Spring genuinely was here. And there was no truer indication than a blisteringly sunny Easter weekend. I was grateful for three days off. Jody’s proposal was wrapped up by Friday night and she had that giddy ‘I’m done’ glow about her. Saturday morning the cute monk sailed back into town and regaled us again with bliss and joy. I don’t mean that to sound superficial, it really was how it went down. Afterwards, pumped and happy we pulled out our bikes, wiped them down and pumped them up. We sailed along the paved bike trail, the still brisk air chilling our knuckles. We peddled East skirting along outside two smaller villages until we finally got to a cool little restaurant on the water, likely 45 kilometers from home. By the time we stopped I needed to kick-start Kreb’s cycle to reload my legs with energy. I was so depleted after the log peddle that I was unsteady on my feet, not to mention the odd sensation of moving at a walking-pace instead of racing along as we had been for over an hour.
Despite the temperature, we decided to sit outside in the sun, which spared me from maneuvering through the restaurant. I thought this might be a bit ambitious given the early season but Jody mugged a pout and I acquiesced. Given our over-heated state, it was probably a good idea. We promptly de-layered after sitting down. About a half hour later, right before our order of nachos arrived, we layered up again. It was only the nachos that gave me the strength I needed to peddle home. Sunday morning both Jody and I were lame after our long ride but it took until about eleven o’clock before either of us would admit it. Then, with no pride left to lose, the whining began in earnest. It was a slow, quiet weekend. We luxuriated in it.
Jody committed to riding her bike to school, now that the weather was decent. I said I would too but I just couldn’t bear to get up earlier to arrange biking to work on my day shifts. I had a 0730 start; Jody had until almost 9AM to cross the town. By the time my week of evening shifts came around, I decided I could pull it off and I enjoyed three days of cycling to and fro, then April lived up to its reputation for rain. My days came and went. The contact numbers stacked up and the outcome data looked good. We continued to make money for the hospital with our third-party program. Amy Brixton moved to a new apartment. Dawn had her initial session with the sexual abuse counselor. Kim and I had sketched out a plan that provided more support to the nurses but we were not optimistic because it was not ‘revenue neutral’. I heard from the Seniors team that Nancy, the woman I had referred a few months back had finally moved into a support care facility…we used to call them ‘homes’.
The annual Buttertart Festival came and went. Usually this daylong pastry extravaganza is cool, or more than cool, and overcast, or more than overcast but this year the sun was shining and the ever growing hoards of tarters who descended into our fair town were blessed with an abundance of sweets, and a lovely day to boot. I calculated the number of bike trips I would need to burn off the effects, while eating my ration of 3 oozy, raison-free tarts, which I attacked so vigorously that according to Jody sparks were flying off my plate. My record of never purchasing the winning recipe remained intact.
Bridie was actually doing very well, given the circumstances. Her schedule with the oncology team meant she was regularly away at least one time a week, so we mostly stayed in touch by phone. She had a standing appointment every second Tuesday. The birthday baseball game was at the end of the week. So I didn’t expect her to keep our meeting on Tuesday. But I was wrong. After I buckled my bike up to the railing outside our office I noticed a voice message from a call I had missed during my ride. I checked it and it was Bridie, saying ‘save me a seat’ she would be here. Duty called as soon as I crossed the threshold, so I didn’t call her back. Just after four o’clock, I was just putting the finishing touches on a discharge note when Jenn’s voice on the intercom let me know Bridie was here. I could tell immediately that there was a problem.
She was not amused with my greeting. “You look awful.”
“Well, you aren’t exactly a supermodel yourself!” She tried for a joke but she didn’t laugh.
Bridie explained that over the past few days, she had started to exhibit the same symptoms as she did at the beginning. Her abdomen was bloated and tender to the touch. She was either constipated or she experienced diarrhea, and as unpleasant as the diarrhea was, at least it brought her some relief. The pressure in her abdomen reduced her appetite to zero, which was preferable to the nausea she felt when she forced a even little food into her stomach. Bending and lifting was excruciating. “Our baseball game is Thursday night and I will not miss it!”
She was using the morphine Dr. Leung had prescribed sparingly but she was ready to blast a big dose on Thursday. He’d given her a new prescription to tide her over. She also talked very matter-of-factly about the hospice bed that she figured would be available sometime next week. Her St. Germaine oncologist, Dr. Leung had transferred her care to Dr. Halmanium, a local cat who specialized in palliative care. Her videos were done. Her cards and scrapbooks were finished. Yes, she’d disclosed it all to Doug. Yes, he was able to cover for her at the ballgame. Yes, he knew she was absolutely expecting to move to hospice shortly. And, no. No, the kids were not aware of how close we were to ‘the last inning’. “I’m just about done.” She said, running out of steam before the end of her sentence. Then she repeated again, softly as if to herself alone: “…just about done.”
“Bridie, I’m so sorry.”
“Ya. Me too. But, you know, I had the reprieve. I am going to the ballgame with my son and I am going to enjoy it.” She paused and caught her breath. I realized just how much this was taking out of her. “I wanted to tell you face-to-face Hattie. Not on the phone.”
“Thanks.” A question loomed at the back of my mind. “Did you drive here?
“No. Doug drove me. He is waiting in the car.”
“He didn’t want to come in.”
“He can’t hear it again Hattie. He knows where we are at but he said he just can’t hear it…I understand.”
“I understand too.” I leaned forward and placed my hand lightly on her bony forearm. “I understand.”
“Thanks. I know you do. That’s why I had to see you…in person.” She took a deep breath and looked up and away. “I didn’t know if I would see you again…so it was important.”
My chest crushed with grief. How brave this woman was. How kind and thoughtful. How horrible that this was happening to her. We sat in silence, with only the ambient clinic mumble in the background. “I will visit you in Hospice. It’s right here on the grounds.”
“Sure. I’d like that”. Her smile was small but genuine. “That’s another whole loss for me.” Two large tears welled over her bottom lids and slid along her thin cheeks. My silence pushed her to reveal that in the last two days she sat in every room of her home, remembering events and conversations associated with each place. “I don’t know how I will walk out of my home for the last time…knowing I will never return. I’m not sure I can I do it.” She lowered her head and missed me wipe away a tear. “I should go now. I am resting up tomorrow so I will have every last ounce for Thursday. The kids are so excited.”
“I’ll walk you out.”
“Hattie?” I waited. “Hattie, thanks for all your help…don’t give me that I-didn’t-do-anything look! I didn’t know how to deal with this, this … devastation. I’m still not sure I did it right. But what I know is that your faith in me gave me the confidence I needed to make my own decisions. For that, I can’t thank you enough.”
I had no immediate response. I simply embraced her, gently afraid she might shatter in my grasp. “Bridie…” I finally whispered “never doubt the lessons you have taught me.” And I walked with her to the car where Doug sat behind the wheel, waiting. I helped her into the passenger seat. “I want to see the pictures from the game, ok?” I managed with mock cheer.
“Of course.” Doug lifted two fingers off the steering wheel in the local signal that means either hello or farewell, and I watched until the tail-lights disappeared.
By the following Wednesday Bridie was installed in her Hospice bed. Doug left me a message on Thursday to tell me. I arranged time in my schedule to trek to the grounds on the other side of the hospital complex to see her. As promised, she had photos of the baseball game. She even had a video she could share using her tablet. Other than looking tired, the casual observer would not see the death in her face. I saw her walking hand-in-hand with Joey, up the ramp and into their seats. I saw her fake eating popcorn and ice cream. I saw her singing Happy Birthday to her son during the seventh inning stretch. “You did it.” Was all I could say.
“I did it.” Was all she could reply.
“How long?” I asked.
She knew immediately what I meant. “Dr. Halmanium says he can’t tell… maybe a week, maybe two. But I don’t want this to go on and on. I can’t let this be the final memory for my boys.” I sensed desperation in her voice. “I just want to drift away…”
“How about the pain?” I was dodging like a coward.
“They have this drip hooked up. The doctor said I can increase it as I need more. I wasn’t using the Morphine much at home so at least my system isn’t too used to it, and it works pretty quick…but I don’t want to get foggy. I want my kids to remember me making sense.”
“Use it as little or as much as you need.” Easy for me to say.
I heard a step behind me and turned to see Benjamin St. Croix filling the doorway. “Hi” both Bridie and I said at the same time.
“Doug let me know you were here. I see both Hattie and I had the same idea about dropping by.”
“I’m on my way out…” I started to say when Bridie interrupted me.
“Me too.” And we three shared a final sad laugh. Before I left I embraced Bridie’s diminishing form. She held my hand tightly. Her skin felt unusually soft and cool.
“I’ll be back…” I struggled. She smiled and blew me a quick kiss as I backed out of the room. Bridie and Ben were already in deep conversation before I had cleared the threshold. My plan was to come and visit again but that was my last word with Bridie, the woman who’s bravery scorched my soul.