His for Keeps(10)

By: Theodora Taylor

I raise my hands and whisper, “I forgot you have a DNR.”

Rose nods, her milky blue eyes somewhat terrified… but more determined than fearful, even as her heart gives out.

“Did you say she has a DNR?” the operator asks over the line.

My hands hover over her frail body, not sure what to do.

I’ll admit most of my patients have been God-fearing black folks—not a crowd that has a lot of truck with DNRs. I’ve always known this could happen, but did I ever believe it would?

No, I guess I didn’t. I think about ignoring the order. I could always say later that I didn’t notice the sentence in her case letter, blame the night nurse who hadn’t stuck around to train me. I am my mama’s daughter after all, and I know how to lie.

But then I look down at Rose. She’s still shaking her head, her lips kissed into a silent “Noooo!” She doesn’t want this. This life in this big fancy house of hers. It’s not enough. Not enough to make her want to stay here in her broken body…

“Hello? Are you still there?” the operator asks on the other side of my phone.

I sit back on my knees and release the breath I’d been holding.

“Yeah, I’m still here,” I answer. “I can’t begin life saving procedures. She has a DNR on file.”

“Oh,” the operator says.

We share a tiny moment of quiet over that piece of information, then she goes right back into efficiency mode. Telling me to stay with Rose, and try to make her comfortable. An ambulance is still on the way.

“Okay,” I say to the operator, but I’m looking at Rose. I’m holding her limp hand, the one that doesn’t work anymore because of the strokes.

“I’m here with you,” I tell her. “You’re not alone. I’m here with you until the end.”

It’s stupid, because I’m not her family. I’m not even anybody she’s ever met before. In fact, from what I recall of her paperwork, we only have one thing in common, her and me. We’re both from Alabama, and somehow we both ended up in Tennessee.

But that’s all. She’s white. I’m black. A few minutes ago, I was feeling like my life was finally getting started. But hers… it’s coming to an end.

I hold her hand anyway. I hold her hand and watch the last light of life leave her eyes as the ambulance sirens sound in the distance. Eventually, her right hand unclenches and I see I was right. It was an old, silver cross necklace she’d been clinging to, until the very end.

* * *

So…. no, not the best first day I’ve ever had on a job. But better than some last days, I suppose, as I sit on the sweeping staircase, strumming my guitar.

At least it hadn’t involved a client with dementia, accusing me of stealing the jewelry that had obviously been taken by her junkie son. There was no asshole male family member who’d come to visit his ailing mother, or aunt, or grandmother, but somehow decided it’d be a great idea to corner her home aide with a pick up line like, “Hey redbone, you wanna come out with me or what?”—then have the nerve to get upset and convince his relative to fire you when you say no.

No, not as bad as being accused of stealing or getting sexually harassed while you’ve got a bedpan in your hands. But way up there on that list, for sure.

It took a while to get everything sorted out. The paramedics called in more people, including a medical examiner to make pronouncements and fill out paperwork. More calls had been made, and I’d been told to stay with the body until the funeral home arrived, which they did. In record time, I thought.

My only experience with an in-home death happened a long time ago. My grandfather died in his sleep while I was still in my training program to become a home aide. All I really remember about that sad morning was sitting with my grandmother, waiting for the church’s funeral home to come get him. It felt like it took them forever.

But I guess I’ve been lucky up until now. None of my other clients ever died while I was on the job. But Rose had died, had silently commanded me to let her go on. And now I was stuck here in the place where she’d done it, waiting here for her son who’d been out of town, but is flying back from wherever. I’m supposed to give him the agency’s condolences, and the keys, and some paperwork, but you know, don’t talk to him too much about what happened.

“If he asks you about it, have him call me directly,” the director at the agency told me. “I’ve been on the phone with his assistant all morning, but this is a VIP client, so I want him sent straight to the top if he has any questions.”