“I’ve never had anyone come in here and so directly ask for help in making end-of-life decisions,” said the short, somewhat ebullient, Mozart-maned doctor. “Usually they…” At that he turned his fist into a detour for his moving hand.
“Go roundabout?” I suggested.
“Yes!” he said.
“Well, I’m nothing if not direct. And I’m not in denial.”
I was sitting in front of a new doctor, who spoke in good English, whose name I’ve forgotten, at yet another hospital, which name I’ve also forgotten. I do know that the building in which I was sitting was called Cuidados Paliativos, or Palliative Care, signed in big pale yellow letters on a kelly-green background. When Joel and I walked up, there was a patient outside on the broad, sunny terrace, getting his chemotherapy. I assumed it was his wife sitting next to him, holding his hand.
Joel had gotten the name from his instructor and had made an appointment for me. We’d been looking for hospice care, in general. I’ve said all along that I don’t want to be surprised by my oncoming death, whenever and however it comes, and I don’t want the people around me to be surprised. What did surprise me yesterday was how positive I felt after the appointment, which was really an interview to find out what I needed from them.
I was also surprised to hear myself giving such high scores on a range of quality-of-life scales. On the pain scale, I said 1, meaning very little pain. On the depression scale, I think I said, 7. On the overall quality of life scale, I gave an 8, 10 being utterly in-the-shits. When asked why I had come to them, and to sum it up in one word, I said, desperation. Not about death, but about living.
I found the two doctors I talked to to be admirably holistic in their approach, asking me about the strength of my friendships and if I felt I could talk to them, if I had a steady income, my living situation. When they heard me describe my flophouse, with its cucarachas y babosas, they were visibly shocked. I told them I had once gone without eating for 6 days and that my income was far from regular. (They gave me two bags of groceries before I left and took some Art Walk flyers.) They considered my underemployment and lack of steady income a problem to be solved not a character flaw to blame me with, an assessment that’s been implied by at least one person in my life.
In short, they can help me if I want it. I’ll probably be starting sessions with an English-speaking psychologist who’s also an art therapist. Painting my way to spiritual well-being! I can drop-in whenever I want — for tango lessons (as if). animal therapy, general get-togethers, and more. They seem to think they can find me a better place to live, possibly for free. If things get really bad, in terms of pain, they have a handful of beds.
I left feeling, if not buoyed quite yet, at least relieved that I’m being understood and offered non-judgmental support.
It’s a good day when I still have hope. I just hope the nightmares stop.