“Miracles happen to those who believe in them.–Bernard Berenson
It was a quiet weekend in our house. Ed Schafer had brightened her day in the afternoon that Friday, and that night, my sisters, Jane and Joni along with Jane’s daughter Vicki, invaded our humble abode, and as always, brought with them an energy field that often had so much energy that they could sell the excess to MDU, if they needed some off peak help.
The three of them brought their joie de vivre with them that Friday night, and they even managed to get some smiles out of Joanie. While the three of them together could rule a room, that night, because they knew the gravity of the situation, they kept it appropriately subdued, since Joanie herself was dozing off. Even the subdued excitement of visitors kept Bailey and Brandy out of sight. They were nowhere to be seen, since these people were strangers. It was also a good thing since Vicki is allergic to cats.
Jane, Joni and I went out back for a smoke, so I could bring them up to date on what was going on. They knew from emails and phone calls that things were not good, but they wanted to see Joanie, and to spend some time with me. Their support through all of this over the past 12 years was something that I valued. They all knew that when they left that night, it would probably be the last time they would see Joanie. It was one of those nights that makes situations like this so goddamn hard, and sad.
About 5:30 A.M., Saturday morning, I heard her call out, and when I got to the living room, she had the covers off, and was trying to get out of bed. When I asked her what she wanted, and what was going on, she told me she wanted me to help get her out of bed. Then she said, “I’ve won a prize that gets me out of here.”
I knew she had been dreaming, and it was breaking my heart. I got her another Dilaudid, and an Atavan, and covered her back up, and soon she was back to sleep.
When she woke up about 9:30 she was agitated, and experiencing some discomfort, I got her another Dilaudid and another Atavan, and she dozed off. Before she did, she told me she didn’t want a bath today. She knew the Home Health Care nurses were coming later this morning, but said she wasn’t up to it. I told her she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do. When Dorinda and another nurse came, I told them she didn’t want a bath today, and so their stop would be brief today. After taking Joanie’s blood pressure and temperature, and talking to her for a few moments, the left to return late tomorrow morning.
This weekend was the time for the Republican State Convention in Fargo, something that Joanie had planned on going to, since her boss John Hoeven was going to be nominated to run for a third term as governor. Even when she came home that day in February, she still was planning on being there for the big show. We had a room reserved, through the Hoeven Committee, and Carol Nitschke would tell me later she never cancelled it, even when she knew we weren’t going to be there.
That weekend, all Joanie could do was watch what television coverage we would get out here, and then, only when she was awake. On Saturday and Sunday, I would read stories to her from the paper about what was going on at the convention. I would read, even when she would doze off, as she was wont to do. I didn’t mind.
Unbeknownst to Joanie, her friends had a banner made, and people at the convention were signing it with all of their best wishes for Joanie. On Monday, Carol Nitschke brought the banner to the house, and gave Joanie a report on the convention. Meanwhile, I taped the banner, which was about three or four feet long, to the fireplace mantel where Joanie could see it anytime she was awake. She was amazed that so many people had signed it, and that amazement was testimony, at least for me, to the fact, she never fully understood the impact she had and the esteem in which she was held by so many.
That esteem wasn’t restricted to just Republicans, there were Democrats who knew how good a job she had done for John over the years. There was a time, when John was running for his second term, there was a debate at a function in Dickinson. Joanie was there with John, and after the event was over that night, a well known Democrat, and someone who knew Joanie, was talking to her and told her, almost in passing, “I wish you were working for us.” When Joanie told me that after she got home, I just told her it reinforced what I knew about her, and had tried to make her understand for years.
On Monday, March 31st, Dorinda and another Home Health Care nurse came late in the morning, near noon. I had a chance to talk to Dorinda and she wanted to broach the subject of what to do if and when things go from bad to worse. She brought along a copy of the Home Health Directive, and while I cautioned her to avoid pushing to hard on making the move to Hospice, I knew we had to begin the discussion. I sat in the kitchen/dining area at the table, with a cup of coffee and listened while Dorinda began to explain some things to Joanie. I was impressed on how well she handled what has to be one of those difficult things that comes with her job. There was no decision made at that point, and I hadn’t expected one. At least the subject was now on the table, and as before, I told Dorinda we would play it by ear.
Later that afternoon, I was to realize that Joanie had understood everything that Dorinda and her had talked about, and she threw me a curve that stunned me. It was a decision I hadn’t seen coming.
What she told me also showed me she hadn’t given up on the miracle she still believed in could happen.