The Judge at the End of My Life

I wake around 4:00 a.m. and ring the call bell. (And how is Cora without me to ring the call bell for her?) A nursing assistant comes, drains the catheter and brings me more water. I drink almost a full pitcher and go back to sleep. This is what I needed: to sate my considerable thirst, driven by two kinds of sickness, in the middle of the night so I could finish sleeping. This, in its simplest form, establishes the need for skilled nursing.

At 6:27 a.m. I wake again and again ring the call bell. My window views on the physicians’ office building and precisely at 6:30 somebody flicks on the lights in a large medical suite opposite my room. The nursing assistant comes, I ask her to drain the catheter bag and realize the last person left it hanging near the foot of the bed.

The catheter bag should be hung at the level that the catheter tubing leaves the patient’s body so she can have the longest tubing length available for turning and moving. If the patient is wearing long pants then that would be at the ankle. If the patient is wearing short pants—or no pants—then it would be at crotch-height.

The nursing assistant is young and black with attitude. The attitude is “don’t you say nuthin’ to me, white woman; I am right about everything.” This is not a useful attitude for any young person to have since they have so little life experience and so often get it wrong. She hangs the bag back near the foot of the bed. I ask her please to move it up. She does, hanging it on the raised side rail near my shoulder. I point out that to do any good, it has to hang below my body. She snaps “I didn’t put it at the foot of the bed.” I reply, “I didn’t say you did, did I?” Her response is a sharp, “I’m not going to argue this morning.”

And they think I’m bad. Young black females from suburbia don’t talk this way, only the young blacks who grew up—and probably still live—in the Southside ghetto do. Is her attitude an emulation of her mother’s? Does survival on the Southside mean you always have to be on the defensive, ready to insist it’s not your fault even when nobody has said it is? You see these young black mothers on the bus yanking their little kids around and yelling at them, the yelling usually featuring the work “fuck.” Is that what this is about—teenage mothers taking their anger out on their babies? Their babies, from Day One, having to fight for the right to be? I don’t know.

The nurse comes with my morning meds. I ask her for a new three-star, blue-print, “FULL DNR” bracelet because mine has fallen off for the second time. The nurse asks if it is a full-DNR bracelet. I say yes, what else could it be? She says it could be the green, partial-DNR bracelet. You’re kidding me! They actually have a bracelet—a concept—of only partially resuscitating a patient? Which part?

She leaves and I listen to the silence. Crouse is the quietest hospital. Even in the middle of the night, the nursing personnel don’t use their outside voices (unlike some hospitals I could mention . . .). I don’t know how, but they have fewer machines or fewer alarms or something. Only the IV alarms occasionally become irritating.

There only are two times when the bedlam becomes noxious. One time is Saturday afternoons when all the visitors come. You honestly wouldn’t believe how the morons get out in the halls and yell about everything from the football game to what their teenagers did last night. The other time is 7:00 a.m. Not only is it shift-change, but also it is when the doctors, social workers, physical therapists, etc., show up to see their patients—and talk to each other. Every day starts with the patient and then moves on to treatment rooms, surgery, offices and the bar down the street. At 7:15 a.m., Crouse reaches peak bedlam.

And I will not—will not—think about the hearing that starts at 10:30 a.m. and ends with a complete stranger, a government judge, deciding where I will live. You should immediately go out and buy long-term health care insurance. You should take parenting classes and have kids. You should care for your parents with love and wisdom, keeping in mind that your kids are watching and they are going to treat you as they see you treating your parents.

And I will not—will not—think about the hearing that starts at 10:30 a.m. and ends with a complete stranger, a government judge, deciding where I will live for the end of my life.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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3 Responses to The Judge at the End of My Life

  1. bethany J says:

    I find your comments racist and insulting. But then again, your ignorance is well spelled out through this blog

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Specifically which comments were racist? And which demonstrated ignorance? Please advise.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Also, you know my demographics–please establish yours. For example, are you black or white? Do you live in the city or suburbia? Do you regularly ride the bus?

      I have not written about all black women, which would be racist. I have written about a certain cultural sub-set of women who are young, black and from the Southside. If you want to just yell at me and throw stuff then that’s one thing. If you want to have a conversation in which we both can grow, that’s something else. It’s up to you.

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