Monday, July 25, 2011

My Favorite Watch

One of my many hobbies is collecting watches.  My favorite isn’t the nicest looking or the most expensive or even the oldest in my collection.  My favorite watch is my favorite because it has sentimental value.  It’s made by one of the oldest watch companies in America.  Hamilton pocket watches were considered to be the “finest watches made in America” in the mid 1890’s.  Their quality was so high and they were so accurate at keeping time they were classified as “railroad watches”.  They were called this because these were the devices that the railroad companies used  to run the railroad schedules.  Aside from the quality workmanship of the watches, the 17 jewel movement has played a large part in their accuracy.  You see, in mechanical watches the bushings or bearings that the moving parts move on, are in fact jewels.  Garnet and quartz were common in lower cost watches and sapphire, ruby and diamonds were used in higher quality watches.  The low resistance and hard surface make them work exceptionally well as a bearing.  Hamilton transitioned to wrist watches in 1917 to appeal to troops going to WWI.  Pocket watches had seen the end of their functional era and the manual wind wrist watch was here to stay.  Well, until the automatic wind watch came into play.  In this, a simple counter weight moves and rotates around the rotor winding up a spring mechanism.  So, in effect, your natural movements wind the watch instead of having to twist the crown to wind it.  In the ‘60s  Hamilton was purchased by a few different Swiss watch companies and since the early ‘90’s has been owned by the Swatch Company.

I have always liked automatic watches because they are just dang cool.  All of those tiny little cogs and springs moving around and the red glint of the ruby jewels sparkling from within the movement.  This watch in particular I purchased at a watch shop in the Brea Mall.  At the time, I was in the Arizona National Guard and on drill weekends I was going through OCS (Officer Candidate School).  Back then I got a $2000 bonus for referring persons who enlisted so I had my National Guard Charge card on hand.  I was looking for a good quality field watch that would not be affected by EMP (a pulse bomb that destroys electronics) and had a 12 and 24 hour reading on the face.  I settled on the Khaki Field Automatic with a black face and a glass back so you can see the movement. It’s a 25 jewel movement so you get to see the little sparkles from the jewels.  I upgraded the band to a leather /carbon fiber clasp band and it was done.  I happened to be in Brea for the weekend because my mother was back in the hospital.  As soon as I purchased it I went directly to St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton where she was.  I knew the hospital well, as I had watched my first two children be born there, and had been there many times for my mother. 

This was nothing new.  She had been in the hospital so many times I had lost count.  I remember the first time she was hospitalized 26 years prior with vivid detail.  I was in sixth grade and I had just got home from school.  I sat down to watch TV and my sister Kimberly was sitting there in the family room.  I remember thinking it was odd for her to be sitting watching TV since she was in high school and always had better things to do.  She told me that Mom was in the hospital.  She said she had collapsed at work and was taken by ambulance to the hospital and it didn’t look good.  I remember feeling very scared and alone at the time.  My father had passed away the year before when I was in 5th grade and I was so scared of where I would end up if she died. 

It turns out that my mother did in fact collapse at work.  She was working as a cashier at Lucky's supermarket.  When she collapsed, her manager stepped over her and finished checking out the customer.  In the meantime my mother was in full respiratory arrest.  By the time the paramedics got her to the hospital she was a full code and was not responding to CPR.  At the hospital they did CPR for an additional ten minutes before she began to respond.  Ultimately she was diagnosed with something very similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease called Myasthenia gravis.  They gave her a year to live back then.

 However, those that knew my mother knew that the rules of logic and medicine did not apply to her.  She lived for another 26 years getting her Bachelors, Masters and a two PhD’s (one minus dissertation) and taught high school English for 18 years and even taught at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.  She seemed to always beat the odds; most of that could be due to her stubborn nature.   I remember just a month or so before she passed a surgeon was walking new resident physicians thru and stopped by to see my mother.  He gave the new doctors a brief case history and then said.  “Apparently the rules of medicine do not apply to her.  The books said she should have died a long time ago, but here she is breaking the rules, I suppose she will tell us when she is done because it’s up to her.”

The months leading up to her death were filled with severe deterioration of her health.  The years of medication that kept her alive had destroyed her organs.  Her liver, kidneys and heart were all failing nearly simultaneously.  She was in and out of the hospital.  I was back and forth to California several times thinking each time was the time she would pass.  I think the years of her always beating the odds tainted my expectations.  It was good to see her each time because  she was living in California and I in Arizona, so I made it a point to spend as much time as I could afford.  My brain was telling me the end was near but my heart would not listen. 

In  the end, her liver was failing and causing what they were calling “third staging” I don’t know what that means but what was happening was her liver was causing her kidneys to fail and in turn causing all fluid to be trapped in the lower half of her body.  Her upper body appeared emaciated but the lower half was swollen like a marshmallow.  It was hard to see her in such a manner. 

I was always somewhat bitter that my mother had to suffer in life the way she did.  The last few years she suffered from sever rheumatoid arthritis which caused her fingers and toes to protrude off at a 45 degree angle from her hands and feet.  This was incredibly painful as the bones were forced out of position into the new locations.  I can’t remember her not being in pain.  It bothered me because this was a woman who dedicated her life to raising her 5 children alone then teaching high school students.  I always felt like she deserved a peaceful end to her life.  What made it more frustrating for her was that she was never able to hold my daughter Sophie.  She was present at her birth but she was so scared that the weakness of her hands from RA was too much.  It pained her to not be able to hold her grandchildren.  When Sophie was old enough she would climb up into my mother’s hospital bed that she had in her room and watch “Monsters Inc.”   However, she always regretted not being able to hold her grandchildren but she never complained about it.  But I feel she was robbed of that.

We met with the hospital staff at St. Jude Hospital in Fullerton, California,  to discuss the options on medical treatment.  We were led into a small lounge that was clearly modeled in the 70’s with its vintage furniture that was so past its prime it was again fashionable.  It was positioned at the end of the ICU and its purpose was clear.  This was the bad news room.  It was a small room with no windows and I felt depressed just walking in there because I knew what was going to be discussed and what the room’s sole purpose was.  The doctor was a tall slender man in his late 40’s, but still clinging to his youth with his long fluffy hair.  He sat down with me, my three brothers, and my sister.  The social worker came in and introduced herself to us.  I knew what was going to happen.  I had thought about what my answer would be many times over the last 20 or so years.  The doctor told us that she was suffering multiple organ failure and there was no survival expectation.  He proposed that they put her on a morphine drip then stop giving her the medications that were forcing her body to function.  After the morphine drip kicked in they would remove the ventilator and she would basically fall asleep as her cardiovascular system and her respiratory systems shut down.  I remember thinking, “Well that sounds kind of peaceful, that has to be a good thing.”  The doctor went around the room and asked each of us what we wanted to do.  It seemed a very democratic way to decide if someone lives or dies.  As soon as I had cast my vote, my mind raced as the gravity of what was happening hit me like a freight train.  My mind was spinning as to what my motivation for sentencing my mother to death?  “Why did I vote that way?”  We all voted the same way and we had all discussed it before hand.  But it still seemed so surreal, like there was no way we were really voting someone, especially my mother to death. 

Shortly after the meeting, all of us went back to the room where my mom had been in a coma like state for the last 18 hours or so.  We watched as preparations were being made.  We tried our best to stay out of the way so the hospital staff could do their job.  The Doctor briefed the nurse and she started doing stuff with machines that I have no idea what they are called or what they do.  But I do know that they haven’t hooked up the morphine drip yet.  It appears that the nurse misunderstood the proper sequence or was just in a hurry to get the show on the road and get my mom out of there.  Regardless, she turned off the ventilator which, as I understand it, is what was breathing for my mom.  Suddenly my mother, who had been in a coma like state, sat up gasping for air.  Her eyes had what appeared to be a puzzled look as she looked around the room at each of us as she gasped for air.  It was like I was struck by a bolt of lightning.  I could not speak or move.  My feet felt like they were hundreds of pounds.  I heard my sister yell at the nurse to do something.  In my mother’s eyes it felt like she was asking me “WHY?”  A flash of guilt and pain flowed over my body it was a hot flash and happened suddenly.  It felt like I was personally killing my mother and she was asking me why.  The gravity of the moment was paralyzing.  The ringing in my ears was so loud it was like everything else was muted.  I was frozen in place as my brother and sister moved up and held her by the hand to comfort her.  I couldn’t move,  tears streamed down my face as I felt the guilt of voting my mother to death and now I was watching it.  Under my breath, silently inside I was pleading “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry” but the words were trapped inside me and I could not free them.

The Doctor yelled at the nurse, “I said no visible signs of discomfort!”  The nurse had in fact gone out of the prescribed order.  You see, if she had hooked up the morphine drip and loaded her up out of her mind on the morphine before she unhooked the respirator ,she wouldn’t have had the traumatic response to the air being cut off.  The nurse scrambled to inject morphine into her IV.  Moments later my mother started to lay back and her eyes glassed over as the effects of morphine consumed her.  Her eyes closed a few moments later to never open again.  After several hours the effects of all of the other medications that were chemically tricking her body to resist the multiple organ failure wore off; I watched her breath her last breath.  She was gone.  I looked down to my brand new Hamilton watch, and it was just a few minutes after midnight.  I said a silent good bye and left. 
I wear this watch when I am feeling sentimental and try not to remember the horrible events of that day but the countless fond memories.  I will keep this watch until I die or pass it on to Myles but it will forever be my favorite watch.

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