Are You Alive?
PASSED PORTRAIT I
I make the call.
No answer, the call rings out. I wait half an hour. I call again.
No answer, the call rings out again. I wait an hour. I call a third time.
No answer, the call rings out a third time, then cuts off. I wait a couple of hours and call again. Around and around, on that wheel, over and over. It’s been almost two weeks, no contact. This isn’t the first time. I’ve lost count of how many hundred call cycles I’ve gone through in the last year. This time I have not gone to a state of panic. I’m talking myself down from that before it starts. I have zero control over this situation.PASSED PORTRAIT II
Somewhere between ten and a dozen calls each day, every day, hoping she’ll answer the phone. What is it this time? Is the phone unplugged? Is she in the room? Is she so far away in her mind she doesn’t register the phone ring as her phone? Can she reach the phone? Has something happened? Is she still alive? That last question is in my mind all the time. How much longer? When? How will I know? I don’t want another death delivery notice sent via the police at my door two weeks or more, after the fact.PASSED PORTRAIT III
Yesterday was a rough start when I woke up. First thought, make that call. I’m not sure I’m up for it. My back’s been out for three days banging its pain drum. I’m exhausted. I have coffee and give myself a little time. I dither back and forth about calling. Finally, I start the dialing. No answer. Wait. Call again. No answer. Repeat, repeat, repeat. I sigh.
It’s been too long. I don’t like asking anyone for much of anything, even more now than ever before. I think of what she said on a call two months back when I asked her, “What do you want most now?” She answered, “To die quietly and peacefully.” An intense answer that caused me to pause. My mother has always been fearful of death. She’s never spoken such words to me, no matter how hard her struggles. In my silence, I’m thinking of my own situation, of the world situation. Finally, I answer her and say, “That’s what I want too.” I mean it. It’s been in my mind for almost two years. I’m so much younger than she is, too young to be so weary of performing on the world stage.PASSED PORTRAIT IV
Yesterday, I gave in. I called the hospital directly. I’m loathe to call them considering the barrage from media about how overwhelmed the hospitals are. I don’t want to burden them with my personal quest but concern for my mother outweighs that. My call is transferred to a floor my mother is no longer on. A very happy nurse asks me what room my mother is on. I tell her. She tells me my mother was on their floor but has been moved to another. She comments that it must have been months since I’ve spoken to my mother if I don’t know that. Ouch. I wince at the insensitivity and inaccuracy of that statement.PASSED PORTRAIT V
I remind myself that she doesn’t know me and doesn’t know my family situation. I gently correct her assumption, informing her that I call every week to check on my mother, often more than once a week. I tell her no one is calling or visiting my mother. The nurse tells me my mother has been moved to a room with no phone and that I need to call the phone company to set up a new number. Now I have to talk about things I’d rather not digress into. Great.PASSED PORTRAIT VI
I tell her that my brother has complete control over my mother, that he is both power of attorney and executor, and that the rest of the family has been completely shut out. I let her know that my brother doesn’t care about my mother. His concern has always been the family assets (his long game, as he alluded to years ago over email). I explain what happened when my father died, how I was informed two weeks after the fact by a police sergeant. The nurse informs me that my brother has not called to check in on my mother, confirming what I already know. He doesn’t give a crap. He’s waiting for her to die, the sooner the better in his mind.PASSED PORTRAIT VII
The nurse slows down. She’s hearing me. She’s not dismissing me or what I’m saying. I tell her I’m two provinces away and barred from entering that province due to government restrictions (forget entering the hospital). She tells me the patients are locked in their rooms, not allowed to leave them. I tell her that I know I will never see my mother again and this is all we have left, phone calls, before she dies.
I’m told I will need to speak to the charge nurse, who isn’t in on weekends. She gives me the direct number and the hours to call. I ask her to please tell my mother that I called, that I love her, that I'm thinking of her. I thank the nurse and hang up. Such happy hospital staff in a time of crisis??? I had to speak to several of them yesterday. They sound like they are having a dance party there, not busy at all. Weird.PASSED PORTRAIT VIII
Ten minutes after I hang up, I am sobbing. I am completely helpless in this situation. Grief smashes in at the thought of my mother, cut off from everyone, alone, locked in a hospital room, more than half gone to dementia, dying slowly in isolation. I think of all the people in the world who are suffering in similar circumstances. My heart breaks. I can’t focus. I feel a little crazy. I distract myself and move my mind into a creative project I’ve been working on. I can’t spend the day drowning in grief and losing my sanity.PASSED PORTRAIT IX
Monday morning, I wake up. I don’t want to wake. There’s only so long I can escape the nightmare using sleep. My mind immediately goes to, call the charge nurse, get moving. How I feel is irrelevant. I get half a coffee down for fortification. Two hours and three phone calls later, I finally reach the charge nurse. Three happy nurses again. I want whatever drugs they seem to be on, or do I?
She tells me she can’t give me any information. I’m not on the list. What list? There’s only one person that information can be released to, my brother. She confirms this. I’m shut out. A four year repeat experience, despite the involvement of a lawyer to address the situation. Psychopaths like my brother operate with zero concern as to the carnage they cause, as long as they get what they want.PASSED PORTRAIT X
Running on repeat, recycling the information, I explain my family situation to her. I dislike having to disclose it again. I’m always waiting for people to challenge me, to not believe me, to dismiss what I say. How could they know? They have never walked a day in my shoes. They can’t imagine. They can’t relate. I’m glad they can’t relate. I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer through what I have as a child.
Nothing much can be done. The charge nurse is kind. She listens. I speak respectfully to her, acknowledging the limitations she is bound by because of her contractual obligations. She tells me that no one can inform me if my mother dies, they can only contact my brother. I know where that will go. I plead with her, expanding into what happened when my father died.PASSED PORTRAIT XI
She compromises. She asks for my phone number. I tell her I can’t give her that because of my brother. I explain what he will do to me if he obtains that information. It all sounds crazy to me as I lay it out. He’s stalked my friends, their extended family, and my employers, harassing them about me, my whereabouts; attempting to obtain information he can to use to torture me with. This is the reality of my life. It’s my normal. It’s only when I have to explain it to others that I see how insane it is, living this way for decades to protect myself and those connected to me.
After a long enough conversation, the charge nurse confirms my full name and takes my email address. She’s going to speak to my mother and ask her for consent for me to be added to “the list of one”. She advises me that if my mother agrees, they cannot communicate this over email. I ask her if a simple email can be sent asking for me to contact the hospital. She agrees. Anything is better than hearing long after the fact from the police and being doubly traumatized a second time.PASSED PORTRAIT_XII
I’m not holding onto the hope rope here. There’s no point. Whatever bread crumbs I get will have to be swallowed, like it or not. At least I’ve done everything in my ability to maintain a connection with my mother, keeping those calls going.
More calls tomorrow to check for an update. I can’t wait. Maybe it will get sorted so that I can be informed when my mother dies. Maybe my brother will call the hospital at some point and set up a new phone number for my mother. Maybe he won’t. Maybe my call two weeks ago is the last time I’ll ever speak to her. I think that every time I call. I’m preparing myself for the inevitable. It’s what must be done.PASSED PORTRAIT XIII
All photos taken by Nine with a Pentax digital 35mm camera and 90mm Tamron macro lens.