This post is #179 in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.
February 18, 2009
Brad and I moved a lot during the early years of our marriage ... College, graduate school, first job, second job, etc. Even after the girls were born, we continued to move frequently. Moving is always stressful, yet there's usually excitement involved too ... a new house, new neighborhood, new friends. We were used to moving and all that came along with it. But today we faced an entirely different kind of move ... Moving Hannah from Arkansas Children's Hospital to a hospice center across town.
We gently explained to Hannah that we were going to be moving from Children's Hospital to another place which would be more like a home than a hospital ... a place where we would all be more comfortable. She nodded her head in understanding.
Next we had to say goodbye to the doctors and nurses in the Hem-Onc clinic and on the gold floor. They had cared for our entire family with such kindness for a full year. Every one of them had worked so hard with such high hopes for Hannah's survival, and I know that our departure was just as painful for them as it was for us.
Then we waited for what seemed like a long time ... but we still weren't ready when the ambulance attendants appeared in the room with a rolling gurney. They deftly lifted her onto it and strapped her down. She looked so small and fragile on that gurney with the downy soft, baby fuzz just beginning to grow back on her head. She was awake, but her eyes were closed. The rolling trip seemed to take us up and down every hallway of the hospital. Our family trailed along behind, lugging all of our belongings, and trying not to meet the sympathetic eyes of the people we passed in the halls. I felt sure everyone knew where we were going. We were clearly leaving, and one look at Hannah would have told them we were not coming back.
When we were still up in the room, we had asked the attendants if Bethany and I could both ride with Hannah, and they had told us only one of us could accompany her in the ambulance ... policy, you know. Bethany really, really wanted to ride with her, and we had decided we would let her do it, so she could have the memory of that final ride with her sister. My heart was breaking, though ... I couldn't imagine not sitting beside Hannah on that ride.
After they loaded Hannah up, one of the ambulance guys leaned out and said to me, "Do you still want to ride with us?" He didn't have to ask me twice ... I jumped right in! Bethany sat in the front with the driver, and I sat in the back on a little ledge near Hannah's feet. I was so thankful for their compassion in breaking their policy just this one time! Brad and several of our extended family members would follow in their own vehicles.
We drove through the city of Little Rock in no hurry, no lights flashing or siren blaring ... an eerily quiet ambulance, surrounded by cars full of people going on with their daily routines. I could see them through the windows, and I was amazed at how normal their lives all seemed to be. The ambulance guy was so kind ... he made some effort at conversation, and I tried, but I really was not capable at holding up my end.
He finally gave up on the small talk and started filling out some paperwork. He asked me for some basic information, including Hannah's social security number. I knew her number as well as I knew my own, but at that moment, I could not for the life of me remember what it was. I hemmed and hawed around for a little while, and then we were both shocked when we heard Hannah's voice reciting her social security number. I didn't even think she was awake, much less aware of our conversation or capable of stating her social security number. It was just like her to know something like that, and to answer for me when I was stumped!
We finally arrived at the hospice center, and they rolled her in and transferred her from the gurney to her new bed there. Once we got her settled in and sleeping, we left her with family members and went to the hospice office and did all the necessary paperwork. I remember feeling as though I were watching someone else responding to questions and signing her name.
The center had about twenty rooms, and only about five were in use at the time, so they very graciously allowed our family to have the use of two rooms. Hannah and I stayed in one room together, and Brad and Bethany had a room right next door. They also put us at the end of a wing, where there was a very nice, large sun room ... a perfect place for our extended family to gather. We basically had that whole wing to ourselves. It couldn't have been a better set up for us.
The day we moved to the hospice center was one of the most excruciating days of the entire year for all of us. When they put Hannah on that gurney and started rolling her out of the very familiar setting of Arkansas Children's Hospital's gold floor, it felt as though whatever little bit of control we might have had in the situation was finally completely gone. The process of giving Hannah up had begun. The weight of that as we rode in the ambulance made it difficult for me to even sit upright. And as we entered the hospice center doors for the first time, the sense of finality was overwhelming ... knowing that on the day we walked out that doors, we would be leaving without Hannah.
Yet, even in the midst of the devastating emotions of that day, God gave us peace. I don't know how. I can't even begin to explain it. Looking back at it today, I really don't know how we survived it ... the only possible explanation is that God carried us through it. There were so many people praying for us, and I really believe that is what kept us going.
Then there was the knowledge that when Hannah did leave that place, her next destination was Heaven. There would be no more ambulance rides, chemo treatments, platelet infusions, or radiation sessions. And what could be sweeter than that?
The email below was actually sent on the morning of the following day, February 19, 2009:
Sorry for the lack of updates over the last 24 hours....the hospice center is a wonderful place, but it does not have any internet access available for families. I had to travel to a nearby Starbucks to do this update. We have not even taken the time yet to read all of the emails that have come in since yesterday, but we are looking forward to doing so. We believe we have the internet situation worked out, and should have access at the center soon, but I wanted to go ahead and send something out this morning.
The transport yesterday from Children's Hospital to the hospice center was thankfully uneventful. I was really nervous about how Hannah would handle the stress of the situation, but she did fine. As a matter of fact, the ambulance attendant asked me her social security number, and while I was hemming and hawing around trying to remember it, she told him what it was! I didn't even know she was awake or aware of our conversation. It was emotionally difficult to leave Children's Hospital...we have lots of memories there, and have truly come to love the people there, but it has been a good move for us. Our setting is much more home-like and comfortable, and we basically have a wing to ourselves in the hospice center. She continues to rest comfortably, and is in no pain or distress of any kind.
We do welcome any visitors who would like to come, but have decided as a family that we would like to cut off visits by 5:30 p.m., in order to allow us some private family time each evening. We really appreciate your understanding in this matter. We continue to rest in God's peace and in the comfort of your love and prayers.
God is good, all the time!
Jill and Brad