My Mother's Death: The Experience

She is lying on her back with the tube of a respirator protruding from her mouth, when I enter her room in the Intensive Care Unit. The sound of her breathing is continually echoed in the columnar tube of the respirator. It emits an airy in and out swish, that seems to fill the whole room. It registers her oxygen intake and shows when the instrument helps her breathing and when she does it unassisted. I've already started to hate It as much as the unforgivable scum that call themselves physicians. You see, they have caused this tragedy. On one fateful day, after a heart surgeon implanted a pacemaker, it malfunctioned and caused cardiac arrest that sent my mother into a coma, from which she'd never return. It was her personal physician, a foolish incompetent doctor that had convinced me, and my relatives to perform this killing 'procedure'. This worthless swine never visits the hospital now while the family is present, and only communicates with this surgeon, that looks like something from the deepest ring of Hell. My mind is scorched with fire-born hate for them all.

I remember that call. One evening while, I sat at home working on my computer, trying to create an abstruse calculation module for my job, the phone rang. It was my niece. She was calling about my mother. She was crying and upset and told me tearfully, that a Dr. Nelson was telling gramma, she was recommending a pacemaker implant to control her erratic heart rhythms. She started crying and coughed, making little understandable sense. She was just babbling a stream of words. I took over trying to calm her down. "Wait Dosali, stop get a hold on yourself. Now, what is this? She repeated the information again, in the near identical incoherent stream of emotional statements, but this time I understood. I told her to let me speak to gramma and to stop crying, because it wouldn't help gramma or her. I told her to be strong, that gramma would be alright if she kept her head and stopped acting like a child. She put Ma on the phone. I asked: Ma what's going on? (Feeling my own heart pace quicken). I hear her voice, calm, quiet and in control as always. It relaxes me. "Well Kenny, Dr. Nelson told me that my heart is enlarged and did some tests, and well..you know how these doctors are, she said that it's an arrhythmia. "What does that mean?" "It means, that sometimes my heart stops beating then, goes into irregular beats and that this could cause an attack or maybe even a stroke." My own heart is racing now. I broke in "Dosali said she wants to have a pacemaker put in, uh to control this, is that right?" "Yes" I asked "Do you wanna do this? There was a pause. I knew she didn't. "Kenny, well I don't know. She said I should? (I exhaled a hiss of anxiety)" But, do you WANT to Ma? Do you WANT to?" Another pause. "I told Dosali I will, if you agree. Do you think I should Kenny?" I could see Ma glancing around at my niece in my mind's eye. I could hear Dosali weeping in the background. I thought quick, and said: "look Ma, I can't make that decision without talkin' to this this..." "Dr. Nelson" "Yeah, you got her number?" Ma was breathing heavily and said she'd have Dosali find the number and call me back. I agreed. I started to probe my mother's feelings and it was obvious she didn't want to do it. I didn't want her to do it either, but felt if she didn't and...and... and well if that happened could I ever forgive myself? The discussion became philosophic, and Ma expressed the notion that she couldn't live forever, that she was 84 years old and we should be prepared and ready to move on with our lives. I couldn't bear to hear this and stopped her. "Ma, don't start talking like that, look..look. (I was losing control and could feel irrepressible tears flooding in my eyes). Don't just don't okay, lemme call this Dr. Nelson and hear what she has to say. I don't like her, Ma. Yeah, I expected you to say that. Who do you like Kenny? I laughed. I like Muhammad Abdille Gurre! He defended Somalis against them! Ma laughed, "he might be the only one you like." He's a great Somali. Okay, I like Jorge Ben Jor. Ma said: Who is that? He's a Brazilian singer. She chuckled again. His mother is from Ethiopia? She continued laughing and then broke into a nasty cough. My eyes shut in fear. I was trying to get her away from the subject. A dreadful subject: the subject of her life's termination. "Kenny, well there's finally somebody you do like..look I don't I..I--(another cough) she said something I couldn't hear.. I didn't know I was having one of the last few conversations with a person I cherish. Suddenly Dosali found the number and Ma told me. I grabbed a pen and she read the number to me. "Okay, okay,... yeah okay..(my hands were so wet with sweat the phone receiver felt slippery) I'm gonna call her right now..uh what time is it? (it was around 6 pm) Ma said: "it's 5:40, are you gonna call her? Kenny, don't get all upset over this, I feel fine." "Yes, I'm not, I know...you do, but we can't ignore this. I'll call this Nelson woman and then I'll call you back. If she makes sense I'll let you know okay Ma? "Okay Kenny." "I love you Ma, I love you, this this, uhh.."Oh shut up and call this woman Kenny." I laughed nervously. We hung up. I felt like I couldn't hear, there was a blockage in my ears for a few seconds, like when you come down from an air flight. I lit another cigarette, then noticed I had one already lit. I thought about my sister's tragic death at 37 and fought back more tears. I looked at the yellow lined paper, I'd written the number down on. "I gotta call this woman, I gotta call this woman!" I repeated. I got up and retrieved a stout beer from the refrigerator, opened it and sat back down on a swivel chair at my kitchen table.

I picked up the phone and dialed the numbers on the paper. It was this Dr. Nelson's personal phone. I already didn't like her, and had never met her. I hear the electronic high-pitched ring of her phone, then she answers. "Hello, Dr. Nelson". "Yes, this is Ken Wais, I'm Mrs. Wais's son, I got your number from my mother and she said I should call you about her condition and your recommendations for her heart treatment?" I said all this with an even calm tone, hoping to impress her while detecting her attitude and competence. "Yes, Mr. Wais, I'm glad you called. Your mother is suffering from a condition we call arrhythmia and--(something I didn't understand, but wasn't going to ask about). This means that your mother is at great risk, Mr. Wais, I checked her EEG last week and, lemme see, wait I have it here". I heard rustling papers "Here it is. It shows that her heart is being weakened by stress and age, and (a sigh), well this arrhythmia is dangerous. And, and, uh and well, to be frank, she could die at this age without some moderation of her heart rhythm." I listened nervously sipping my stout beer as she spoke. "I understand, I do understand. I just think, well I think Dr. Nelson...I swallowed some beer... but isn't an operation to implant a pacemaker a little extreme for a woman of 84 years of age?". She had a ready answer for this remark. "No, actually it isn't Mr. Wais"-"Call me Ken, okay?" "Okay, Ken Dr.-- has done over a 1000 of these operations on older people. "How old?." "Some of 'em have been as old as your mother." "Dr -- is the surgeon that is going to perform this procedure, right?" "Yes, yes he'll be doing the operation. He has a very good record. Look, all his patients love him." She sounded too confident and assured for me. Yet, I felt that if I didn't act now, Ma would surely die of what these dogs called 'natural causes'. She sounded like a plump, honey-brown, African-American girl from the South. I thought she was gullible and stupid. She probably got her medical degree from some affirmative action program. After saying this in my head, I instantly thought how reverse-racist this comment was! Yet, my irrational hate would not let go. I imagined her as a slightly overweight, dumb bitch.... And these are the hands I'm putting my mother into....a surgeon to whom I've not spoken .. this...careless, incompetent doctor! I suppressed any further thought. I felt ashamed of myself (to myself, as no one knew I had this feelings) for harboring these feelings about people I really don't know, but the emotions were mixed; on the one hand I was pumped with fear at my mother's death and on the other searching for a way to let the fear out.--and it came out as anger. I thought, she is too nervy, she has too much attitude and I definitely don't like her. She can't give a damn about my mother, and my passion for her life, or even my family! I felt this irrationally, and I knew it. But as anyone that has lost a loved relative will know, rationality has nothing to do with your moments feelings, when a tragedy is happening.

To Nelson, she was just another old, dying black woman whom, with her Medicare or Medicaid or whatever they called it...and personal insurance, this Dr. Nelson stood to earn ill-gotten money. My mind raced from one horrible thought to another. And worst of all, I had no one to advise me, what was the right decision to make! Yet, she seemed to be speaking the truth. If Ma didn't get this device, death was certain, or so it seemed. I was twisting the receiver wire, knotting it into tight lumps. I felt like doing this to her fat honey-brown neck, fed by expensive meals. I imagined her sending other kind, caring, loving mothers to their deaths. I felt like squeezing the life out of her, And this mysterious, unseen as of yet surgeon. I imagined him as a cruel foreigner to this country bent on making his fortune from exploiting the poor and down-trodden people of this modern-day Rome of a country. What horror would this unfeeling man work on Ma? I wanted to ask her if she felt good helping dogs like this surgeon hurt her own, but said: "Are you sure that this operation is safe Dr. Nelson?" "I can't guarantee anything Mr.--I mean Ken, but this doctor has done thousands of operations without any problems. Look, I wanna see your mother live a long happy life too. She said this with a rising intonation. I think you should trust me that this is the way to go." I was finishing my stout beer, and for a while said nothing. "Mr. Wais, you there." "Yeah I'm here. Okay, okay, okay...uh look ...I'll call my mother and tell her I think she should do it." "I think you should." "Yeah, okay, I gotta tell you I don't feel good about this. I am still unsettled, you understand me?" I heard silence for the first time. Then, she said: "Yeah, I know, it's frightening for relatives to have this done, but I've done it before, uh well... Ken..afterwards everybody thanks me. My stomach felt a pang of pain and I belched into my right hand. "Yeah okay, I gotta go." I hung up the phone before she responded, hoping that this gesture showed my distrust of her.

The Aftermath

My niece, Dosali had been sitting by her side all day, while I had left to go home, eat and arrange matters with my relatives in town. She had gone to the hospital cafeteria for a brief respite from her vigil. I sat down next to my mother's bed. I looked at her face, those closed eyes, that face and I turned to the sealed window looking out on the parking lot. I knew I was gonna talk to her and feel like I'm speaking to a lifeless corpse while doing it. But, Ma was NOT dead yet, I told myself. There were the sounds of a hospital going on. Public speaker announcements for doctors to go this or that ward, shuffling of other people in the ICU ward going to their sickened love ones. Whispers in the hallways. All of this I heard too. It made harder to focus on Ma. I said aloud OOOO Boy, did I screw this one up royally. Damn, why did I do this Ma? Why? But, there she lay, unanswering and that damn respirator droning on....

Just two days before, Ma had been talking of coming home, and how much she detested being in a hospital, how she might go to New York to see our relatives, my uncles, cousins and their in-laws, or maybe even travel North Carolina to visit Dosali at the small college she attends, during the winter recess.

I put down my black briefcase she'd had gotten for my birthday, remembering all the events of the past two days. I look at her. Her long white hair is braided, the locks lay around her neck, her eyes closed, her face is serene, in fact, it all appears as if she's just sleeping. But, she isn't!! The devices that monitor her vital signs dispel this illusion. I lean against metal railing of the bed and take her left hand in both of mine. There is a digital device clipped to her index finger to measure, God knows what? I don't care at this point. Her hand is warm and soft and it reminds me of the times when I was child and that hand stroked my head and comforted me for some fear or failing I had.

Oh, Ma, Oh, Ma please, please come out of it, Please! Having intoned those words, I feel hopeless, stupid and futile. I know she won't 'come out of it'. My chest feels constricted by a cord of pain, my head aches from little sleep the night before, and my eyes are sunken, bloodshot and sore. I get up and lean over her, bearing in close to her face ever so gently lift her left eyelid, it rolls back into her forehead, then slowly comes down to look straight at me. My tender hand on the lid shakes, I can't suppress the tears...Yeah, Ma, yeah I'm here, yeah , it's me, Ken, I'm here The eye slides left to right and then back upward again. I carefully release her eyelid, kiss her nose, eyes and cheek, then sit down, wiping irrepressible tears. The respirator drones on, its in and out suction tightens every muscle in my face. I lower my forehead to the metal guardrail and squeeze her hand, wiping away the tears with the tan-colored hospital napkin from the bath in her unit.

Excuse Mr. Wais, we have to turn your mother over now I look around to see one uniformed nurse, and her 'assistant' garbed in the color-coded 'nurse's assistant monkey suit. They are standing in the doorway, with various implements in their gloved hands. Yeah, yeah ...okay, ... How long are you gonna take.. My tone is harsh and threatening, they're all verminous dogs in my mind, every single living example of murderous filth slinking through that hospital is responsible for this misfortune from my vantage point. Not long, Sir, you can come back in about 15 fifteen minutes. She has soft, caring eyes, I feel my hatred ebb. Yeah, okay, I'll go downstairs and have a cigarette. walking out briskly, hands in my pockets, I wondered if this redoubtable duo would extinguish the slight thread of life that Ma still had. my hatred had returned. How long will this go on? I think of the surgeon: the dog that implanted this pacemaker. I wanted to see him dead. To hack him to death with a machete, like the Rwandans were doing in East Africa. I weaved a revenge fantasy in my mind while descending the step to the outside smoking area. I'd catch this dog, and after mortally wounding him, I'd ask him: Do like killing fragile, aged women like my mother? Did you think my mother enjoyed being sent into a coma? I smiled envisioning the deathblow from the machete. Once in the area, I sat down on a hard metal bench and lit a cigarette. In the next second a blue-suited black orderly saunters in and smiles at me. I wanna vomit, thinking how she's so untouched by my mother's suffering, but smiled back. She remarks on the heat. I agree and keep puffing my cigarette. We part without any further conversation.

And That Night

That night in a dream, I saw what happened. Or at least what my somnolent mind thought happened. I had lain down on the couch, while watching a football game, as the voice of the sports announcer rambled on, I slowly sunk into the surrealism of a dream.

Ma is stretched out on a table with several white guys (or so they appeared to be) doing things to her. I saw this, but nobody else did. It seemed that nobody could recognize this was wrong. At the head of the table was a surgeon an ugly swarthy-skinned man directing the operation. He turned toward to me and smiled: his teeth were broken and discolored. He pointed at Ma, mangled on the table. He looked like every villain this world has ever known, I knew I hated him. It occurred to me, I always thought they were our enemies. But never like this! NOT as assassins of my mother, no. I remarked while watching him cutting my mother how it must pain her so so very much! then.. an abrupt change. I was trying to hold onto some iron rail, some iron support that was somewhere near me but .. I I ...I was falling away, and Ma was being dissected...and I couldn't get to the railing...I fell into a deep watery body..a sea of endless depth knowing I was drowning...

I woke up with perspiration all over my undershirt. I looked at the phone next to my bed and ran my hands over my sweat-laden head and thought about my daughter: Asha. In an instance, I thought of her brown skin, her thick lips, so like mine, then and sat up on the edge of the bed. I've got to call them.Moving into the kitchen, I heard the drone of the refrigerator stop, and turned on the ceiling light. It hurt my eyes. That bright intense beam crashing against the darkness of the late night.Damn kill that thingand did turning it off. I opened the refrigerator door and a crystal light at the back burst out. Surveying its inner realm, I could see, a half covered plastic container of hamburger meat, turning deep red from oxidation, two lamb steaks, a plate with some badly cooked beef and rice. And as I looked to the side holder a bottle of Port. I grabbed the Port, closed the door and sat on the swivel chair at the table. Exhausted. Yet, I'd just awakened. My arms felt weak and I had a feverish sensation. A heat in my head around the temples and my ears felt flush with warmth. What am I gonna do now? What I am gonna do now? Will Ma live? And if she doesn't...I put my hands to my chin and sunk into a miserable state of dread. I had said 'yes', but felt it was the wrong decision. A pacemaker? but maybe she'll come out of it? She could right? I said this mentally to no one, for there was no one to answer it. This is what scared and pained me most. There was no one to advise me now. No one could set things aright. This was not like buying something that broke in a week, or being over-drafted at the bank, or over your credit limit on your credit card. This was final, and nobody, but nobody could remedy this impending loss. Then for one brief second, that thought actually occurred to me. What about..about, I could hardly let myself even seriously imagine it. Still it crept back to me. What about...about...Him? In the next moment I laughed out loud for the first time in days. I said aloud Man, don't make a bigger ass out of yourself. There is no God! There never was one, never will be one, and most of all now I need to recognize this! I'd known this since my adolescence and was not about to fall prey to this false hope. I felt ashamed for considering praying. But there was no one to be ashamed to in those early morning hours. Something bigger was invading my thoughts. It was the knowledge that Ma had to die. That no matter what happens, Ma is GOING TO DIE! I took a oval shaped glass down from the overhead cabinet and poured some Port into it. Then began a series of memories. Of this and that and how I'd not been as good as I should have been, and Chickie (my brother) and his sinking into drug addiction, and my sister Marcia and her tragic death, and myself drinking way too much. I looked at the microwave clock: 2:42 AM. I gotta go to work this morning I got up, went into the living room and turn on the soft light next to the couch and sat down with the glass of Port in my hand. She's not gonna die man? She's not gonna...the refrigerator cut off. And then there was a deaf silence. Nothing seemed to make a noise. The silence. The quiet. It was the beginning of July. I sat there on the couch, in the cold silence wondering.Is Ma gonna really die? My gaze caught a 2nd pack of cigarettes on the coffee table. "They're Pam's" I thought. She left'em here, that silly bitch-Oh forget about her. I gotta take a shower, yeah, take a shower A shower would renew me, make me forget the seriousness of this point in my life. I gotta call'em I picked up the remote and turned on the TV.

It was the overnight news on the screen. Last night, in Israel four Palestinian gunmen attacked an outpost near Tel Aviv, Israeli troops killed all four. It was reported that they were members of the Party of God. In other news, celebrations for the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule have been gathering momentum. ABC's Jessica Stewart has details, Jessica? That's right Steve, I'm standing at a place--CLICK I turn it off. Why do I hate this guy so much? Actually, I don't know if its not the device that caused the coma and not his implantation procedure? I shouldn't hate... I shouldn't hate him. Trying desperately to talk myself into forgiving. But, it was no use.

Philsophies, Science, Math and Music