Episode 10 — Adams Street Revisited
The phone rang at the mortuary mid-afternoon on a brisk autumn day. A house call. Another death at home. I slipped into my usual place, CJ’s jacket pocket. Sometimes house calls can be a bit dramatic and when CJ feels she might begin to get caught up in the emotions of the situation, I am there, and she holds onto me to shift her focus away as needed. Besides, I am much softer to touch than a ball of wadded Kleenex.
We start for the home, which is here in town. Bill is CJ’s house-call partner. There must always be two people handling house calls. That is a cardinal rule here. Just as the van rounds the corner of Adams Street where the call is at, CJ noted aloud, “Hey…wait a minute. Is this house number correct? We were just here a couple of months ago…” Bill replied, ”It is the Downey residence.” CJ’s brow bunched at hearing that. “Oh no! This is terrible…poor Mrs. Downey. My God, how are we going to handle this, Bill? It must be awful for her.”
We pulled up to the edge of the curb, backing the van into the driveway. Together, CJ and Bill went to the front door of the modest little house. A thin older woman opened the door and welcomed them inside. Bill cleared his throat and asked which room they would need to go to. The woman motioned to the end of the hallway. The woman beckoned CJ to be seated there on the sofa. The poor woman had been through this drill before. This was the third time in a little more than a year. It would be the last time, also. I could sense a tightening in CJ’s frame. This was very sad, indeed. You see, Mrs. Downey’s husband and two sons all had been ill with Huntington’s disease. It is a sure death sentence, that disease. When she married Mr. Downey, some forty-odd years earlier, not much was known about Huntington’s. It was known that it was an inherited disease. The cruelest part was in not knowing whether her husband carried the gene. There was no such thing as pre-natal testing for the unborn. The disease was on his side; some of his family had succumbed to it. If he had inherited the gene, there was no way to know until he began to show signs and symptoms, which did eventually present in his early 50’s. By that time, the boys were in their mid-twenties. They appeared healthy. This would not be the case later for both of the sons. Signs had appeared in them before they hit 30.
One by one, first with the father, then with the sons. Each progressively lost their ability to ambulate, think, talk, or take care of themselves. It is indeed an awful course progression, in which the brain degenerates, thus taking the body with it until death is inevitable. Now, the last son had passed away.
The mother was a dedicated woman; she cared for each of them at home, at their various stages of this killer disease. She looked worn and very tired. Too tired to cry at this moment. CJ struggled to find the words she could say that would be of any comfort. What do you say to someone who has lost her entire immediate family? Instead, she awkwardly reached out to the lady to give her a hug. No more was said. CJ went out to the van with Bill, and they returned with the gurney, went down the hall, and carefully placed the man onto it. He was so ravaged he scarcely made a lump beneath the blanket.
They paused to walk away, giving Mrs. Downey a moment to kiss him goodbye for the last time. Then as they rolled him out the front entryway, a tear began to roll down her cheek. CJ’s hand tightened gently around me, remaining there until she was back in the van.
This entry was posted on June 3, 2013 at 9:56 am and is filed under Death, Grief, Loss, Mortuary with tags Death call, Dying, Huntington's Disease. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.