I valet park the car. I do what always works for me when I am stressed. I make a list, then recite exactly what I intend to do, in order, on the list. This method allows me to disassociate from whatever difficult reality I am expecting to face. My fear that Aunt Gillian will not survive this random embolism is intense. I know how pulmonary embolisms can travel to the lungs from a leg, causing death.
Prayer is a convenience for me. It allows me to talk to God on a conversational basis. The God to whom I pray is not angry, vindictive or judgmental. Quite honestly, my God, is of my own creation. I am reasonable. I understand that Aunt Gillian has lived a long, a full life. It's just that I am not ready to let her go. I would bargain, but I did all the bargaining I could when Kelly died, and I know it doesn’t work. I am not willing to consider the alternative. That there is no God. That we are alone in a meaningless world with no higher power illuminating our existence. If that were true, then really, what’s the point?
I rush past the coffee shop, then back up to ask for patient information. I am not sure if she is in the Emergency Room still, or if she is upstairs in a patient room. A very, very large woman wearing orange and purple bracelets that clash with her tightly permed, scarcely present, pink hair tells me,”Just a minute, please,” when I ask for Gillian Dickinson. The obese senior dials a number and mumbles into the receiver. I can not make out a word she is saying. Is she speaking Spanish?
When the receptionist turns to me, her affect has changed considerably. It is conciliatory. Immediately, I am on guard. She says, “Someone will be right out to get you.” I turn over those words,‘out to get me.‘ She didn’t say, “Someone will take you to your aunt...” My reflections are interrupted by the arrival of a young woman who introduces herself as Gretchen Sabelowski, a hospitalist. She asked me to follow her to as small conference room “Never mind, we can talk here,” I gesture to the lobby.
“No,” she insists. “It’s just down this corridor.”
We enter a room that is the same size as my bathroom at home. Our knees graze when we are seated. “Ms. Dickinson, your aunt came into the emergency room at (she pauses to look at a clipboard) 6:22a.m. this morning.”
Impatient, I interrupt her, “Exactly, that’s whey I would like to see her now.” A shudder ripples through me. “Unless....is this your version of the notification of the next of kin?”
I laugh inappropriately.
More gently, Dr Sabelowski continues, “Actually, Ms. Dickinson, I am afraid it is. Ms. Dickinson expired at 6:47 a.m. We withheld attempts to resuscitate your aunt based on her advanced directives.”
“Can I see her?” I can see my hands tremble. I will them to stop.
“Actually, her body is presently in the hospital morgue. Due to state law, you may not go in that area of the hospital. Usually we suggest families view their loved ones at the funeral home. Is there a funeral home you usually use? Perhaps that might be Wrigley’s?”
“Yes, yes. Wrigley’s seems to be burying my entire family. Why did she get an embolism? Could it have been prevented?” 'You fat cow, stop this,' is the subtext running in my head while I behave like a rational adult.
“They can develop randomly, Ms. Dickinson. If we had warning signs and could have diagnosed it, we could have used anticoagulants and we would have made suggestions about exercise, the use of compression stockings and other measures.”
“She hasn’t been traveling. She walked two miles every morning. I don’t understand. She seemed so healthy.” I sound whiney, we both know it.
I think for a second then I am filled with worry.
“She didn’t suffer. Tell me this wasn’t painful.”
“There can be some discomfort associated with the clog once it reaches the lungs. However, when she was brought into the Emergency Department we started her on powerful pain medicine. She did not suffer.”
I stand, too abruptly, probably. I shake Dr. Jankowski’s hand. She mentions that Gillian’s effects are at the nurse’s station if I would like to pick them up before I go.
When I walk out of the hospital, I am carrying my purse and a small manilla envelope.
I feel like I am going backward through the movie of the Wizard of Oz. When the house falls on the witch, Dorothy steps into a world of brilliant color and possibility. I feel like I am stepping out of the hospital into a world of black and white and pervasive bleakness.
My beloved Aunt Gillian has left me behind.