Stars

(If you’ve not yet read ‘Physician’, this post will make much more sense if you do.)  Read Physician (Here)

I’ve been working on this one for days. I finally made it all the way through last night. It’s been so long since I’ve felt anything- at all, I had to make sure it still felt the same this morning. It does… I can finally see light again, so here goes….

I don’t answer my phone much anymore. It isn’t often that it rings anyway, and when it does, it’s usually an appointment reminder. I call myself being efficient- if it’s important they will leave a voicemail. Several weeks ago, I (purposely) missed a call. It was not a number I recognized, and there was no voicemail. Efficient, see? The following day, I missed three calls. From the same number, but still no voicemail.

I ran every possible scenario through my mind. I could not, for the life of me, figure who could be calling so often, without urgency enough to leave a message. And, of course, the next morning, another call came through. I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer.  I answered.

I said,”Hello?” three times before I heard a woman’s voice. She seemed hesitant, but I figure she wasn’t expecting me to answer. She asked for me, using my formal name. All alarm bells and red flags went up immediately. Only three people on this earth use my formal name. Most don’t even know it.

My guard was up, until she identified herself. Until my heart hit the floor. It was Punkin’s mother. I didn’t even have time to take a breath before the tears started rolling. And I couldn’t get them to stop.

Punkin and I kept in touch. We emailed a couple of times each week, and she used to call on FaceTime pretty often. Our last FaceTime chat was 51 days ago. She asked if I could come up for a short visit. I had business nearby that day, so I didn’t arrive until late afternoon. I didn’t find her in her room. I found her mama. She didn’t seem to want to chat, but told me Punkin was out for a walk. I had a pretty good idea where I would find Punkin. Her mama and I parted ways at the elevator. The elevator being the finish line was an irony not lost on me.

I found Punkin, in her favorite seat in front to the window in the solarium, looking down on her shooting stars. She didn’t look at me, so I sat there beside her. And waited.

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There were no beeping pumps this time. Nothing to interfere with the things she needed to say. But I didn’t need to hear a word to understand how close she was to being pain free and at peace. There are times when being a nurse works against me. She was orange. Swollen, with ascites so severe she held her tummy up like a woman in her third trimester. Two days before my visit, she consented to one last procedure, another paracentesis, resulting in five liters of fluid drained from her abdomen.

She did this, she said, for her daddy.

Without adequate liver function, accumulation of fluid trapped within the peritoneal cavity builds in such a way that it creates tremendous pressure on other organs. Fluid begins to fill the lower lobes of the lungs, making it difficult for one to breathe. Drowning alive. Fluid leaks into the extracellular tissues. This we refer to as “third spacing”. Tissues swell to their maximum limit, and when the fluid has nowhere left to go, those tissues begin to leak. We call this leaking “weeping”. It looks and feels exactly as it sounds.

Punkin said her daddy needed one more day.

For him, she endured another painful procedure. They talked, alone. She was open and honest with him; for the first time she let him see the depth of her suffering. Punkin’s daddy is no different than any other loving Daddy. He wanted her fixed. For sixteen years he’d pushed every physician, nurse, and poor resident to FIX her. He’d turned his back on his faith years ago. Punkin, her mother, and her close family never stopped praying for him. He was angry, and depressed, more so since Punkin’s birthday. If you’ve ever witnessed a man’s heart break from loss of control- helplessness, and fear, it is a sight that will never leave your mind.

Blessedly, I’ve never watched my child suffer, not in the way Punkin has suffered. Sitting there with her in the solarium, I felt her need for peace. She didn’t have the energy to be away from her room for very long, and she needed her oxygen. We sat for several minutes, silent, staring down at the cars on the street.

“Do you see them, yet? The stars, I mean…”

“Yes. I took notes, remember? I see them, Punkin. They are beautiful.”

“That’s the first thing I’m going to thank God for. When I get there. For these stars.”

She stood, awkward and top heavy. She leaned into my shoulder, and we made it back to her room. I fussed over her a little- fluffing pillows is a skill of mine. Her mom had returned, and I stayed long enough to watch my beautiful friend’s face finally relax in comfort as she slept.

I wrote my number, email address, and mailing address on a napkin for her mom. When I handed it to her, she hugged me (and I let her), thanked me for coming, and promised to keep me posted.

I reached the elevator, and pressed the button. I watched the doors open and close. I just couldn’t bring myself to cross the finish line without her. I took the stairs.

I write down everything. When I wrote in my crying journal after our last talk, I could only scribble highlights. I am so glad I did. Her words, like Meir’s words, mean the world to me now.

Early the following morning Punkin was discharged from the hospital where she’d spent so much of her life. This time, though, she did not walk, she rode in a wheelchair, pushed by her daddy. I like to believe she smiled a bit when the elevator doors opened and she crossed the finish line.

April 30, 2015, Melody (Punkin Pie), firmly in control of her own affairs, without tubes, needles, sutures, and finally free from the hospital, received her just reward. On her own terms.

Her ashes will be scattered on her 19th birthday.

I’ve grieved, cried, prayed, laughed, and cried some more. I’ve cried typing, driving, washing, dusting, and staring at the ceiling fan. I cry because I am selfish, and I miss my friend. Faith and reason tell me she’s there. She has crossed the finish line in style. Still, I cry.

Not long before Punkin passed, I met a new friend, an artist, with wit and faith so very much like her. I looked through her sketches and found the sweetest print, framed in white, perfectly reflective of Punkin Pie. Its place is at my bedside, sharing space only with my son and my Meir. It reminds me that she is finally, beautifully at peace. It reminds me that I am still here, that brighter days are coming, and that I, too, will be made whole.

~ Old Mother Hubbard ~
I love you.
Thanks for losing.
I’ll save your seat.
Light is Light.
Shine on.
I win. Again.
~Punkin Pie~

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