about this we know very little

I was sitting in my living room in San Francisco, sipping a cup of tea and watching some feel-good series about Black love. Dropping down into comfort enough, my body heavy.

And I felt it. Felt a memory in my left calf. A huge knotted charley horse, my leg seizing, out of nowhere, blurring my vision in pain.

And then, it’s like I’m walking over and around chards of glass, picking each one up, gingerly, trying to place it together to form the whole picture. One by one.

As I writhe, I see him writhing.

My Dad. In the hospital bed. in the room, right below the one I sit in now. Where, for years, when I got too afraid, or the heat lightning was too much, or the thunder too low in my belly, I would pad down the 17 stairs and into this room. My parents room. Waiting and watching them enough for my presence or stare, or their love, to wake them up, to receive the comfort I sought.

And now, I was the one who again needed comfort. And in my memory, the one I was reassembling, the one that I had tucked away, that feeling of hopelessness too much to stare down with both eyes open, it was making itself known in a visceral way. And, I was the one scrambling to give comfort.

Hospice left us with all types of medications. The morphine, the Ativan, haloperidol, the dexamethazone. They were all lined up in their bottles on the counter, under the kitchen spotlights, like soldiers waiting to be dispatched into a war zone.

And so it was.

My Dad, his calf, causing him so much pain. We tried to massage the intense knot, thinking dehydration was giving him a charley horse. Madly googling what it could be, if it was a blood clot then massaging it could make it detach, go to his heart and kill him instantly. And then on the urgent 12am phone line with the hospice nurse. It sounds like a blood clot, she said. You need to keep him comfortable. Use all the things. And call me back in 15 minutes. He wanted to go to the emergency room, to get comfort, relief, anything. And the nurse clarified that if we did that, hospice was over. And, in the early pandemic days, alone in a hospital room, he may die alone.

So like an untrained pharmacist, I crushed the Ativan with a mortar, titrated and measured the morphine, mixed it together into a syringe, grabbed another syringe full of the haloperidol, and ran back into the room to get it into my Dad’s mouth. 15 minutes passed without relief.

Pain filled the present moment and the horizon, a hopeless deluge. About this we knew very little. Every other moment of this hospice experience was hugs, holding hands, laughter, music, and rest.

After over 2 hours of this regimen, coiling and contorting, legs elevated, heating pads on, hands squeezing, phone calls, we were finally able to make my Dad comfortable, in and out of lucidness. All of us afraid that we would overmedicate him. That this was the turning point. We needed to say “the” goodbyes. Grief gathering in our hearts like water in a swamp. Heavy and murky.

Every 30 minutes we were up, remixing, re-administering. 2, 230, 3, 330 and on. Until the hospice nurse could come at 9am. His calf muscle had ruptured spontaneously, already shades of purple bruises. And he lived through it. He lived through so much.

These fragments and the relations that exist between one fragment and another.

I’m there and now I’m here. Massaging my calf, breathing again, sitting silently as I wait for it to pass, to see my Dad again, yet now, only in my memory.

How California Can Fix Its Hospice System and Reduce Care Inequities –  California Health Report
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