The first few times I gave it I treated it like it was battery acid, scrubbing my hands anxiously after each syringe. “We want to be conservative about pain medication,” I’d said, stupidly confident five weeks ago, “until it becomes necessary.” Hospice has insisted on sending nurses to stay here with us for the past four days and nights, just to make sure we knew how to administer it and that there would be no adverse reactions.
“Since she is opiate naïve,” they told us, meaning that she wasn’t addicted to anything, “we will put her on the lowest dose, as needed throughout the day.” “Watch for the bubble,” said our favourite day nurse as I furrowed my brows and squinted my eyes and held my breath. We’ve taken advantage of the extra nursing support to go out for short jaunts to eat Vietnamese food, to go to the zoo with my nephew and to IKEA. I’ve been able to sleep at night for up to six hours at a stretch as the solution shimmers safely away up in its basket with all the other meds. The bubble sinks slowly in the syringe.
“Look for signs she’s in pain if she can’t communicate,” they told us. Gripping hands, grimacing, moaning. We’d seen the signs, earlier in the week, and didn’t know what they meant, exactly—we both inherited the lines between the eyes that make us all look permanently slightly concerned, as if we cannot quite remember where we left our keys. Was that a grimace? Were her hands clenched or was she just trying to get the sheets up closer under her chin? Were those moans of pain or were they just sounds humans make when cancer washes them up on the opposite shores of language?
She doesn’t make those sounds anymore. She doesn’t speak. My thumbs and forefingers easily circle her upper thigh when I apply lotion, and the cat sleeps on her bed sixteen hours a day. She looks away and above and beyond my face if she happens to open her eyes for a few moments.
“Watch for the bubble,” they tell us. We watch. It only takes a moment to do it, now, the lines between our eyes drawn tight, the hands on her chin steady and smooth.
Morphine shrugs it wings open and settles heavily under her tongue. Her eyes fumble shut. I get up to put away the equipment and wash my hands, opiate naïve no longer.