I can’t stress enough how much I realize I have taken things for granted.
When Jessica was in the ICU, she wanted ice chips. She wanted water. She wanted Coke. There were times when she could have all of these things. Days she was doing better(ish), days her good nurse Robin was working and would do anything for her to have some comfort.
But as days went on, they got more worried she would aspirate. When she had ice chips or sips of water too quickly, she would get in a coughing fit. Which was hard to watch because it was clearly difficult for her to get through. They explained what aspirating was (kind of) and made us nervous about it. We obviously didn’t want to be the one to cause her lungs to fill up with something that wasn’t supposed to be in there.
Being the one giving her the ice chips or sips of a drink was scary because the nurses would tell you how much to give… kind of. They would share their concerns. Then they would leave the room and leave us in charge. I liked giving Jessica ice chips. God, it was the least I could flipping do. But I felt like an absolute jerk when she would ask for more an I literally had to tell her no. Like she was a child or something. Can you even imagine being her and having your little sister deny you something you desperately want and need? At a time like this? I felt like shit.
Sometimes I felt like we were judging how Jessica was doing, her chances of life, based on how well she would eat ice chips. I mean it was all we had to go off of. When I arrived at the hospital on Thursday, September 19th, Jessica was still eating a little bit. They found these ice cream cup things she could have. We loaded up on healthy smoothies. Anything and everything that we thought might give her some strength back.
[Side note: Ugggg I hate reliving it. But I relive it in my head all the time so writing it is the same I guess. ]
I kind of feel stupid for how optimistic I would get in times. Like the chance of getting her to eat 1/8 of a smoothie would all the sudden heal her cancer. That it would make her better again. I guess it was really the only factor we as a family felt like we could actually help with. A few days after that Thursday when I got there, she wasn’t eating anything anymore. She couldn’t. It all seemed so slow while we were there, sitting and watching. But it seems so fast when I think of how quickly she went from eating pot roast (a few days before I arrived) to eating nothing.
On one of the last days she was in the ICU, they would only let her have 6 ice chips per hour, IF that. She was begging for more. Pleading. “Ice chips”. “Water”. These were some of her only words.
I just feel like such an asshole now. I was denying her these things. I mean I know it was not my fault. The medical staff wouldn’t let her have them. They didn’t want her to aspirate. I GET IT. But seriously like this one tiny thing she wanted. The most simple and basic of things. Something to give her dry mouth a break. Something to clear her throat. But no.
And how quickly she went from the month before, eating a Firehouse Sub and Chick Fil A nuggets sitting with me, drinking a Diet Coke, drinking water. To death. Eating nothing anymore. Drinking nothing anymore. Living her very last days with hardly any food or drink.
Maybe some people don’t like eating and drinking very much. But Jessica did. She enjoyed these things about life. I do too, I get it. I think it’s one of the reasons why I hate to think of her not getting food and drink.
What brought this writing on was earlier today, when I drank a cup of water. It was nothing special. I drink several cups full of water a day. I don’t even particularly enjoy drinking water. But now when I drink a simple cup of water, I make sure I think about what I am doing. I am reminded of how simple a thing it is but how extremely quickly you can go from “all the water you could possibly want” to NONE. No water. I am privileged to get to eat and drink virtually whatever I want, whenever I want to.
I think I will probably write more on this someday, but one of the worst parts of her last days (to me) was this…
On Wednesday, September 25, 2019, my sister was told she was going to die soon. She was told by her hematologist/oncologist, Dr. Hemant S. Murthy, a man she trusted with her life, that the treatments did not work. That her tumor had not shrunk. (That she would soon never see her children ever again. That the life she once loved and lived so fully would soon be gone.) [I am crying.]
And shortly after, Jessica’s nurse asks her, “What do you want to eat? What do you want to drink? Do you want a steak dinner? You can have anything you want!!”
To me… this was terrifying and torturous. It is something I think about a lot. Your doctor tells you the worst news you could have never imagined. And your nurse (the kindest and sweetest most loving woman… one we all feel indebted to and love very much) excitedly tells you that you can have anything to eat. She was looking for a bright spot. I appreciate her for this. But to me (to Jessica? I don’t know.. I will never know..) it was a heartbreaking detail. A reminder of her impending death. Like “Hey now that we know you are dying, you can have whatever! I know we wouldn’t even let you have an ice chip earlier today, but hoorah! You’re dying! Let’s eat!”
And another sad fact was that she still couldn’t really eat. She tried. She wanted macaroni and cheese and a chocolate milkshake from Chick Fil A. Honestly, I don’t even know if that’s what she really wanted. She was hardly able to talk. I’m sure there are a thousand other things she would have wanted. But this was one of her last meals.
I will not ever eat the macaroni and cheese from Chick Fil A. I can’t.
But I will never eat at Chick Fil A again without thinking of her. And I will never drink a glass of water the same.