My mother was transferred to the medical wing of the rehabilitation facility to await an ICU bed. I took the opportunity to call my sister Carline and father to let them know what was happening. I left it to them to contact other family members. Approximately 20 minutes later I was allowed to enter the medical room where she lay. I walked in quietly after being directed to the room by the nurse in charge. The noise of the ventilator that now breathed for my mother spoke to me of her condition.
I listened to its mechanical vibrations telling me about the poor prognosis. As my footsteps neared her hospital bed, I realized that I didn’t want to look at her face, but I found myself looking, searching for any semblance of the woman I said goodnight to only a few short hours ago. Amazingly, her face was already disfigured. Her jaw and lips looked swollen as she lay with her head flat against the pillow. Her eyelids were not fully closed and I saw dried tear tracks running down the corners of both eyes to her ears. Those inviting eyes were gone, replaced by two swollen sclera that seemed to be pushing against glazed pupils underneath partially closed eyelids. Crusted blood encircled the area around her tracheotomy and painted the corners of her mouth like smudged lipstick. As I stood at her bedside, I remember whispering to her, “Mommy, Mommy,” feeling like a small lost child in a large dark forest. There was no answer. Sylvia was gone. At that moment, what I saw and came to know, my sister somehow knew instinctively.
Sometime later, Carline mentioned to me how that very morning, while showering, she somehow knew that our mother had died. She said, “I knew she was dead, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself…I felt her spirit passing thru me and I felt her love. It was a warm feeling from my head to my toes. It came and went. I didn’t know she loved me like that. I cried in the shower that morning.” By the time other family members came Sylvia had been transferred to the ICU where for 12 days family members and friends visited and prayed. Mostly people stayed outside the unit. Sylvia looked horrible and it was a painful thing to watch her physically deteriorate so quickly. We continued to pray, and she continued to get worse. My mother developed multi organ failure, including her kidneys and her blood constituents. She became more and more swollen each day that she received medications and intravenous fluids to help maintain her blood pressure.
Eventually her platelets, which help in coagulation, began to decrease in numbers and she began to bleed spontaneously from almost every orifice including the corners of her mouth and nostrils. In order to fight against her chronic deterioration, I made it a point each night before leaving the ICU to hold hands and form a circle around Sylvia with whoever had come to visit. We would stand and intercede for a miraculous healing. The healing I hoped for never came. During the week almost every subspecialty service of medicine was consulted to give input on my mother’s condition, but no one was able to help. The hematology service predictably requested permission to perform a bone marrow biopsy in order to determine the cause of her low platelets. Against my better judgment, I allowed it. It did not affect the prognosis in any way and it was the last invasive procedure I allowed on my mother’s body. Eventually there was not much left that was recognizable as Sylvia.
Standing next to her hospital bed, I thought about how several years earlier I was able to make a clear decision about how aggressive the care should be for my dying grandmother. But this time around, I held onto hope and allowed this tortuous game of hoping and waiting to continue to a very bitter end. God could do anything, this I didn’t doubt. But as the days came and went, His will became more and more clear. Sylvia was gone and she wasn’t coming back. Now we, the family, had to let the body go. After ten days, I signed the DO NOT RESUSCITATE order indicating that if her heart should stop, no attempt should be made to revive her. I felt incredible disappointment and exhaustion, but I also felt a strong sense of release and acceptance of the situation. I was very much at peace with this decision.