There is a common term within the cancer community or more specifically, within the terminal cancer community, often called the last great day. The problem is (or maybe it is a blessing) that by definition neither the patient nor their caregiver know that they are experiencing the last great day while it is happening:
Because of Libby’s declining health by end of her first week in the hospital we called all of Libby’s sisters and asked them to come in Saturday for what we thought might be their last opportunity see their sister but by the time they arrived things had changed.
When Libby woke up on Saturday morning she was not the same person that she had been the day before, she was alert and free of any pain or nausea. I explained to Libby that her mom and all of her sisters would be there soon which buoyed her spirits even more and she said, “If everyone is coming I need to wash my hair and get a shower”. I cautioned her about doing too much too soon but she was already out of bed and towing her IV pole toward the bathroom.
Now, to put things into perspective, Libby had barely put three words together in a sentence since she was admitted to the hospital seven days earlier. The pain was such that she spent most of the time with a damp rag covering her face and the total extent of our conversations consisted of whispered two-word sentences such as “Morphine please” or “Bathroom, please”.
But on that Saturday it was as if Libby had awakened in a new body, she was giving me instructions on which set of pajamas to get out and how she wanted her mom to fix her hair and makeup. In addition Libby said she was tired of being in a hospital bed, she wanted to sit in a chair and she was ready to have the IV taken out of her arm because she didn’t need anymore pain or nausea drugs.
Libby’s headaches and five seizures made Friday one of worst days that I had ever experienced, but Saturday, she was having a great day. Then, in the middle of getting ready, Libby looked up at me with a quizzical look and I was sure that she was feeling the effects of all the day’s vertical activity, instead she said “How long has it been since I’ve eaten? I’m starving!” I told her it had been almost a week since she had any food but I would check with the nurse immediately to see if they could bring up some soup or dry toast. Libby turned up her nose at my offer saying, “Toast? I want some real food”. I made a few other suggestions such as a Subway, although I really thought that even a plain turkey sandwich would be pushing our luck.
Her mom and sister had arrived by now and Libby was being tended to as if she were a movie star about to be called out on set. The pampering may have brought out Libby’s inner Diva because she turned up her nose at the Subway sandwich suggestion and said, “You know what I really want?” I was so happy to have my wife back I said, “You name it and I’ll get it.” Libby said, “I want some Champy’s chicken.”
In theory I was willing to get Libby anything she wanted but I had cleaned up enough vomit in the past week to know this was a bad idea so I gently questioned the wisdom of introducing fried chicken to a stomach that had not seen anything other than ice chips for a week. Once again Libby frowned and said, “Barry, you asked me what I wanted…you said name it… and what I really want is some Champy’s chicken.”
I left the oncology floor of the hospital to get Libby some chicken but not before she shouted, “And don’t forget the spicy dipping sauce”. “Yes, dear” I said out loud, then under my breath, “I am going to have a real mess to clean up…”
I bought enough chicken to feed our family, the nurses on the oncology floor, the doctors, assorted residents and most of the patients (or at least the ones who could keep it down). Our family sat around most of the afternoon telling jokes, reminiscing, and eating way too much fried chicken (with spicy dipping sauce). Libby never did get sick as she sat in a chair the entire day while we feasted and used the hospital bed for our dinning room table.
As it turned out I was felling a little guilty for “calling the family in” because when the doctor made his rounds that afternoon he said, “Wow! You look great today! It looks like that experimental drug finally got out of your system. If things continue like this, you are definitely going home in the morning, little girl”, Then the doctor looked over at the bed he asked, ” Is that Champy’s chicken?” Libby handed him a cup of dipping sauce as he joined our party and we all celebrated this new answer to prayer during our incredibly awesome, really good, very great day!