Excerpt from Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Driving Miss Norma

One Family's Journey Saying YES to Living

by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle

Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle X
Driving Miss Norma by Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 256 pages
    May 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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Print Excerpt

Driving Miss Norma

We never even had time to unhitch our Airstream from the truck. Three days after we had pulled into the driveway, Leo lay on his side in the fetal position in a hospital bed, his organs failing. The Fentanyl patches he was using to control his unbearable back pain—the result of what we eventually learned was a compression fracture—apparently pushed his body chemistry out of whack, and the doctors could not bring it back to order. He appeared so uncomfortable and alone. Norma was smaller than she had ever looked, dwarfed by the reclining hospital chair next to Leo's bed. She was silent.

Tim crawled into bed with his dad, spooning him. I handed him a damp cloth, and he used it to gently wipe Leo's brow. Repeatedly, Tim told him, "It's okay, I'm going to take care of Mom. I love you. Everything is going to be okay."

After some time, Tim took a break and I crawled into the bed with Leo. We did this off and on that morning until Norma whispered to me, "Can you take me downstairs? I have an appointment at one o'clock for some tests."

I had no idea what the tests were for. In the elevator on the way down, she mentioned she had had some blood in her urine. I suspected there was more to it than that because I also noticed the sanitary pads tucked in her purse. Clearly she was bleeding, and having reached menopause decades before, she should not have been. I stayed in the waiting room, and when she emerged from her tests, we returned to Leo's room. Norma made no mention of the procedure. In that moment our priority was Leo, so Tim and I did not push the issue with her.

As the week progressed, we learned that Norma needed follow-up testing, including a transvaginal ultrasound. With her husband dying just a couple of floors above her in the hospital's hospice wing, Norma lay on a paper-covered table while a technician inserted an ultrasound wand. Her entire body seemed to contract inward. She was small, and humiliated. I stood near the technician and watched as she circled the display screen over and over again with a stylus and saw what looked to be a large mass on Norma's uterus. "Unbelievable," I murmured to myself. Here Leo was dying, and from what I was seeing on the screen, Norma had something that looked like a tumor. From her vantage point, Norma could not see what was going on and was unaware of what I had just seen.

I took a deep breath before I told Tim what had appeared on the monitor that afternoon.

Leo was soon transferred to a hospice room in a local nursing home. Two days later, after we had sat at his bedside for six hours, an exhausted Norma insisted that he was well taken care of by his faith. "We can leave now," she said. We all left knowing that this warm July day would be Leo's last. No sooner had we returned home than we got a call from hospice telling us that he had died at 5:50 p.m. Right at that moment, a broken ship's clock—a gift to Leo from Stacy—started ticking again.

We had Leo's remains cremated, and we buried his urn next to Stacy's in the family plot a few paces from Uncle Ralph at the township cemetery. We were in shock and grieving.

It was not yet official, but Tim and I also knew in our hearts that Norma likely had cancer. As we lay in bed in the Airstream, we talked about our options. Neither of us wanted the same ending for Norma as we had seen Leo experience. His last days in a busy, noisy hospital were far from pleasant. In fact, they were excruciating for him. We both worried about what would happen if Norma went into a nursing home. She loved being outdoors. How would she exist inside a facility with a locked front door that required a code to get out? How could this very shy woman ever share a room with a stranger? We had seen the institutional food served in many of these places. There was no assurance she would have the quality or variety of life she was used to, nor the independence or anything that was familiar to her. Our intuition told us that Norma not only needed but also deserved freedom, autonomy, and dignity, and to us, the nursing homes we had access to represented the opposite of those values. If Norma wanted to kick back at the end of the day with a beer or a glass of wine, we wanted her to have that luxury. If she wanted to leave the facility for any reason, we wanted her to be able to do it. If she wanted to eat breakfast for dinner or walk barefoot in the grass, so be it. We also wanted her to have the chance to smile again.

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Excerpted from Driving Miss Normaby Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2017.

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