August 4th, 2009:
At three this afternoon Eileen Lemus and I met each other going into Maitri and we proceeded up the stairs to start my intake interview for eventual admission. We met with Daniel Hill the Intake Coordinator and Grace Molyneaux, the nurse who manages the medical side of the residence. One of Maitri's treasures is the meditation room, a beautiful place filled with art from many sacred traditions and a fine outlook into the garden. That's where we settled in for our time together.
There was a bit of adjustment as I put my role of ex-bedside volunteer and current board member off to the side. I presented myself as a person with cancer who would be needing hospice level care in the upcoming months. I'm happy to say that a major success of today's visit rotated around that shift in roles for me. I've had practice imagining leaving a home in the past few months by starting with closing down my fantasies of a life in Glen Ellen. Now, without force, I've begun to visualize myself out of my apartment and into a room at Maitri. However, I lacked concrete images. I go to Maitri for board meetings and parties. The last time I was in a patient's room was late at night, and Percy was actively dying. He got all my attention. It didn't occur to me to look around and wonder what it would be like to live in the room.
Grace suggested that after we'd had a chance to talk, we visit a couple of the rooms where resident's were out for the afternoon. It really mattered to me today to get a physical sense of the space I'm going to move into. Then, into the intake process. We walked through what Maitri needs from me now: my medical records, my durable powers of attorney. They explained that I should alert my insurance about my need for hospice benefits. We talked about how emergency pain management would be handled as my health becomes more fragile. My health care team of primary care physician, oncologist will expand to include the Maitri medical staff and a pain management specialist from Hospice By The Bay. Eileen had some excellent questions about how the rooms are configured. Answers include: each resident has a private room although two rooms share a bath and toilet. Shouldn't be a problem for me. I've had very successful group living experiences in my life, and I've liked sharing a home with most of my partners over the years. Well, not all of my partners, but most of my partners.
We talked about moving into Maitri when I'm still ambulatory, and clearly this is the biggest unknown. There's no way of anticipating given my health today what will trigger my need to leave this apartment. However, when that need arises, then there will need to be some serious coordination. I am so glad that I've already assigned away my possessions. I'll have a transition where all my treasures pour out of this apartment to their various directions. Hopefully that will be a process where I can participate. Also, hopefully, there will be an available bed at Maitri. If not, then I'll go to another facility for a time before moving into my final room. Of course I'll be able to take provisions for this last move. A good chair for my friends to sit in when they visit. A laptop to stay in communication electronically. I now have an iPod that Ruth thoughtfully gave me to store the music that will sustain me. I'll get to buy some new clothes such as pyjamas and a robe. I can bring a few pictures and maybe a textile or two. Rugs? Probably not. Point being, there will be a major whoosh as most of my possessions veer off and I am left with a lightness that's appropriate and desirable. I have always enjoyed divesting even as I was collecting.
We finished up with the paperwork and started off to the field trip of two rooms. And at this point the magical moment of the visit occurred. On the way to the first room we passed a nurse's station and there, sitting on a couch was Stephen, one of the residents. He had a nice light about him, frosted hair and an elfish sense of humor. As I introduced myself, he told me that Maitri was a wonderful place. I easily agreed with him. Then he asked, "What are you doing here?" Without thinking, I replied, "Well, I'm auditioning the place. I hope to move in here, so we're going to look at a couple of rooms." He seemed a bit stunned. "You are going to move in here?" "Yup," I replied. "So if you're here too, we can get to know each other. That would be fun." "Yeah!" he agreed. Then, goodbyes were said and we moved on to the room visit. Daniel was astonished by that exchange and said, "I can't believe you did that. I was about to introduce you as a board member!" "Well," I ventured, "Coming out as a wanna-be resident seems more appropriate today. I hadn't realized how much I've already accepted this new identity as someone who will live at Maitri."
For the record, the two rooms were just fine. They are spacious, and I felt immediately comfortable knowing that there would be plenty of space to spread out and settle in. I will say it again: it's an immense relief to know that I will be cared for by people I know and love. As my physical self declines, it's an extraordinary luxury to have such quality of life supporting me. As my friend Ulrike said in a recent letter, "You know, your body may be dying, but your awareness is not." Yes, yes, a thousand times Yes to that truth about my life.