My walks with Zinnia have been beautiful, calm, and meditative. I look forward to writing about them, and the journal already has a loyal following
Maria walked with us today, which made the walk even more special. We left the other dogs at home. I am sorry to report that life intruded on our walk today with a vengeance.
Woody Allen famously said, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” He was laughing at me today on my sweet, quiet walk in the woods.
Halfway through the walk, Maria got a call from a friend of a friend. The caller said our friend was gravely ill, alone, and unable to care for herself, neither she nor her dog had eaten for days, and she was unable to walk.
She has a virulent form of cancer. She seemed gravely ill. She said she didn’t know what to do and was very worried about her.
I called my friend, and she sounded incoherent and confused, I told her I was calling an ambulance, and we both rushed over there to see her for ourselves.
The ambulance crew was there working on her when we arrived. could see there was an impasse. She refused to go to the hospital, and they said she should go. They can’t take people without their permission.
She claimed to have a doctor’s appointment in the morning, but she didn’t know what day or date it was or when the appointment was. She adamantly refused to get into the ambulance. I saw her eyes had trouble focusing, and she looked gaunt and hollow-eyed.
She kept saying she had an appointment with a doctor, but I didn’t believe her. It was apparent she had no way of getting anywhere, she could not even sit up, let alone drive, and Maria and I both could never have gotten her in and out of the car.
At one point, Maria came over to her and knelt on the floor and took one of her hands in hers. “We think you really need to get to the hospital…” I thought Maria was close to breaking through. I had tried repeatedly and failed.
But she just shook her head and said the same thing she had said to me. “I have an appointment tommorrow..I’ll just drive myself there..”
The ambulance squad leader explained that they can be charged with kidnapping if they force anyone into an ambulance and remove them from their homes. As it was, we had to sign documents saying our friend had refused to go to the hospital.
The rescue squad left, reluctantly. One of them told our friend they were not comfortable leaving her alone. She just shook her head and said she had an appointment,
They said to call if there was any change.
I decided to respect my friend’s wishes. But she was not in reality.
Then, back at home, I got another call about my friend and learned more about the horrible conditions she was living in, unable to get to a bathroom, unable to cook or clean, unable to shower or bathe, thinking she had fed her dog when she hadn’t.
I’m not comfortable with the idea of leaving a friend alone in that condition, but it is her right to decide.
But this new information made my blood chill.
My friend could not possibly deal with her condition all alone, and it was now clear to me that she wasn’t lying so much as confused about her situation. She seemed almost in dementia, something I have seen a lot of in my volunteer work.
Maria and I just looked at each other. I think I knew then what I had to do.
She had been lying on a sofa, I was told, and through my hospice and other elderly care work, I knew what the emaciated and disconnected look on her face meant.
I called her on the phone, and she answered.
I decided to stop asking her for her permission to help her.
I told her she needed to get to a hospital, and she needed to call 911. I said if she didn’t agree, I would call the police and seek to declare her mentally incompetent.
This was a complicated decision for me. I have a Do Not Resuscitate will and other documents stating that I want no extraordinary care taken to keep me alive if I am seriously ill. Maria is prepared to be my advocate.
Our friend has no advocate.
I don’t want any hospital making decisions around me about prolonging my life by any artificial means. But that is a fight for another day for my friend, first, she has to have her suffering eased so that she can hopefully make clear-headed decisions about her life. She has a family faraway, they – and hopefully she – will need to help decide her medical future, not me.
We can talk all we want about moral right and wrong, but when push comes to shove, the world is a gray place, never black and white, and I have to listen to my heart and my gut.
She has the right to make her own medical and life choices, but she was suffering and in great pain and alone, and her mind was not clear.
But I was very firm and very clear. Either she agreed to go, or I was calling the police.
This time, she surprised me by thanking me for calling 911 again and agreeing that she should go. I asked her to call me back when she called 911.
I waited 15 minutes and then called her back. I asked her if she had called 911 and realized she had forgotten or had been trying to fend me off.
I called 911 again and agreed to meet the ambulance crew there and told them I didn’t believe she was competent to make this decision.
When I got there, the ambulance squad – we have a great ambulance squad in our town – was already there.
The crew was beginning to try to get her into a wheelchair. That was a good sign. The impasse was over.
She looked at me – wild-eyed now – and said she would go to the hospital. She said she now remembered our conversation. She even joked a bit about how she looked.
She could not, as I suspect, walk, and she admitted that she had not been off the sofa for nearly a week.
That meant she hadn’t eaten.
The poor little dog – the two were inseparable – was hungry and distraught.
Knowing how much she loves the dog, I knew how ill she really must be if the dog had no food.
She had been lying to friends about her condition, or perhaps not conscious of it, claiming she was all right and that everything was all right. She told Maria and me the same thing today.
It was not true. It was not nearly true.
I hadn’t seen her or talked to her for some months, and was stunned at how she looked and how sick she was. I’m not sure what the boundaries are about a person’s right to decide their fate and a friend or any human’s obligation to step in when there is so much suffering and pain.
I can’t speak for others, but her condition crossed a line for me, and there was no doubt about what I knew I should do.
I was wrenching to see how hard it was to get her into the ambulance. Maria and I got home, she poured herself a glass of wine, and I drank some cranberry apple cider. I knew I had to write about this.
Maria and I helped steady her as this profound journey in her life began. Once again, I thought about how fragile life is. There had been some difficulties in our friendship, we had backed away from one another.
Once again, I wondered if I would have the time and opportunity to settle things? Once again, I had no idea. Our lives are complex, friendship is often difficult for me.
Maria thanked me again and again for stepping in; she said it brought her enormous relief.
By dusk, our friend was on the way to the hospital. I hope she gets to come home. I’m talking to a hospital social worker in the morning. A friend of hers from New Jersey is coming up to take the dog while her human is in the hospital.
I notified some of her other friends as well. She will not be alone this week.
I have great respect for the individual wishes of people, but I am glad I forcefully intervened. My friend had drifted apart in recent months, I felt close to her again.
I am relieved the dog is getting out of there for now.
Maria and I made sure the dog had food and water. It was a jarring experience for both of us and a powerful counterpoint to the quiet and meditative walk we were having with Zinnia.
Our friend and her dog are together day and night, and I shudder to think about the rough weeks ahead of the dog.
God is right, of course, life has its plans for us, and I was once again reminded to be grateful for my life, and for the days I that remain for me to live fully and meaningfully to me.
Life can intrude on anything at any time, even on an idyllic walk in the woods. I am thankful for what I have.
P.S. Our friend is in intensive care at a very good hospital, I spoke with the emergency care nurses and they expressed gratitude that she got to the hospital in time. That made me feel a lot better.