Bridie’s pain continued to escalate. She used the Morphine drip more liberally. The dose was maxed both in terms of amount and how often she could push the button. Too much and apparently her respirations would suppress, like she cared. Nevertheless, the effect was miraculous. Nearly immediately, the pain was manageable but the effects were unfortunate. She lost her train of thought and had trouble saying what was on her mind. She tried her best not to exercise the magic button an hour or two before the kids visited so she could enjoy their company. When Doug was here on his own, she didn’t mind drifting off, just knowing he was holding her hand and sometimes resting his head on her chest. He had pulled the boys from school so they could come as often as possible. He lifted Lynne into Bridie’s arms and watched them both sleep.
The nurses were very helpful and the open policy of having family come and go anytime of day was just what she needed. The kids didn’t have a long attention span and Bridie knew that while they loved to come and say hi, they just couldn’t prolong a visit. They were unnerved by her condition and the surroundings. Yesterday during a family visit, Bridie could not keep herself from dozing off. When her head jerked forward Joey started to cry and somewhere in the fog of her thinking she heard him say gently to his dad “Daddy, is mommy dead now?” Doug’s heart jolted but before he could scramble to her side Bridie opened her eyes and said to Joey “I’m here honey. I want to look at you for a long time today.” Joey was placated and his smile of relief was heart wrenching. But both Doug and Bridie were on high alert. This was their moment of reckoning; the point they never wanted to reach but knew was inevitable.
This afternoon Bridie did not take any miracle medicine. She felt the pain building in series with cleared sensibilities. Doug arrived with all three babies. Bridie asked to sit up in the chair in the room so she could look at their homework. She told each of her sons how smart they were and how proud she was of them. She doubted they would remember all this but she wanted to embed the feeling of her precious love in their final visit. She sat with Lynne on her lap and asked the boys to tell her jokes to cheer her up and she laughed at them all. She hugged and kissed them all repeating over and over what very wonderful babies they were, and how much she loved them. When Jamie and Joey were ready to leave, she hugged and kissed them more. They were happy on the way out the room, waving and blowing kisses back to her. Doug leaned over to kiss her goodbye. “I will get them to bed and get Di to come over, then I’ll come back.”
“I’d appreciate that.” Bridie whispered, holding back the swell of grief in her soul.
After her family left, Bridie shot a jolt of morphine and asked the nurse to help her bathe. She mentioned that she felt a little sick to her stomach and could she have a bit of Gravol. They had to disconnect her from the line of drugs running into her arm but it felt good to have her hair washed and help to brush her teeth. She asked the nurses to do her a favour. “I brought some special pajamas from home that I want to have on tomorrow morning when my sister-in-law visits. She made them for me.” She said with a sincere smile. “I know the morning shift is busy, so if I sleep in them tonight it will save everyone the bother in the morning.” Dottie, her nurse for the shift was cool with this plan.
“These jazzy ones here?” Dottie held up the navy pj’s with the neon lime green stars. “They sure are bright.” Dottie weighed their heft in one hand. “Jersey is comfortable”. She added with a smile.
“Those are the ones. You’ll be able to check on me tonight without even coming in the room.” Bridie managed a chuckle. “Also, I wonder about something else….”Bridie hesitated. “The last couple of days I’ve noticed a bit of leaking poop…could I wear a diaper or something, so my pj’s don’t get dirty?”
Dottie was cool with it all. The bath complete, hair clean, the pj’s on with barrier protection and teeth brushed; she had the Gravol on board. Bridie stopped the nurse before she left the room. “Dottie, thank you so much. Your gentle care has meant so much to me. Our family appreciates the very difficult job you and all the nurses here do.”
“Bridie, I am so sorry about your situation. We all wish things would be different. Of course we feel that way about everyone but its….its even harder when…you know, its hard when there are young kids. It’s not fair.”
“Nope. It’s not fair. You have my full agreement on that. But fair or not, here I am…Listen, can you do me one last favour? Now that I’m in bed I don’t want to get out. Can you bring me over my makeup bag? I brought some ear-plugs with me and I want to get a really good sleep tonight.”
Dottie dug in the bedside cupboard and delivered the small zippered pouch to Bridie. “Do you use the foam ones or the wax ones?”
Bridie hesitated for just a moment then recovered. “The foam ones.” She answered with a smile. “And can you just push that tray a little closer? Last night I was thirsty as a camel and I couldn’t quite reach the glass.”
“This OK?” Dottie pushed the tray closer.
“I’m set up like a queen. Thanks again.” Just as Dottie turned toward the door Bridie called out. My husband will be back in about an hour, he’ll likely just sit with me for a while even if I’m asleep.”
Then Bridie waited. She gave herself another jolt of morphine and felt a wash of painlessness. She must have nodded off because when she opened her eyes again, Doug was sitting by her side. “The nurse told me you might be sleeping” he said as he leaned in to kiss her cheek. “I see you have your special pj’s on.” Tears rimmed his eyes. He recognized the signal. “The navy suits your hair.” He reached over to brush aside the clean auburn strands.
“Thanks. That was Di’s idea.” Bridie murmured. “Would you mind going down to the café and see if they are still open. I’d like a cup of tea.”
“Sure” And Doug ambled slowly around the corner and down the hall.
As soon as he was lost to sight, Bridie opened the earring case she had carefully stored deep in her make up bag. She retrieved the last eighteen of the morphine tablets that remained from before she was admitted to palliative care. She swallowed them in threes, washing them down with the ice water Dottie had placed near to hand. She was finished and settled back onto her pillow when Doug returned. “The café was closed but the nurses had a pot of tea on the go and sent this cup along to you.” He placed the paper cup on the tray and sat back into his chair.
Bridie reached out for the cup and took a small sip, keeping the ruse alive. “Oh, that’s so nice.” She remarked honestly. “Its real tea, not hospital tea. And you dressed it perfectly. You’ll never know what a kind treat this is.” She took another sip, actually enjoying the sweetness of the tea.
“The kids were so happy with the visit today.” Doug ventured. “They were still repeating those jokes when we were getting them ready for bed.”
“They are great kids. I’m gonna miss them.”
All words eluded Doug. He simply leaned in and held her hand and stroked her hair. “I love you Bird. I loved you from the minute I saw you. I’m glad you were mine, even if it wasn’t long enough…” He brushed away a tear.
“And you know I feel the same. I would only have changed one thing in my life…this cancer…without it everything would have been perfect.”
“It’s so very close to perfect now, Bird.” Doug lay his head against her chest and rubbed her palm with his thumb.
She reached down and gave the morphine button a plunge. She was grateful she had timed it just so and her next dose was available. “Sweetie, I had these earrings on all day…if I reach up and take them out, can you put them away in the box in my makeup case and take them home?’
“Sure.” Doug said curiously. “But don’t you want to keep them here?
“I don’t think so…I mean them for Lynne. I want her to have them when you think she is old enough to pierce her ears. I worry they might get misplaced here in the hospital.” And Doug took the earrings from her hand, placed them in the box, closed the lid and put it in his coat pocket.
“I’m tired Baby. Will you stay here with me while I fall asleep?” She could feel her breath slowing; she could feel the heaviness she had been counting on.
“Of course I will.” And with that, Doug pulled away the tray and nudged his seat closer. Bridie’s arm snaked over his shoulder and he nestled in the crock of her arm. He felt her draw a deep breath and sigh. He felt a tremor in her lower leg and foot. He held her hand tighter, she squeezed back, once. He sat with her, like this, for a long time. Even after he sensed in his heart she had stopped breathing. He unsnaked Bridie’s arm and placed her hand by her side. He raised himself reluctantly from his chair and softly kissed his dear wife’s quiet cheek. “I will always love you.” The whisper snagged on his tears. Before he left the room, he lowered the head of the bed slightly, turned her still head gently to the side as if she were really just asleep. As he left the room, he blew a kiss to this little Bird, who had just flown out of his life.