Learning to Die #6: practicum

Miz Clara shopping in winter

Jazz the cat strode to the door that night to welcome the humans in. One was missing, the important one, but Jazz took that philosophically. Before these two came, the whole responsibility had fallen on her black and white shoulders and no amount of cuddling and purring or even kneading had helped.

The next day, they set up the automatic water feed and put out several large dishes of the best cat food. Hum! Might as well get started.

Colin and Julia had taken Clara to see several long term care facilities before Covid arrived. Clara nixed the whole plan. Now they went back to their favourite and began negotiations. The problem was bureaucracies move slow and chances were that Clara was about to released from hospital. It was hard to say. The hospital was too busy to call them. Once the astronomical price per month had been settled. The room had to be furnished by the patient and a doctor had to fill out a form. Okay, she was in a hospital. Lots of doctors there. But Julia and Colin couldn’t go in. They called and pleaded. They tackled smoking nurses outside. Finally, one of those rushed back out and grabbed the form. She had a captive doctor.

I had suggested that they rent a room in our favourite hotel in Bakersfield, The Padre. It was old and historical significant. The owner had once mounted a cannon of the roof aimed at City Hall. It was dark by the time, Clara was wheeled to the hospital door and pushed out to their waiting hands. Clara was wearing a hospital gown and disposable underwear. That was all. Nights are chilly there, despite the sunny days. Julia managed to fit more absorbent underwear and sweat pants over her feet, but to pull them up, Clara had to get out of the car and stand between it and the Covid tent. Ninety two, a dignified lady.

They retired to their lovely Padre room. Clara was in the same pain for which she had been admitted. Not a heart problem, her doctor told Colin. “What about the stomach bleed is that causing the pain?” “You’ll have to see a GI specialist,” said the doctor and hung up. But Julia had slept 10 hours by now. Once they were ready for bed, Julia asked Clara if it was okay if she slept with her. Having got further permission to embrace her, Julia put her hands on the painful place and began Chi Gong breathing – into the pain and then out, down and away. Clara gradually moaned less until hours later both of them fell asleep and slept for four hours.

Breakfast room service Covid style was a series of brown bags, more or less thrown at Colin. Clara’s appetite was good.

First, they had to take Clara to see her new home. “I want to go home,” she insisted. “You can’t be at home just now. Remember what a terrible time we had getting you out last time. It’s going to snow again. You can’t be over an hour away from hospitals, especially up a mountain in the winter. The road gets impassable,” said Julia.

After she had seen the place, which looks like a fancy hotel on the website, she nodded at the room and the said, “I want go home.” “We can’t look after you, Ma,” said Colin. “We’ll get somebody,” Clara said. “I tried that. Nobody will come up there in the winter.” “Well, I’ll just look after myself.” “Do you remember you fell? Do you remember how thin you got?” Julia chimed in. Clara shook her head as if she was dispelling a flight of gnats.

Clara sat for the admission test. There was a wing, C wing for the demented. Clara didn’t need it. “Was she ambulatory?” they asked. “Well, she can walk. She might need a walker to get to the dining hall,” Julia said. “Actually, we have to put her down as non-ambulatory for B wing.” “Okay,” said Julia, “but she still has to go to the dining hall for meals?” “Oh, yes.” They all pondered that.

Meanwhile Colin was trying to rent furniture – rent to buy – until he got word that it was more or less a scam. Having heard that, he phoned the Bear Mountain Club concierge. (Concierge! Yes, why not. There were a lot movie moguls’ vacation homes in BMC.) So Monsieur Le Concierge promised two men and a pickup truck for the next morning.

Colin was also liquidating some of Clara’s money for the down payment. Monthly rent was twice what a friend of mine was paying for his wife in Canada and she had failed the C wing test and spent her time confined to a wheel chair, the operative word being confined. But this long term care home, unlike most of the others had not managed to have a single case of Covid. (The others were still decimating the elderly population. One had recently lost 50% of its residents to B.1.1.7., the U.K. variant.)

Initially, we had decided no LTC home for Clara, but we were well past that by now. We had come to the conclusion that it was just a choice of death by any other name.

I was, however, gobsmacked to learn that Jazz the cat would be moving as well.

I was consulted long distance about the decision to go back up the mountain for the night. We had all studied the weather forecasts, including the radar maps, carefully. they seemed clear of snowfall and the roads would be plowed and cindered by now.

The evening was spent sedating Jazz, capturing her in a blanket and cutting her nails. Julia was extremely allergic to cat dander and had never touched Jazz previously. Oddly, Jazz would give Julia a long, slow eye blink even when Julia was vacuuming. We were reliably informed that meant Jazz liked her.

The other task, of course was to pack. Every item of clothes and linens had to be labeled with Clara’s name. It was like sending your kid to camp.

Julia slept with Clara again and the pain was bearable.

The furniture in her bedroom ended up in LTC room at a markedly different altitude. Colin and Julia were given leave to set the room up. But after that, they could not go there. Clara would have a Covid test and a Covid shot and be quarantined for three days. Before that happened, they all went out to lunch.

It didn’t go well. Or maybe it went very well.

Clara could no longer figure our how to use a phone so she didn’t have one. Anyway she refused to wear her hearing aids or couldn’t put them and kept losing them. When they had her brought down to the lobby of the fourth day, she claimed she hadn’t had dinner the night before when her lock down ended. Someone else said she had seen her eating in the dining hall. It was indisputable that her room was in a dreadful mess – Colin had got permission for a last visit. BUT NEVER AGAIN during Covid. And clearly, Clara had not been showered. So there had to a scene in an office.

On the other hand, every visit showed a Clara who was walking those ‘long, dreary’ hallways and even going outside. She didn’t need the morphine anymore, although she could have used more attention to the incontinence aids. She was spitting mad some days, just sad on others, but she was able to go out for lunch and today she planned to have Colin take her to buy shoes.

Next to come – Learning to Die #7: theorem