One of those nights….One of those memories..
It’s a funny thing about perception….
I’m having one of those nights where the thoughts about a couple of worries ..that were not worries when I first tucked myself in….keep winding in, out and around my mind, picking up speed until it feels like a whole washer full of clothes agitating and knocking against the delicate balance of my grey matter.
You probably know what I mean – you settle down all snugly looking forward to a well earned rest, and then from some very small dark mystic corner of your mind creeps one tiny inconsequential thought. One of those..in the morning I must remember to … Well before you know it there is a whole chorus of..I must, I should.. I wish, I…I…I
Then in the midst comes something unrelated; something unforgettable that somehow you had forgotten about. Until now.
It has to do with how we impact other people. The impressions we leave. The impressions we can never change no matter how much we wish we could.
My folks died many years ago. In the early nineteen eighties. They worked hard every day of their lives. They had both been in the second world war. As a matter of fact that is how they met. They married, raised five children and about the time they should have been looking at retirement in the next half decade, they both came down with cancer. Not at the same time but within two years of each other. But that is not what this story is about really.
I was..well still am a registered nurse…and at that time I lived in Brantford Ontario about an hour away from my family. Dad had passed away two years previously when we received news that Mom had to have surgery. It was the early summer of nineteen eighty-three. The surgeon told us post-op that she had six weeks to live.
I decided to spend my time off at the hospital at night looking after my Mom. When I got to the hospital I told the nurses on the unit that I would do her care; turning her, bathing her so they did not have to include her in their rounds.
I tried. It was heart breaking and I realized I could not treat her like one of my patients. So I went to the desk and asked them to do her intimate care.
I left her room to stretch my legs and search out a coffee machine. When I returned Mom was freshly washed and turned. I was startled to see she was completely awake and alert. The morphine she was receiving in her intravenous had kept her pretty dozy. But she was more than alert. She was terrified. Her eyes were huge and her skin had the pasty pallor that only terror can impart.
I started to walk towards her to find out what was wrong when she commanded me to stay away and not come any closer. She said she had to see my brother right away. By this time it was almost two in the morning and my brother was working the night shift. I did call him and as soon as he arrived she told him to make me leave which I did.
After about ten days my Mom insisted on going home. We set up home care and each of us took turns staying at the house with her. She was still getting ever increasing doses of morphine and seemed in a haze most of the time. When it was my turn to be there one day, she asked me to help her sit up on the side of the bed which I did, delicately balancing her in an upright position.
Suddenly this tiny fragile jaundiced lady looked at me and the confusion left. With clear eyes and even clearer steady voice she said, “Chris, what was that course you took at work a few weeks ago?”
Wow, I was not aware Mom even knew I had been away for a course. So I told her that it was one of my management courses with the Ministry of Health to help me be a better boss. She looked at the floor for a moment before she gazed directly into my eyes.
“I thought,” she said so softly, “that it was a course on how to kill someone, and that night in the hospital I thought you had come to kill me so I would not suffer.”
It felt like it was long time until I spoke or even breathed, and I can tell you I was afraid to speak, but I had to know why she would ever have thought such a thing.
She was able to relate very clearly about that night in the hospital when the two nurses came in to wash her and change her position. She told me that as they turned her one nurse asked the other, “Why can’t she do it?” And the other nurse replied, “Because it is her mother.” And my mom, through her drug induced perception thought they were asking why I could not kill her.
It’s a funny thing about perception.
I am just glad that when she died a few days later she did so knowing the truth.