the other side of the room, next to the corridor, has been mostly asleep. With silver hair, white skin and spiderweb-fine wrinkles, she looks like a younger version of my mother. I haven’t seen her sit up once. No one has come to visit her and occasionally we’ve borrowed her unused chair.
These past days my mother has been visited and monitored by three children, a son-in-law, four grandchildren, and her caregiver from home. Not so the woman on the other side of the curtain. I wonder what it’s like to be so isolated and alone when you’re weak and can’t fend for yourself. She almost never opens her eyes.
I wait for the doctor on call to show up and advise on how to relieve my mother of the fluid in her lungs. What do we do when the suction doesn’t work well? She’s more awake than before and early this morning she almost seemed to recognize me, pressing my hand with hers, but I’m not sure. She’s in her own kingdom now, too.
One thing I’m getting clearer about now. I may be able to do one more long night shift, or none. I’m beyond exhausted. Worried about my health, I took a Covid test (I’ve been in the hospital most of the time since I’ve landed) and was relieved the result was negative. Always had the tendency to push the envelope, get beyond myself, but I can’t do it anymore. I told my sister: “Mom is the hero in this family after all she went through in her early years, not me.”
I’m leaving heroism behind.
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