Her decline was incremental and hard to detect, but, although
it took us a while to see it, we now know that she has been sick for a long
time. She hid it well. None of the family knew she wasn’t taking her blood
pressure pills or the pills the doctor had prescribed for arrhythmia. To her,
taking pills every day somehow meant that one was weak and unwell. She wanted
to be seen as strong, healthy and aging slowly.
Once, while visiting me, I put the tablets out that I take
with my breakfast. Only two were prescription meds. The others were vitamins.
But to Aunt Betty, that was a lot of pills, and she told me so.
“I guess I’m healthier than you,” she said. “I don’t take
any pills and just look at all those you take!” She’s three months older than I am.
I tried to explain about the vitamins, but she wasn’t
buying it. I was still ingesting several pills and, to her, that was a sure
sign that I was ailing.
And not as strong as she.
Not too long after her visit, I received a call from
another relative telling me that Betty was in the hospital. She was having a
pacemaker installed. Also, her doctor had not concealed her anger when she
learned that Betty hadn’t been taking her pills and she was released from the
hospital with strict orders to take her meds as prescribed.
But in a phone conversation with her a few weeks later,
I asked, “Are you taking your blood pressure pills?”
“Sometimes,” was her answer.
“Betty, you know what the doctor said,” I told her. “You
must take your meds the way you’re supposed to; you could have a heart attack
“Aw, I’m alright,” she said.
Months passed. Her health declined even further. She
couldn’t eat. She lost weight. She had no interest in anything and stayed in
bed most of the time. I couldn’t reach her. When I phoned, nobody answered and
she never returned my calls.
Other family members began to check on her and found
her a mere shadow of her former self. She was thin, unkempt and so weak she
couldn’t walk without help.
She wouldn’t hear of moving in with relatives who’d
take good care of her. She begged them to let her stay in her own home. And
As I write this, she’s back in the hospital. She had a
procedure today called Ablation. I don’t understand it fully but am told it’s
to keep the heart rate normal.
Relatives tell me to pray for a miracle, but be
prepared for the worst.
Outside my window, clouds scud across a star-filled sky
and hover over the dark ridges. For a moment, I return to our childhood, Betty’s
and mine, and see two little girls
squealing with delight about everything from choosing peppermint sticks from
large glass jars at the Company Store and slurping ice cream from cardboard
cups with wooden spoons on a steamy July evening – to frolicking around the yard in
their underwear when a sudden thunderstorm arises. I watch as they explore the mountains
surrounding the coal mining town where one of them lives, pick berries and
splash around in a rippling creek on a hot summer day. Together since infancy.
A tear runs down my cheek reminding me of the pain in