Yesterday at work, I started rehearsing the events which led to my mother’s death.
My mother died of leukemia on the same date that Colonel Harland Sanders, Kentucky Fried Chicken, died, December 16th, 1980. He too died of leukemia.
Vivian Inez “Mick/Mickey” Morton Gibson was my mother. I called her “mom”.
Mickey worked for most of her adult life as a Civil Service Secretary, mostly aboard Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base, but also at the Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, VA. She worked in the 1960s at Building 66, the Naval Medical Field Research Laboratory at Camp Lejeune. Growing up in Eastern North Carolina in the 1960s, 70s, 80s Lejeune was never pronounced as “le jurne” as it is today. It was “Lay Jewn.”
I think she was last stationed at the Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital at the time she was first diagnosed with leukemia. She had begun to feel tired, and for someone that loved working outdoors, this was a major obstacle in her life. She did have a Singer Zig-Zag Sewing Machine, with the attachments, and had used McCalls, Simplicity, etc. patterns to make most of her work clothing.
She visited her doctor, Dr. Adnan Taj-Eldin, who is still a practicing physician in Onslow County, Jacksonville, NC and the next day I noticed a bruise on her arm which was obviously caused by a hand. When I asked her about the bruise, she said that Dr. Eldin had squeezed her arm as a test the day before. I guess this was the result of the early stages of Leukemia.
I will skip some of the process here to get to what I rehearsed for myself, yesterday.
*Not sure where this needs to go, but near the end of her death, this last time in the hospital, mom weighed only 84 lbs. She was basically taut skin stretched across a skeleton. I recall that she had attempted to get out of her hospital bed to go to the bathroom and had fallen. I wasn’t there when she did this. She was apologetic about the fall. She didn’t realize that her body had failed to the point it had.
I spent the last night sleeping in my mom’s hospital room in a high backed chair in a corner of the room. I think this was on the 4th floor of Onslow County Memorial Hospital. Probably Room 401. The room was located directly across from the Nurses’ Station, and I think the logic was to put the most ill patients closest to this location.
My cousin, more like an aunt to me, because of her age, Yvonne deLagneau, had come up from Florida to be with my mother during the last stages of mom’s illness. But, Yvonne had to return to Miami to her work, and had left just a couple of days before mom’s death.
My mother had a sharp mind up until a few days before her death, and the strong “end of life” drugs that she had been given to alleviate much of her pain, had taken over and put her into an almost comatose state. The last night of her life, she had labored, sporadic breathing and her eyes were rolled back in her head so that only the whites of her eyes were visible with her partially opened eyelids.
I slept in the chair and was awakened during the early morning when nurses came in to test my mom’s blood pressure and breathing. I think I recall one of the nurses saying to another nurse that one of the readings of blood pressure was 15… and I understood that 15 for either systolic or diastolic (sp?) was an extremely low unit.
About 8 am on December 16, 1980, I was awake listening to my mom’s irregular breathing as the early morning light began to light the darkened room through its single window. *The window looked out onto Western Boulevard and across the road was the almost vacant lot for Jacksonville Mall. The steel girder structure was growing from the concrete foundation, but I seem to recall a bare light bulb or two hanging from the structure and steam coming off the concrete. Tuesday, December 16th, 1980 proved to be a bright, but cold, sunny day.
I got up from my chair and walked around to my mother, hesitated, but eventually touched her hand. Her pupils rolled back to face me, but just briefly, and there was no sign of recognition in her eyes. No sign of love for her son, Billie. The pupils rolled back to show just whites again and her labored breathing continued, but with longer periods between her lips sucking in oxygen.
I moved to a chair next to her bed and between the window and the bed.
Finally her breathing stopped. I waited intentionally, which seemed like minutes, but might not have been any more than a minute. I knew that they, her doctor, Taj-Eldin, had put a “no code” on my mother. That meant that if she stopped breathing, the nurses or doctors were not to attempt to revive her. But, I too wanted to make sure that she did not return to the pain that she had just left. I heard air escaping from her unmoving lungs, as if it were water flowing over rocks. I later learned that this was called the “death gurgles”. Air flowing upward and out of the lifeless body.
I rose from my chair and walked around the end of the bed and opened the door and walked across to the Nurses’ Station. I recall that it was darkly lit and there was a single nurse standing behind the counter.
The nurse looked up at me and I said to her, “Could you please take a look at my mother.” *There was that other monitor, my other voice, that has always been with me, and it said to me at that time, “You know she’s dead.” But there was no hint of that awareness in my voice, as I made the request to the nurse. The nurse was polite and said that she would look, and she came around the counter and went into my mother’s room, the door closing behind her. I continued to stand by the station.
A minute or so later, the door opened and the nurse, with a worried look upon her face, came out. She asked if I would follow her around the corner to a waiting area near the elevator. I followed her, and I knew she was trying to be protective, and probably it was not her duty or obligation to let me know that mom was dead.
I don’t recall if I called Mary Ann or if she arrived at the hospital on her daily routine.