I don’t know how to begin writing this, I’m also writing this as I suffer through chickenpox.
March 2018 was the most complex month for my mother’s health, it was also her last.
Over the past days my mind has gone through the events of that last week over and over, especially the events of March 30 and March 31. Her health had some severe ups and downs earlier that month, to the point that they needed to drain fluids off her and give her a blood transfusion; Afterwards, her overall condition had a slight improvement, but she was too weak to get off bed on her own, or even use the toilet alone.
My brother and I helped her use the toilet, seat her, tuck her in bed, we took care of her to the best of our ability but most importantly, with our love for her; I made sure to treat her to anything she wanted—and then some more.
The Holy Week ran its course, she saw the Saint Paul of the Nazarene procession on tv, I had promised the Nazarene that if she had the strength I would take her the next time, little did I knew that the past Holy Week was my mother’s last week on this Earth.
Good Friday came, I made her breakfast while my brother helped her in the bathroom; she ate most of the sandwich, and took her morning meds, she wanted to rest for the rest of the morning, so we tucked her in bed, we kissed her and told her that we loved her (as we always did).
The plan called for me to make spaghetti that afternoon, but she wanted to eat something else, hotdogs, so I went and bought three, the three of us ate in her room, that was our last meal together.
She stayed awake for a couple hours until she wanted to take a nap, by 7:30pm (30mins before our allotment of rationed water due to the water shortages here), I woke her up to see if she wanted to eat something before we helped her shower, she said yes but she wanted to use the toilet first; my brother and I helped her walk slowly into the bathroom, and that’s where she started to lose consciousness.
I became desperate when she started to answer things totally unrelated to what I was asking, she lost control of her bladder before we arrived at the toilet; I didn’t think it twice, after we cleaned her up I saw her and left her with my brother for a brief moment, I grabbed my phone and called her friends to get help in the hospital, as well as my family; a few minutes later my family helped me take her out, I took her car and drove as fast as possible in the near barren streets and highways of Caracas (the rampant crime has forced us into a self-imposed nightfall curfew coupled with the regular absence of traffic expected during the Holy Week)
My cousins helped me carry her inside and then I parked the vehicle on the doctors’ lot using her old keycard, the doctor attending her was very nice and attentive, I carried my mom using a very worn out and creaky hospital wheelchair to the x-ray room, and had to help the lady operating the device when the machine was stuck and wouldn’t move properly.
Afterwards, I moved her into the special care unit, the hospitals here even ask you to bring your own blanket because they do not have any; they took off her wig and the plastic rosary she always wore, they told me to await outside while they drew blood from here—that’s when the adrenaline wore off and I first started to break down.
A few minutes later they gave me the tubes filled with her blood and the list of tests, my family helped me drive across different clinics trying to get all the tests done so late at night; we returned to the hospital close to 2am, the doctor told me she wasn’t responding, and she interviewed me regarding her whole chemo regime as part of her medical history since I didn’t bought any of her documents with me.
We returned home as they do not let anyone inside for long—you can imagine how we all felt. At the absence of sleep, I prayed, prayed like never before; her cancer had made me reconnect with my faith, but that night I prayed harder than all the past three years combined.
The next morning, we went back with the diapers they asked us to bring, I bought a pack of ten but they only requested one as they wouldn’t guarantee the safety of neither those nor the rest of the items (toothpaste, mouthwash, et al.), that’s Venezuelan hospitals to you.
The doctor was straight up with me: Her condition had worsened since last night, they did not expect her to last beyond that last night even—and that I should prepare the funerary arrangements.
At the lack of seating I sat on the floor and broke down, the nurse that worked with my mother for 16 years offered some words of comfort, I was not allowed to enter the room she was at. She spoke with the nurse in charge and they let me and my aunt sneak inside the special care unit during the shift change.
And there she was, agonizing, her breathing assisted by an oxygen tube on her cannula, I kissed her, spoke to her amidst tears, and promised that I would take care of my brother—she had nothing to worry about; my aunt spoke to her too, we stayed for her a few mins until we got told to leave.
Back at home I tried to look for her funerary insurance documents, I know some years ago she had bought one, I just couldn’t find them. What I did was log on her bank account and find out the name of the funerary from the automatic monthly debits.
Another doctor friend of hers told me that they were going to try something to kick start her whole system again (I can’t remember the exact medical words she used), to see if that would bring her back; a few hours later, a doctor that worked with her on her unit found morphine for her; a couple hours later I got the call that she passed away.
I left my brother with our cousins so that he wouldn’t be alone. We drove as fast as possible to the hospital, and there she was, her body covered in the same blanket, I cried, a lot. After filling the temporary death certificate and getting it stamped at the morgue we left back home.
The tumor had overtaken her liver, and spread its toxicity across her whole body in a flash, acute hepatic failure.
Word of her death spread fast, she was beloved by many on that hospital, the clinic she used to work at, and even the Venezuelan Society of Anesthesiologists, the lady at the morgue used to operate the elevator for her every morning, my mother helped her with her sister’s cancer once, prepared med cocktails for her and everything; she was thankful for my mom and helped me all the way through.
Then the hardest part came, when they ask you to uncover her face and identify her body; in a row of dead corpses, the room’s overall smell wasn’t the best—a certain aura of death permeated it.
Nothing will ever prepare you for that, when you uncover the body of person you cared for and admired the most in your life to certify that it was in fact, her body.
I gave the funerary guys her wig, my aunt had picked some nice clothing out of her closet for her to wear; I gave the plastic rosary to my brother, told him to keep it with him forever.
My family helped me out with the whole funerary and burial process, not even death is except from the horrors of bureaucracy here, from the definitive Death Certificate to the burial paperwork, I gotta thank them for all the support; we agreed to bury her next to my other aunt, my uncle, and grandmother.
The wake was simple, yet full of people showing their support. I was overwhelmed by all the messages I received both on my phone and in hers; I wish I was able to reply to all of them, but there were so many.
Different were the words used, but ultimately all of her friends, students, and former patients told me the same: Your mother was a good woman, she did so much good on this world, saved so many lives.
By Monday, April 02, we buried her next to her family, and she’s been resting in peace since. To say that these events haven’t put my faith to test would be an understatement, I’ll keep praying to her for guidance and strength—because I will surely need it, not just me, but for my brother.
I’ve had no strength left for the past days, I’ve been running on borrowed strength, a bit from each and every one of you, from my friends, and from my family. I think my body waited for her to be resting in peace before succumbing to this chickenpox which I’m slowly getting out of.
Thank you, to all my Patrons, to everyone that helped me out during these months, you helped me take care of her during her last months; I will always be grateful and I swear I will find a way to make it up to you all.
I knocked on so many doors, from Embassies to Organizations all across the globe, as nothing more but a desperate son seeking help for his mother. Yet I was met with rejection by some, and that cold administrative silence by others.
Am I devastated? Yes, my spirit is torn by all of this, and chickenpox has ravaged my body throughout this weekend, and yet here I stand.
But in a way I am glad that she’s not suffering anymore, that she’s at peace; it was three long years of fighting against one of the rarest forms of cancer, with everything stacked against her, from an initial misdiagnosis, to lack of proper treatment through the years, even lack of access to proper tests, but she never gave up, not in the slightest.
She was the best mother one could ever ask, she never had it easy but she managed to raise us two in spite of all; every night I would tuck her in bed, kiss her and tell her that I love her, every morning I would immediately check up on her as soon as I woke up.
I wish I could do that just one more time.
I’ll keep going, I am not allowed to give up. I promised her I would always take care of my brother, and build a future for him, and that’s what I intend to do; I will get out of this chickenpox as soon as possible, sort through whatever I need to sort, then start building a future for my brother and I, aid my family to the best of my ability, and ultimately become a force of good in this world.
Thanks, once again.
Christian Kaleb Caruzo.