I want to tell you a horror story that happened eight (or was it seven? I am not counting) years ago. It is the story of how my mother Zehra suddenly became very ill and passed away within four weeks.
The tell tale signs that she was ill were there. She had pains, had lost her appetite but I chose to put the blame on her insistence to give the house a spring cleaning, day in and day out.
She used to get up very early in the morning, open all the windows and doors wide open, no matter what time of the year it was, put all the quilts and pillows on a windowstill for airing and start cleaning the house for hours and hours. We used to beg her, to no avail, to stop and get a cleaning lady and that at her age (69) she was no longer physically fit to subject herself to such exertion every day. We all used to think that those pains were caused by the physical exertion that she used to subject herself to.
She and her best friend used to go an a foreign trip once a year. That was the highlight of the year for her. It was the only time that she got away from it all and was carefree. A couple of months before our horror story had started they had gone on a tour to Switzerland where she became very ill with horrid pains. As she soon as she was back we went from one doctor to the next , from one test to the other. We were told “she is fine.”
Much relieved and thinking that I knew the solution, I begged her to stop being such a house proud person even though I knew all that cleaning was her way of dealing with the dulling boredom that she faced.
I used to visit her almost every evening and one evening on a December night I found her in bed with an excruciating back pain. As long as she lay on her back there was no problem but if she made the slightest of a movement she used to cry out in pain. Doctors were called and she was plied with tablets. Than one of the doctors changed the prescription and gave her a stronger pain killer. I kept vigil by her side for two days and on the third day she got up and readied herself to go to hairdressers, flashing a smile to me with eyes that sparkled with joy and love, saying she was fine and that it was I who had restored back to her health. I felt really good, in fact I had never felt better. It did not last long though. The next day her pains were back and they were worse, far worse. So we started another round of visits to doctors. One of them was a close relative and he suggested that she be hospitalised at the Lefkoşa State Hospital for a couple of days. It was my brother who had taken her to the doctors and when he called me to say that she was being hospitalised my first reaction was “Oh my God, how did she respond to that?” . One hears stories about that hospital that are not very complimentary, especially about in matters of hygiene. My brother stayed with her that night and the next day it was my turn. I walked from Kıbrıs newspaper to the hospital , a considerable distance, mainly because I wanted to postpone the moment that I would see her lying at a bed in a hospital. We had never experienced that before. And our first experience proved to be a horror story.
She was put in a double room that had a private shower and toilet but no hot water. The hospital had no hot water for the whole duration of our experience there which was about three weeks. I can not describe the state of the sheets. Nor can I explain the cold heartedness of most of the doctors that we had to deal with or the sheer indifference of most of the nurses.
The doctors started their rounds sometime after 9 in the morning, walking around the wards in groups , I am sure thinking that they oozed professionalism and they were all gone by one pm, to their private clinics. Not once did one of them attempt to give us any explanation or any comfort. The nurses had only one duty, it seemed. To do their rounds at set times and hand out the pills. They were not to be seen after or before that.
My mother had stopped eating and drinking and therefore she was put on a drip 24/7 which meant that she needed to go to the washroom quite frequently. That she was in horrible pain everytime she made a move was of no concern to anyone. It was the concern of the family. There were of course exceptions but I am afraid not that many.
And the never ending tests, scans, xrays, endoscopies started. The first organ to start to fail was her kidneys and that was if not caused than speeded up by the pain killers that she had been given when she first became ill about a week ago. Her urologist who was a young, kind, true professional , someone who gave us hope amidst that nightmare of hospital, cursed the doctor that had prescribed them. A curse that was to be repeated time and time again by every doctor that was involved.
While the never ending tests, scans, xrays etc continued for three weeks and without a diagnosis, she started to deteriorate and was in and out of conscienceness towards the end of our nightmare there. In the meantime a liquid that was accumulating in her lungs had to be emptied through the use of an injection and syringe. This was done by a doctor who could not have had a better surname to describe what kind of a doctor he was. It translates as “Stone heart”. I never wish anything bad for anyone but there are exceptions. And my wish for this man is for him to live to see someone dear to him being treated like a doctor just like him. It may be harsh but that is how I feel about this man and I am not going to go into details of why this is so because it still hurts. A lot. In fact I have started crying as I write these and I am going to skip the rest of our nightmare at this place.Suffice to say that after so many years I still shudder every time I happen to pass by it and refuse to go in, no matter what.
As we came towards the end of the third week and it was becoming more obvious by the day that my mother was ill, very ill and that she was going to die and we still did not know why we made arrangements, or we thought we did, to transfer her to the State Hospital in the South.
The day that we were going to go to the South we were told the diagnosis had been made and that the doctor who had made the diagnosis wanted to talk to us. As we were waiting for this doctor to come, another doctor who is a friend, came up to me and asked what was the latest. When I explained he said that this doctor was a fine doctor but had “communications problems” and therefore I needed to be prepared for this when I saw her.
This doctor turned out to be a young , fine woman who explained to us in a rather detached manner and like a bolt out of the blue that my mother had plasma cell leukemia, they wanted so start chemotherapy and that she only had a couple of months to live. Despite the way that these news had been relayed to us they did not come as a shock nor as devastating. On the contrary it was a kind of relief because by that time I was expecting the worst any moment and a couple of months seemed like a long , long time. I wanted to take her out of that place and I wanted to take her home. And now it seemed that I was going to be able to do it. As this doctor was talking I was daydreaming about we being driven back to Kyrenia through the green fields of Boğaz. I really wanted to take her home.
In reply we explained to this doctor that we had decided to take her to the South. She was understanding and signed the discharge documents, the young urologist wrote a medical report for us so that we could give to the doctors in the South, and my mother in an ambulance , me in my cousin’s car, we set out and came to the doors of Makarios State Hospital only to be told that they knew nothing about our arrival. My mother by this stage had gone into a coma, all the beds at the intensive care unit were occupied and we waited for hours, she on a stretcher and me by her side and my cousin by my side for hours until there was an opening at the intensive care unit and she was taken there.
My morale was boosted, I was buoyed and not for a moment did I entertain any bad thoughts while she was there. I was not expecting a miracle but I was expecting to take her home and I felt that she was now at a good place.
My mother was in the intensive care unit for five days and we could visit her twice a day. I used to hang around the hospital between the visiting hours hoping that me being close by would somehow give her some kind of comfort.
Words fail me to explain the difference between the two state hospitals of the “last divided capital of Europe” (Oh how we love cliches) . It was not just the fact that this hospital was new, gave the impression that it had state of the art technology etc but it was the kind heartedness of the staff. One day when I had gone in for a visit I had found a nurse standing by the side of my mother, gently stroking her hair and speaking to her and whispering her name time after time.
On the fifth day we were told she was now better and that they were going to take her out of the intensive care unit. By this time my mother was regaining her conscience but unable to speak. She was trying to say something but I could not understand. I explained to her that they were going to take her out of the intensive care and that she was much better and I burst out crying and said for the first time in my life “I love you. I love you so much.” We Karagözlüs are not known for expressing our affections to each other. She nodded as if to say she knew.
She was taken to a single room. My father, brother, maternal aunt, cousin were all there. We were jubilant that things were getting better. A doctor and explained for us what they intended to do next and very politely told us that the visiting hourse were over and that we needed to respect the other patients. So we left.
I went to my flat, went straight to bed and when my phone rang at something like four in the morning I knew what I was going to be told by the person at the other end of the line.
She had passed away. And none of us were by her side.
Why I am writing all this? Because this had happened seven (or eight) years ago today snd this morning I went to her and took my father along as well. I hate going to the cemetery and I doubly hate taking my father there and I feel pain and writing about it somehow eases that pain.