I have a new hospice patient, her name is M. We were visiting yesterday and chatting about this and that, and she said she tries to drink at least three refills of her oversized hospital mug throughout the day. I mentioned that I found it hard to stay hydrated in the winter because drinking water makes me feel chilly, and she stopped me right there. “Who says it has to be just water?” she said, craftily, and dug around by her bedside. I was absolutely positive she was going to pull out a flask and my head briefly spun at the ethical quandary of a patient with hidden booze (she can’t have that, with her health situation and all her medications, someone must be informed! Then again … she’s on hospice, maybe she should be able to have whatever the hell she wants?) but she produced a box of Twinings tea. “It tastes like a dessert mint,” she said. “And if you put a Stevia or two in there? Oh.”

This is a wholly different situation than it was with P., who was in a care facility. M. lives at home, and it is a very busy household. Adult grandchildren live there, a tiny 2-year-old runs around, M.’s daughter comes and goes and seems burdened with managing just about everything. In the midst of it, M. moves laboriously from bed to chair and back again. She keeps all sorts of things within reach: notebooks, hand towels, snacks. A cup of that sweet minty tea.

It’s hard not to feel like a stranger who’s arrived wielding a dubious skillset, which is exactly what I am.

One of the notes in her file included a vague warning about a cat: “The grey cat does not always appreciate being petted.” The family also told me to watch out for him, that he was known for attacking people out of the blue. As a result I have been downright terrified of this cat, greeting him with a quavering voice whenever he slinks nearby, breathing a sigh of relief when he moves on.

Yesterday he suddenly jumped into my lap and sat there for nearly half an hour, purring heavily as I nervously scratched his ears, and I thought: HE CAN SENSE MY CARING NATURE. NO NEED TO DOUBT MY ROLE, MY SOOTHING POWERS ARE FELT BY ALL! Then he leapt down, started to leave, reconsidered, and sunk his teeth into my ankle. As if to say, It’s not about YOU, asshole.


14 Responses to “Hospice files: M.”

  1. Meaghan on November 14th, 2017 1:20 pm

    Love your stories, glad you are sharing again. I rarely coment, but… You are a super storyteller, and may be hyperbolizing, but if the cat really bit you and you have slightest bit of pain, heat, redness- call your doctor. My friend had to have surgery and 6 weeks of IV abx after a cat bite and nearly lost her hand. Apparently common from cats. She had no idea and just shook it off because it didn’t bleed, except it kept getting more painful.

  2. Tanya on November 14th, 2017 2:02 pm

    Love bite?

  3. rebecca on November 14th, 2017 3:16 pm

    Sounds like you got a visit from my cat! Except he is white, prefers the laps of men to women and sinks his teeth into my ankle at every opportunity.

  4. anne nahm on November 14th, 2017 4:43 pm

    Write more. I love everything you put up. That is all.

  5. Stephanie on November 14th, 2017 8:45 pm

    I’ve read your blog for many years, never commenting till now. I just had to let you know how admirable I think it is that you volunteer your time in this way. I’ve been in awe of your resilience in life for quite some time, and now these stories about sitting with hospice patients?! I don’t know that I’d be able to do it, but it warms my soul to know that there are people like you who do. They’re lucky to have you.

  6. Shawna on November 14th, 2017 9:17 pm

    I confess I thought you were volunteering with the facility P was in. I didn’t realize you were with a service that went to multiple locations. My grandmother is about to have her care transferred to a hospice group, so I’m trying to figure out how the whole hospice thing works. She’s still independent in her own apartment for now, and I would find it very comforting to know there are people like you who might look in on her. My mom and I are both in a city 2 hours away, and my uncle who is in the same city as Granny isn’t much of a sit companionably with his mom type.

  7. BVJ on November 15th, 2017 3:15 am

    Sounds like the grey asshole cat I had. I loved her all the same.

  8. Katherine on November 15th, 2017 11:05 am

    Yeah, cats have some weird sickness that lives in their gums or something and is really bad for humans. So if that dude broke your skin, get it checked.

    Glad to see you writing again.

  9. Pat on November 15th, 2017 2:09 pm

    I love your writing & enjoy every single post. That minty tea is great – but I also drink warm water (sometimes with lemon) in the winter. My friend used to drink hot water which I thought was weird – until I tried it. So who says it has to be cold??!!

  10. sooboo on November 15th, 2017 7:53 pm

    Love the portrait you paint of this situation. You don’t even know how much you are appreciated and needed. When my mom was on hospice I kept hearing how amazing the support would be but I really didn’t find that to be true. They popped in and out real fast and no one wanted to make eye contact with us. You just sitting there and being a calm presence for a half hour is so awesome.

  11. Ksthy on November 15th, 2017 11:00 pm

    Hi, I have been reading you for YEARS but I just wanted to pop in and tell you I so appreciate your writing. I am always captivated by the story, and then — you neatly wrap it up at the end, usually with a humorous insight or a profound statement and I just go – woah. I’m sure you feel uncomfortable in these situations, who wouldn’t, but you are DOING IT. Bravo! And, unrelated to M., your piece on what it is like to live with anxiety? Resonated so hard with me. I’m not alone! Your writing does that. Peace and thanks.

  12. Helen on November 16th, 2017 8:09 am

    So well written, starts and ends just right. The middle is good too.

  13. Michelle Ray on November 29th, 2017 12:11 pm

    Oh my goodness, this is the best! I want a stamp that says “It’s not about YOU, asshole.”

    I second what Kathy said above. been following since you were pregnant with Riley. Your writing is amazing! I swear if I wasn’t all the way down in Houston I’d come take you to lunch and we’d figure out how to get you a book deal.

  14. Jenny on December 4th, 2017 11:05 am

    In many hospice care situations they don’t care what they eat or drink. Potato chips for dinner, gin and tonic (even with heavy narcotics) for breakfast, whatever. They’re no longer worried about long-term health outcomes. A friend of mine who just died in hospice had basically nothing but shrimp and cocktails the last couple of weeks before she went. It was pretty good.

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