When you pull the plug, will I die?

It is mid January.

It is evening and I am helping her to undress for bed. She is afraid of the care aids, afraid they will hurt her. She is so fragile, they do not realize that every movement hurts, flashes pain from sciatica nerve right down her leg to her knees. Her skin is so thin and no flesh protects her. Every touch seems like a pinch or a squeeze. It is not simple.

I persuade her to abandon her light green undershirt for a clean soft yellow one. As I do so, I am stunned by what I see. I knew she was losing mass, but there is nothing left but bone.

Her breasts are completely flat against her rib cage, her tiny nipple settled at her waist; the skin is beautiful like finely lined parchment, like skin coloured onion paper. All her flesh has fallen away. But her nervous hands are still elegant and expressive. I think, “I should not be looking” and yet this ritual of dressing and undressing has become a daily event, as if there had never been a beginning to it nor an end. There is nothing prurient in my gaze, simply an artist trying to understand, capture a new reality that has been placed before me and recognize its essence. In truth, there is beauty.

She breathes heavily, a rasping breath somewhere between a gasp and a light snore. Her beautiful face is ashen with a pad of yellow that shows at her cheeks.

Looking at her from the side I see my dear Granny’s profile at the age of one hundred and three, a real Penford profile. The nose is the same. When she smiles now, it’s that impish grin of Granny’s. Along her arms down to her finger tips, her so thin skin reveals capillaries and veins in a complicated and colourful life network, almost like a fine netting holding her soul in. Here and there, contusions bloom in burgundy-coloured flower shapes. She bruises at the slightest touch because of the blood thinning medication she takes.

A miracle of modern technology, wireless earphone bracket her ears like parentheses. Heather gave her these in late September for her birthday. My cousin who is doing missionary work in Germany recorded a compact disc of her own new, modern hymns. Gentle and caressing music floats through Mother’s ears as she struggles with her last fever.

Gone are all her independent abilities. She needs to be swung by two care aids to a commode by her bedside. She can no longer walk; no longer stand and balance on her own feet. She is too dead weight and the activity hurts each bone in her legs, hips and her back. It is too painful for her and she can no longer hold her body in a sitting position
Indignity upon indignity, she must urinate and defecate in her diaper like a new born babe, then be rolled like a one-hundred pound bag of potatoes to one side; then to the other; to be cleaned and have her diaper replaced

This night, her hospital bed was malfunctioning. The control was broken and operating permanently on a light vibration. Only unplugging the bed would save her from its gyrations. It was light and she did not complain of it, so there seemed no immediate hurry to get it fixed or replaced.But as I held her hand that night, she asked in a very worried tone.”What about this system? Is it supposed to make me better?”

“System?” I asked. “What do you mean by system.” I was baffled and didn’t understand what she was getting at.

“The electricity,” she replied.

It took me quite a while before I realized that she was talking about the vibration. I told her that she wasn’t going crazy (she worried about this a lot); there was actually something going on. I could pull the plug on the bed to stop it, but the raising and lowering of the bed would no longer operate until the plug was reconnected.

She thought for a moment and then, in a relatively matter of fact voice, she asked, “When you pull the plug, will I die?”


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