Thursday, July 26, 2012

Can Do

I found out this morning that my Can Do friend at hospice finally passed away.  I have been with her for nearly a year. The prognosis to enter hospice must be 6 months or less.   She obviously didn't get that memo.  I think I have talked about her before, but as a refresher...she was an "end stage stroke patient".Her left arm and leg were affected by the stroke.  And her ONLY speech consisted of "yes"  "no"  "can do" and "you can do it".    I have often wondered...if a stroke or something took my ability to speak and left me with only 3 phrases, what would they be? what is so engrained in my brain to mouth freeway that it would be the only thing left? "WTF?"  "OMG" or "LOL"  "for the love!!" "good gravy marie!" ?? What kind of person is left with "can do" and "you can do it"? what did she do in her life that this is what she is left with? Stunning.

When they first assigned me to her, she was only my 3rd patient. My first 2 died very quickly. I was not sure how I would relate to a patient who could not speak. ME? How am I, the most talkative person in the northern hemisphere, going to relate to a person who can't talk? Who can't respond to what I'm saying?

I would be so wrong.  We eventually had entire conversations, and I would struggle to explain to you exactly how, but we did.

At first it was hard to figure out what she was "saying", needing, wanting.  But on our second visit, she fussed and fidgeted and was very annoyed and kept trying to get something from the Aide.  The ice cart came down the hall and she was a flurry of wheelchair activity trying to get attention. After much deliberation between myself and the ice cart aide, we determined that she wanted TWO cups of ice.  Once she had her two cups, she started fussing and pointing for me to get something - her diet Pepsi.  So I got her a pepsi.  Then she started chattering and pointing for me to sit down, so I sat down across from her.  She poured half the Pepsi in each of the cups of ice and handed one to me.

We had "tea on the porch" so to speak.  It was Pepsi in the hallway, but she was clearly hosting me.

I quickly learned that she enjoyed hearing about my somewhat nutty life.  I spared her the sordid details but I did tell her about my kids often.   She lit up when I spoke of my children.  She seemed to love them.  She sent me home on Halloween and Valentine's Day with packets of goodies for both kids.

She was always happy to see me, and with the exception of a few times when she was very ill and confused, she recognized me. She would usually sit up and say "yessssss" when she spotted me. 

And that was how we visited.  I asked her how she was. She gestured and chattered about things and I learned to tell what certain hand gestures, accompanied by "can do",  meant.  The swipe across the mouth hand gesture with "can do, can do it" usually indicated some kind of story...she was telling me how she felt, or she was remembering something.  If she reached out and touched my face or my hand and said "can do" she was clearly telling me "hello, I missed you" or something along those lines.  When she seemed to be arranging small objects in the air in front of her with "can do" it was her telling me how she felt and what was going on with her body this week.

Many times in almost a year I thought she as very close to the end.  About 3 times I was certain she was not going to make it to my next visit.  Then the next week she would be out of bed, in the dining hall, "can do'ing" and drinking her iced tea.

Iced tea and diet pepsi.  and she loved to color. She had a drawer full of crayons and markers and pencils and coloring books.

And her shoelaces were silver.  I tried my 6 inch pumps on her one time and said "do you feel sexy?"  and she laughed and did this funny "oh my goodness" hand gesture.

She was always in her clothes, not a gown. Always fully dressed, with nails polished, and usually wearing an accessory like a necklace.  She had lovely blankets on her bed, and lots of pictures in her room.  I never saw her family (her children) apart from my very first visit with her.   I'm sure her lingering and withering away was very hard on them.  She was very very thin in the end, nothing like how she looked in the beginning. But still got herself out of bed, even when she wasn't supposed to.  Still fed herself until the very end.  Still drank gallons of tea, with sweetener.  and she always stirred it.  I don't know where she was from, or what her roots were, but she sure seemed Southern to me.  

Every time I left her I hugged her and kissed her cheek and told her "Ok behave.  No wild parties. No sneaking out.  Do not go to vegas...without me".  and she would just smile and say "ooooooo noooooo, can do, can do it..."

In the last few months, I have been very conscious of telling her "I love you" when I left, because I wanted her to know it, and  was never sure how much longer she had.  I would hug her around her skinny shoulders and kind of press our cheeks together so my mouth was near her ear.  And I'd tell her to behave etc.  She would put her good hand on my other cheek, like a grandmother would, and pat it.   

In the recent weeks it was apparent that she really was near the end. But man that stubborn ol sweetheart hung on.  Her angels must have been playing tic tac toe for a long time waiting for her.  One visit she was particularly unresponsive and slumped over.  She was very agitated and upset.  So a nurse and myself spent a great deal of time trying to ascertain what she wanted and needed.   She cried a lot.

I knelt down next to her wheelchair and talked to her about my kids.  Mandy this...Cliffy that.  She smiled.  I talked a lot about what a spit fire Mandy is. I usually showed her pictures until she seemed uninterested or I ran out of new pictures.  On this occasion I didn't have any new pictures. So when I finished speaking about my kids, I said "so, I have a date tonight"  and I swear to you, she sat up, her eyes came alive, and she said "ooooooooooooo!!" and kind of chuckled and nodded a slow, knowing nod.  I laughed and looked at the nurse and said "did you see that?!"

Nearly every weekend for a year I have heard her saying "can do, you can do it".  I will always hear her saying that.  And I will take that with me forever.

Its going to take some time for this one to sink in, for sure.  I am going to visit my other patient friend on Friday and it will be really strange to be there without her.

  God Bless you, my Can Do friend.   You will always be with me and I love you.  

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this, Kelly. I bet she was a really positive person who overcame obstacles with dignity in her before-stroke life. At least that's how I imagine her. I'm sorry for your loss.