“Hey. It’s me again. I gave her Haldol. It’s not working.”
“Give her one dose of morphine," replies the hospice nurse over the phone.
Twenty minutes pass.
“Hey, it’s Ghazal! Nothing is working. She is suffering. She is gasping for air. She can’t breathe. What should I do? She is suffering!! Where are you? What should I do? She is suffering.”
“I am on my way,” says the nurse. “Go ahead and give her a full syringe of morphine.”
“Mamaan, it’s gonna be OK. I am here, I just talked to the nurse. I am giving you medicine. You’ll feel better. I love you so much. Just stay calm. It’s gonna get better. I love you, my angel. You are gonna feel better. I love you so much.”
I give her the full syringe of morphine. In a few seconds the body that woke up right at midnight after being asleep for three days goes back to sleep again. This time it is different. Right before she went back to sleep, her beautiful eyes, searching for something in the room that our eyes couldn’t see, fixed on one point right in front of her.
She is breathing. I can see it. I have to look very closely, but she is breathing.
My cousin the cardiologist arrives. Listens to her heart.
I look at him. I see the pain in his face. He doesn’t have to say anything. But he does.
“Sorry, she is gone.”
Her face looks so calm. No pain, no suffering. God she is so beautiful. A true angel.
I couldn’t bear to wait for the nurse to arrive at our home. But it is such a heavy burden to carry.
“Mamaan! Did you see what happened? I took your life away with my own hands. The hands that tried so hard to save you. The ones that held you so tight for hours. I took away the life that I tried so hard to save.”
My brain knows this is not true. But my heart doesn’t accept it.
My cousin tells me: “I did the same thing for my dad. You didn’t kill her. The cancer killed her. So many loved ones feel guilt. But you freed her from pain. She would have died in minutes, hours.”
They tell me people from the funeral home are coming. We start removing the orange nail polish I put on her hands just a few days ago. Her beautiful soft hands. One of them is in a fist.
“How much did you suffer and said nothing, Mamaan?”
I lay down with her. It is just the two of us, on her bed cuddling. Like every other day.
I kiss her, hold her hand and feel her soft skin. The warmth is leaving her arms and her body is getting stiff. I feel it happening. I touch her head and give her a kiss, but it strikes me so that she doesn’t feel like my mom anymore. She feels just like the body I worked on in the anatomy lab.
She isn’t there anymore. Then where is she?
Two years ago while we were sitting in the hospital, holding hands, and she was getting chemo, I looked at my phone with my free hand and there was the email.
“Oh my God, Mamaan I got accepted to medical school.”
We were crying, nurses were crying, and everyone was so happy.
I didn’t realize it then, but my first patient was my mom. Early on, she let me give her injections in the stomach. The first few times I hurt her, but after a few tries and some guidance from her, I got faster and less scared.
“Remember, I taught you how to give shots,” she told me once. Of course you did, Mamaan. Like you taught me how to walk, how to love, and how to be strong. Everything.
“When life knocks you down,” you said, “get right back up and wear your red lipstick.”
The two big guys with their red bag come from the funeral home. They don’t let me go with her to make sure everything is fine and she gets everything she needs. I get reminded that she doesn’t need me anymore. This time I have to carry on without her.
Ghazal Khorrami is a second-year medical student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Her mother, Soheila, died of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 4, 2017, at age 57 at her home in the Philadelphia suburbs.