Ahh… spring. The sights, sounds, smells and anxiety attacks of spring.
Yep, anxiety attacks. I experience extreme anxiety due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) this time of the year brought on by the many sights, sounds and smells of spring.
Everything about spring brings me back to 5 years ago at this very time of year when my husband and I were making the agonizing decision to place our precious only child Ella in hospice care.
Five years ago, after a blood test, Ella had because she had not been well and I noticed some swelling in her feet, we got an urgent call from her doctor saying she needed to be hospitalized immediately. Ella’s red blood cell and platelet counts were dangerously low and she needed a blood and platelet transfusion as soon as possible. Upon admittance to the hospital and a routine x-ray, we learned that Ella also had pneumonia. Ella received a transfusion of blood and platelets and intravenous antibiotics for the pneumonia, however, she failed to improve.
For the next six weeks, she received a weekly transfusion and stayed on antibiotics for pneumonia.
By the seventh week, my husband and I came to the heartbreaking conclusion that Ella was not going to improve.
She was covered in bruises from the transfusions and countless blood tests, she’d stopped eating, and was sleeping all day and night. Ella had a viral suppression of her immune system causing low blood and platelet counts brought on by pneumonia. The pneumonia was getting more aggressive despite her being on constant antibiotics for almost two months. My husband and I requested palliative care.
Arrangements were quickly made, we brought Ella home on hospice care, and 2 days later, she died peacefully in our arms.
Driving past the hospital, where five years ago, we spent most of the month of April and the beginning of May, causes me to experience PTSD related anxiety. As I see the carefree college students move around the hospital campus in shorts and t-shirts with temperatures barely above 50 degrees, I experience shortness of breath and a racing heart. Just last week as I drove by the hospital on my way to teach a class at the university, my car fuel gauge beeped. I began crying and shaking uncontrollably, and I had to sit in my car for several minutes composing myself before teaching class.
The beeping was the exact sound of the alarms on Ella’s heart rate and oxygen monitors that went off every few minutes when Ella was in the hospital. Those alarms were awful and made me jump with fear and worry every time they went off.
However, I’ll never forget the agonizing, deafening silence when they were turned off after our decision to pursue hospice care.
Then, there are the frogs. Or, as I refer to them, the freaking frogs. The freaking frogs of spring are back. My neighbor has a small backyard pond with a beautiful gentle waterfall. It’s quite lovely and relaxing, and I enjoy sitting in the backyard listening to the water flow. But the frogs stir up grief, sadness, and anxiety.
We left the hospital on Friday, May 9, 2014, bringing Ella home for the last time. The last time, this fact could not weigh more heavily on us.
We’d brought Ella home from the hospital so many times over the past few months before she passed, always with the hope that we wouldn’t have to return to the hospital because she would have recovered. She never did.
However, we would not return to the hospital this time, never with Ella, ever again. I will never forget the despair and tears of the nurses and staff that we became so close to over the months as we carried Ella out of the pediatric wing for the very last time. They knew we would never return. As I stood with Ella at the front entrance of the hospital waiting for my husband to pick us up, I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. I feared that someone would comment to me about the string of beautiful weather we were finally experiencing in sun-starved Vermont.
We arrived home late in the afternoon and shortly after a hospice nurse arrived to deliver the end of life drugs that we would administer to Ella every few hours so that she would not experience any discomfort.
The hospice nurse also helped us contact a local mortician who came to collect Ella’s body after she died. The nurse left, leaving her contact information and a promise to return early the next morning and late in the evening until Ella passed.
After she departed our friends and family began to arrive with food, flowers, and beautiful stories of how our beloved Ella touched their lives. This constant flow of divine love lasted for hours. My cousin was the last to leave close to midnight that first evening. Then, we were alone. Dave, Ella, me and the frogs. Because the weather was so lovely and our home was filled with so many people, we had our windows open. At night, the frogs were so very loud. Dave and I took turns sitting up with Ella during her last two nights. It was desperately lonely. Ella was sleeping most of the time. Every three hours, we administered the end of life drugs.
We watched her breathe and stir, and waited. We waited for her very last breath, for her to die.
All night long our only companion was the frogs. The frogs waited too. This went on for three days and two nights. Our house filled each morning and all day long with loved ones and late in the evening, we were left alone. Left alone with our thoughts, our fears, our grief, our sadness, and the freaking frogs.
Ella died late on Sunday afternoon, at 4 pm. It was Mother’s Day, beautiful, clear, bright, and warm. Just like the previous days, we were blessed with visits from loved ones, however, about a half hour before Ella passed, our home cleared out. Everyone was gone, it was quiet, Ella was in her father’s arms as I held her feet, and we cuddled together on our living room couch. It was a beautiful moment of calm and I felt her soul depart.
My husband and I began crying, laughing, embracing each other and Ella, and my husband repeated over and over, “We did a good job, we did a good job.”
Ella was gone. Again, the silence was deafening agony. I don’t remember the frogs that night, because I think I finally slept. In fact, I don’t remember hearing the frogs at all for the rest of that spring. Perhaps they were in mourning for what they’d witnessed. Perhaps I became deaf to any sounds other than my own tears and deep grief. Perhaps I was finally sleeping after years, I’m not sure.
However, every spring the frogs return.
I’ve yet to make peace with these amphibians. Their spring chorus still brings on deep-seated traumatic stress in me. I still refer to them as the freaking frogs. However, I’ve noticed how each year as I utter the slight obscenity, my heart feels a little lighter and I chuckle as I say it. Perhaps my heart is filling with the beautiful memories associated with Ella and her passing, and the many loved ones who shared time with us during those last few days of Ella’s life. The frogs’ peeping reminds me of touching stories many told and continue to tell about our sweet girl.