On A Clear Day

Yesterday it rained hard in the San Joaquin Valley of California, and snowed hard in the Sierra Nevada Mountains just a few miles to the east. I left the hospital around midnight and the clouds had cleared by then, leaving a cold clear night (well, o.k., 41 F is cold for Californians). Cold clear nights after heavy rains yield stellar stellar views.

The pain medication Sue is on, Dilaudid, is powerful stuff. I’ve heard it’s about ten times stronger than regular morphine. It clears up the pain (or does it occlude it?), but simultaneously clouds the brain. Sue had a number of halucinations last night which she called periodically to report to me. I came back down at about 3:30 a.m. to sit with her and woke up at 6 a.m. to the most gorgeous, clear view out Sue’s third floor window of the snow-capped Sierra Nevadas framed by a cloudless morning-blue sky. 50 miles to the west the coastal mountains were also clearly visible.

The clouds moved back in early in the morning though, and the exceptionally clear view was reduced to a memory. If you ever wanted to paint this landscape as it should be — at it’s best — that picture of rain-fresh cloudless clarity would be it. It isn’t often, or long, that things are presented at their picture-perfect best.

Sue had a pretty good slew of guests today: Lots of friends came by. Cindy W. was the first, at 8:30 a.m. and Jenny A. was the last at a few minutes after 10 p.m.; Two of her pastors stopped by at different times; Several chaplains popped in; A hospital dog — a labrador — came by with it’s handler; both of our daughters spent time with Sue; and several hospice workers stopped to visit and provide information. One visitor, the infamous “singing chaplain” — i.e. Tim S. from North Fresno M.B. Church, sang Sue the hymn of her choice.

Sue’s sleeping solidly now. She’s tired and her throat hurts. She’s got a tube stuck into her nose and down her throat into her stomach so that she can have a TPN, which is a way of dripping nutrition into people who can’t take food or liquid by mouth. So her current situation is that she is more or less immobile, her throat isn’t working right, she’s in a lot of pain for which she is getting a lot of Dilaudid, which causes her to have an unclear mind with periodic halucinations, and she can’t eat. And she has no answers to the what or why or how long.

It’s rather a bleak situation when you add it all up. For sure Sue’s not at her picture-perfect best. Like the clear view of the mountains this morning, that’s a memory. Remarkably, though, she has a smile for every visitor, and a gladness and humor you’d expect to find only in people without any of her myriad, legitimate reasons to complain.