Kage Baker really fought during that last bout of therapy.
She didn’t even do it for herself. She did it for Anne and her girls, for her readers, for the dozen ideas she still had in her head. She did it for all the people who were waiting for her, who needed something from her. She did it for me. But in her own heart, Kage came to terms with her dying days before anyone else.
We were staying in a hotel, on the flats of Pismo – so we could get her in and out of the bed and the car, and to her daily doctor appointments. We were right next to the sea, which was great. The weather was … odd. Torrential rain, then wind, then heat. More rain. She got weaker and weaker; I was lifting her into the wheelchair and the car, and the therapists came out to meet us every day to carry and wheel her into the office. She really, really tried – never gave up at all, never demurred or refused. She couldn’t sit up unassisted, but she cracked jokes while we moved her.
I was the one who lost it all, finally. She wasn’t getting better. I couldn’t tell how much was due to the rigours of therapy – which gets horribly debilitating after a while – and apparently neither could anyone else. There were a lot of blank looks and shrugs and spread hands … no one wanted to be the one to make the call.
Finally, after a day carrying Kage to therapies through a vertical flood of rain, I left a message for her oncologist (Dr. Palchak, a wonderful man who resembled the operative Lewis) telling him I thought she was sinking, begging for something to help. When he called me to tell me he was one his way to our hotel – that he was making a house call – I just sat on the floor and wept. Doctors don’t make house calls … Kage tried to comfort me, but she fell asleep. The day’s perambulations had been too much for her.
When Dr. Palchak arrived, he was gentle and kind. But he didn’t offer us euphemisms or prevarications – he never had, through the whole horrible process. It was just that, before, there had always been some hope. But what he brought us that night were Kage’s latest imaging results.
The tumour in her brain was shrinking, again. But now there were masses in her lungs, in her gut, in her liver … Dr. Palchak said he had never seen a cancer move so fast, so inexorably, and I have never heard a real doctor in such despair. They had done everything they could, and Kage had responded well to everything – except that the cancer kept spreading, like a hydra. Knock it back in one place, and it sprang back in three others.
“So how do we handle this?” asked Kage, with really astonishing calm.
“Hospice care. It’s time to get peaceful and comfortable,” said Dr. Palchak, and I swear Kage’s face actually lit up.
“No more hospitals, though,” she said. And anyone who knew her also knew that tone of voice – she would not be dissuaded or denied.
So, no. No more hospitals. There wasn’t one, anyway. In San Luis Obispo County, they don’t have the facilities for actual hospices. Instead, there is a 24-hour system of nurses and physicians who make house calls; who are available on the phone at all hours; who will come and stay with the dying if they have no one else. And if they do have someone, they will make all these resources available to that care-giver, so the patient’s last days are as comfortable as possible.
For us, it was perfect. It meant I could take Kage home. It meant she could lie in her own bed, looking at her treasures, seeing the light on the sea from her own window. No strangers, no strangeness. No more tests and therapies; all comforts she could want, in a place she loved.
Good deal. The only drawback was, it meant she was dying.