Monica crossed the hospital’s threshold attempting to calm her shaking hands and relax her rigid shoulders. She slanted her eyes and gritted her teeth in determination. She hoped it did not show on her face, which she tried to make as passive as possible.
Her mother had entered the hospital four days earlier complaining of dizziness and difficulty forming her words — early signs of a stroke. Monica had arrived at the hospital just a few minutes later and had briefly seen her mom. She looked so different with all the tubes and wires they had already attached to her, her face pale, waxen and paper-thin under the glaring lights.
Monica remembered rummaging through her mother's purse looking for her insurance card as she sat in the administration area filling out the paperwork. She remembered being thankful her mom had insurance. Now it seemed farcical. Now it seemed a trap.
Phrases like “Doesn’t qualify for the procedure,” and “She’s lived a good long life,” were bureaucratic-speak for “Yes, there is something we could do for her, but there are so many needs, we have to prioritize them. Your mother is no longer a productive member of society. We have to choose between your mother and people who are younger and contributing to society.”
The stark reality of her mother’s situation hit her full force, and she was gripped with fear.
The priest had inquired how her mother was doing after Sunday Mass. Upon hearing her answer, he had replied, “There is a clandestine Catholic hospital being run by families and a few brothers and sisters at St. Francis Monastery. Can you get her there?”
That simple invitation had put him at grave risk. The government outlawed unauthorized health care facilities, forcing the shutdown of every Catholic health care facility because they refused to allow abortions or denial of life-essential care. Monica had no idea what the penalties were, but they weren’t light.
Monica stepped into the dimly-lit room and glanced around. A wheelchair sat in the corner. Father Stephen’s contact had said it would be there. Whew! Now, to get Mom out of here, Monica thought.
“Hello, Mom!” Monica said.
“He’o darwing!” said her mom through uncooperative lips and tongue.
“How about we go for a stroll, to get you some fresh air?” Monica asked.
Her mom’s eyes lit up, as she looked toward the door. Monica guided her mom’s hands through the sleeves of the sweater, then steadied her as she stood and plumped into the wheelchair. Monica pushed her out the room and down the hall toward the elevator. So far, so good!
“Where are you going with her?” asked an accusatory orderly.
Monica paused, put on her best look of innocence, turned, and said, "I'm taking Mom for a walk." She gave a sad smile. "Maybe her last." It was true enough.
“Well then, you’ll need someone to accompany you, in case she has problems.”
Uh oh. How do I get out of this one? Monica wondered.
Another orderly sidled in behind the wheelchair, aggressively taking control from Monica. “I’ll make sure they’re taken care of,” the young woman declared to the gruff orderly.
Monica bristled, preparing to push back to regain her mom’s wheelchair. The pushy orderly leaned into her and whispered, “St. Francis is a wonderful place for a walk.” Monica’s knees nearly buckled at her relief.
Six months later, Mom sat in the chair, gently bouncing baby Christina on her knee, with help steadying the wobbly affair from Monica. Two of her grandchildren chased a squirrel in the backyard while three others worked a puzzle behind her. Monica smiled, delighted her mom had lived and healed enough to get to hold her newest grandchild — her first granddaughter. She needed help holding her, half her face wouldn’t respond well, and she moved poorly. Despite those challenges, and in many ways because of them, she gazed in wonder and delight at the cherished new life in her lap and hunched down to give her a half kiss that was more than many full kisses.
Don’t miss Wesley Smith, nationally-known expert on physician-assisted suicide, at Holy Apostles Church on March 20 at 2:30 p.m. Reserve your tickets at www.diocs.org. And for an update on assisted-suicide legislation in Colorado, click here: http://denvercatholic.org/physician-assisted-suicide-a-continued-threat/#.Vtm02k3bKUk