15 August 2012


I got the call around 10:30 this morning. The conversation on my end of the phone sounded like this:

“Hello?”…….”O.K.”….. ”O.K.”….. ”O.K.”….. ”O.K.”…..”Bye.”

I was fine until I looked at Paul. I had been preparing for this for the last week when I received a call that threw me against a wall and made my entire world stop.

It all started six weeks ago. I called my grandmother as I typically do on a weekly basis, just to check in and see how things are going. “There’s something going on with Mitsa,” she said, talking of her younger sister. Mildred, 83, lived across from my grandmother in a house next door to the unbelievably tiny house they in which they had both grown up alongside two parents and seven other children. We call her Mitsa because I am not sure anyone in their immediate family actually went by their birth name.

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Well, it started on Monday. We were supposed to go to the store…” Let me save you the 15-minute introduction and just paraphrase with “Mitsa was confused. She didn’t seem right. When driving home, she ran the car into a tree and then asked, ‘What just happened?’”

She had been put on a heavy dose of a vitamin and everyone just assumed that was the reason. Then we learned the truth. At 83, my great aunt and neighbor since the age of 12 had been diagnosed with leukemia. Her white cell counts were over 100,000.

So, six weeks ago, we began the roller coaster ride. I hate roller coasters. The jerking, the differing speeds, the falling, the toll it takes on my body. Little did I know that the stomach-in-my-throat, fear and nauseated feeling of an actual roller coaster were nothing compared to the toll of the emotional kind.

In a span of five weeks I received the following calls:
  • There’s something wrong with Mitsa. She hit a tree and she didn’t even know it. Must be the vitamin.
  • Mitsa has leukemia. Her doctor said she can do a normal chemo treatment and hope for the best, partake in an aggressive chemo treatment that will likely kill her or do nothing and die within four to six weeks.
  • We went to see a cancer specialist in Cleveland. He was great – we loved this guy. He was so up front and honest. He said this isn’t a death sentence and recommended a shot that she can give herself twice a day. He has elderly patients who are in remission and doing fine within a year. It sounds good.
  • Mits is in the ICU. Apparently the hospital gave her something to which she was allergic and she went into cardiac arrest.
  • No, just kidding – it wasn’t an allergic reaction. She had a stroke. She lost the ability to move her right arm and now she will not be able to give herself the shots. She is going to need around-the-clock care. No treatment yet.
  • Now Mits is considering participating in a clinical trial.
  • Hey, she’s doing pretty well. She should be transferred out of the cancer hospital and back to the local hospital to go over her treatment requirements. She should be there for about four weeks.
  • Mitsa is on her way back to the Cleveland Clinic. I know she was only at the hospital for a few hours, but she started coughing up blood. She has a spot on her lung and might have lung cancer. I will keep you posted.
  • Well, it’s pneumonia and, because of the spot on her lung, it might be tuberculosis, so they have her in isolation.
  • No TB, it’s just pneumonia. She’s doing all right.
Then, last Wednesday, Paul and I were about halfway through dinner when the phone rang. “Mitsa can’t breathe. Ted got a call at 5:30 this morning. He’s on his way from Virginia. They are putting her on oxygen. She has stopped all treatment and she signed a DNR. It sounds like this will be her last day.”

I lost it. That was just not the call I was expecting. She was doing well. We were talking treatment. What happened?! I stopped eating and spent the rest of the night crying. I just kept thinking about what life would be like without Mits. I wasn’t ready.

Over the next five hours, I prepared myself for the call. Thursday was National Day but I was prepared to wake up, be depressed and watch hours and hours of Gilmore Girls while digging my face into the couch. I stayed up until 1 a.m. waiting for the call and then, I finally went to bed.

I left my phone on so that I would hear any notifications, whether text messages or e-mails telling me that she had passed. I woke up around 9 to nothing – no missed calls, no voice mails, no text messages. I waited an hour or so. Nothing. I called my mother and my grandmother twice each and no one was picking up. Maybe this was it.

Finally, I got through to my mother. She advised that Mits was a bit better, breathing better. I didn’t know how to take the news.

All night long I had prepared for the phone call that she had gone, but now it didn’t seem that I would get that call. Would she now get better? I didn’t know how to process the fact that she was not dead. I went back to the bedroom around 11 and attempted to nap. It wasn’t until the afternoon, after a chat with a friend when I confessed this, that I was able to return to my normal state.

From Thursday on, I prepared for the call. Every day. I increased my phone calls home from a few times a week to twice a day. I wore waterproof mascara in case I was either with friends or out somewhere, away from the comforts of my bathroom sink and a proper towel. I mostly cleared my schedule so that I could be near my home phone.

Then, this morning, I got the call. I didn’t feel much at the time. Yes, of course, it was sad to hear that Mits had died but I felt totally prepared for the news. I was fine until Paul gave me the look. “Well, that was the call,” I said. Then he came over to the couch from his chair and went for the hug. Of course I cried at that point. Before, I just had awkward smiles.

Instead of being depressed, my brain went into schedule mode. I had a plan to take a shower around 11 and head to the bank and the grocery store. So I got up, turned on the hot water heater and sat for a few minutes before getting ready. I again put on my waterproof mascara and headed out. I had a few mini cry sessions while getting ready, and on the way to the store, but I composed myself each time.

I guess it really didn’t hit me until I gave my grandmother a call to see how she was doing this morning (my evening). Now, at 87, she and her 79-year-old brother are the only two left.

Six weeks ago Mitsa was fine. Today, she is gone. Though I may not fully be impacted by the news right now, I am sure I will be when I go home later this year. When I won’t have the opportunity to sit around Mitsa’s kitchen table, drink coffee or hot chocolate and play endless games of Solitaire, when we won’t be at Mitsa’s eating Christmas dinner and loads of pie and cookies, when we won’t be exchanging gifts with the family, crowded in her living room. Where will we go now?

While last night was a hard night for many, it was also a better night knowing that Mitsa is finally at peace. So, tonight I had a cup of hot chocolate and I played a little Solitaire.

No comments: