I don't see anything wrong with a dog who can ride a bicycle.
But Bubbe doesn't share my opinion. So, after a bad fall earlier this week, and another episode of worsening breathlessness due to congestive heart failure, she decided to stop taking the medications that prolong her life, and take only those that will keep her comfortable. It's two and a half weeks until her 100th birthday. I believe she's hoping to be gone by then.
News of the crisis and indications of its seriousness accumulated slowly. My father happened to be there when Bubbe started feeling that she couldn't get enough air. What looked like another normal bump in the road turned into the beginning of the end.
E-mails were circulated. Relatives got into airplanes and cars headed for Toronto. By the time I arrived at Bubbe's apartment on Thursday evening, she already had a crowd at her bedside. I climbed onto the bed with her to hold her hand.
Bubbe couldn't have been more pleased. She was having the best pyjama party of her life. Despite being on supplemental oxygen, she managed to find enough lung capacity to chat happily with us all. Short sentences, that trailed off sometimes. But she was definitely still with us. Her chin was blackened by a bruise from when she caught the edge of a table during her fall on Monday; her hearing aids kept falling out; she couldn't drink water from a cup or straw because she can't always swallow properly anymore; and she has become incontinent; but with all her loved ones surrounding her, none of that mattered.
We propped her up in bed and gave her water with a little sponge on a stick (a "Swabette", officially). She kept saying "This is the best time I've ever had!"
A palliative care nurse arrived to hook her up to medication pumps that will deliver morphine and midazolam (a benzodiazepine, for the feelings of anxiety that result from being short of breath) whenever she needs them. We all got very serious then. You know that when the morphine line goes in, things are for real.
It was late by then, so almost everyone left to get some sleep. We weren't sure if that was the last time we would see Bubbe alive, so we said our emotional goodbyes. Despite her weakness, she summoned the strength to give me a hug worthy of a professional wrestler. It was hard to leave.
After that, I'm told that Bubbe took one dose of each of her new meds and had a good night's sleep. She woke up bright eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning, demanding coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. This is the photo my uncle sent:
She had such a good time at her "party" the night before that it totally "charged my batteries", as she often says. I saw her later in the day, and she was swallowing just fine (note the mug). She looks remarkably well and happy for someone at death's doorstep, don't you think?
Anyway, the reprieve can't last. It's inevitable that without daily diuretics her lungs will accumulate water until she simply can't breathe anymore. I understand her decision to let go. Beside her other maladies, her hands are numb and she has almost no dexterity. She can't even press the buttons on her medication pumps herself. She has also gone a bit bonkers, what with the lack of oxygen to her brain. She can't tell what's real anymore. When I went back to see her again on Friday, she told me about a "wonderful dream" she had had. "Everyone in the family was here, and I was in bed, and we were having a party!" Then she thinks that stuff that didn't happen actually did, and it's all very confusing.
It's so hard to say goodbye to this lady, I can't tell you. It's breaking my heart. But what can you do? No one can live forever.