Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Last Days of Louise Walker, Part 1

I would call Louise in Halifax every day at 5:30 pm her time. I had since she went into the nursing home four years ago. Louise had always had emotional ups and downs. Her downs most recently related to my father Ken’s daily pressing her to go back home with him to Cook Avenue. I think she used her bad spells to illustrate her general incapacity and need to stay at Melville Lodge.

Louise had had a long bad spell through early March, but was on the upswing by mid month. I remember she told me, as she always did with special things like dresses, coats and corned beef dinners, that she was going to die soon and this would be her last, so she wondered what I was going to send her for Valentines Day. I sent Louise a spring flower arrangement, which she loved. She later told me she hated Ken’s roses, they reminded her of funeral flowers.

Soon after, Louise came down with what was thought by the nurses at Melville Lodge to be laryngitis. My sister Kelly took her to the QE2 Health Center for x-rays. Everything appeared normal except for the laryngitis, so the doctor at the Lodge cut off Louise’s psychotherapeutic drugs and administered antibiotics.

Louise immediately went on a downward spiral. Our daily talks were difficult but we communicated. Louise would try to talk and I could get the gist of her conversation as we ran through our usual subjects, weather, meals, happenings at the Lodge and my big London picture. Louise was fascinated with the picture and couldn’t believe any artwork could take so long to make. Not long before, she tried to put my life and experience as an artist in perspective and said that she didn’t really understand what it was I did, but she knew I was a success at it and that was good enough for her.

After about a week of decline, I noticed a big change. Louise either couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to me. At first she’d pick up the phone and say things like, “ help me I’m dying.” Next day it was, “I want to go to the hospital.” After a while I dreaded hearing her gasping, squeaking voice. Ken was sitting with her every day when I called and as he didn’t seem to notice anything unusual, I assumed Louise was reacting to the stoppage of her psychotherapeutic drugs. Nonetheless, I wrote an e-mail to my sisters Kelly and Simone to express my concern. At that point Louise stopped answering the phone.

Two days later Kelly called to say she had found Louise slumped over in her chair and took her to the Halifax Infirmary emergency. The situation was bad from the start. After the first night in the emergency, Louise’s case doctor suggested Kelly call the children, which caused me to recall that I had said to Louise in one of her more lucid conversations, not to worry about dying, because if she were really dying the nurses (at the Lodge) would call everybody and tell them to come home. Kelly called again the next morning and was less emphatic. I had the impression she thought Louise might pull through. The case doctor was sending us mixed signals. At Penny’s urgings I made plane reservations for the next day and started to pack. Thinking hard about it, I decided to take my suit.

I got into Halifax and went straight to the Infirmary with Kelly. I was appalled by Louise’s appearance. She was only marginally conscious and her arms were bruised black from blood taking punctures. She did however characteristically compliment me on my new shirt.

At this point we had a meeting with the case doctor. He was a nice fellow and Kelly said Louise liked him. He told us he suspected Louise had either had a stroke, a heart attack or most likely it was cancer. It was a pretty wide field of speculation and we were all taken aback at the prospect of cancer. I don’t think any of us had considered it. He explained the water building up in Louise‘s lungs was likely a reaction to cancerous lesions, but he wouldn’t know until results came back. Kelly asked if it was cancer, how long Louise would live? The young doctor said weeks to months, then equivocated, “but then you never know?”

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