Saturday, April 16, 2011

Talking about Death at Harborview Medical Center

With Michelle at Harborview, June 2010 
photo by Clare McLean, University of Washington

"I gotta get outta here. 
Though I could be walking into a hell."

Last summer,  I spent six weeks as Writer in Residence at Harborview Medical Center, Seattle’s county hospital. (Next week, I'll be returning to Harborview for the last -- for now -- phase of my residency, but more about that later....) For dozens of hours during those six summer weeks, I sat in the hospital room of Michelle Angeline Maria Alfonso-Buske, who was admitted to Harborview on June 9, 2010, when she woke up and could neither feel, nor move, her legs. I came to know both Michelle and her husband Bob; they both became heroes of mine.

Michelle and I chatted for dozens upon dozens of hours together. By "chat," I mean: I sat and took notes while Michelle talked. And talked. Thirty-eight-thousand words’ worth. The work of spinning those words into essays has just begun. In the meantime, here are just 250 of her words:

Michelle Talks About Facing Death: A Collage

With Michelle and Bob Buske,
on the first day Michelle is able to leave the wing of her hospital room.
photo by Peggy Weiss

I gotta get outta here. Though I could be walking into a hell. Being dependent on other people is not--in fact, I just got a cold chill thinking about it. I really haven’t cried yet. Hey, if I’m going to palliative care, what I need is to make a will. We’re worried about them taking the house. Oh, god yes. Bob took care of his parents for two years. Then they took the house and he ended up living in his car! I am so beside myself. Bob is stressed to the max. I just told that doc from palliative care, I said I want to tighten my will up. Now. It’s for the people who take care of me when I go home; they have to have that “do not resuscitate.” Oh, man. This fucking paralyzed bullshit. I can’t even get to the bank. And my cell phone is broken. Bob has been coming every day everydayeverydayeveryday. He is the dearest man. Don’t you think? You know, I would get up at 4:30 in the morning to try and make him some coffee. He would never let me make him lunch. That was always the agreement we had. He did all the shopping and cooking and I would clean up. His blood pressure is sky high. He’s gonna have a heart attack. And if that happens, I’m going to the nursing home. … You know, I woke up and I thought this had all been a bad dream.

P.S. My time with Michelle inspired to me to look up this information on living wills and advance medical directives.

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