Friday, March 24, 2006
P.S. on tree donations, and a technical note
Victoria University Alumni Office
150 Charles St. W.
Toronto, ON M5S 1K9
The cheque should be payable to Victoria University. Mention somewhere that it’s for the Mary Lee Coombs memorial tree. (Sorry that no online payment mechanism is available: because you’ll receive a tax receipt, each donation has to be processed manually via the above channel.)
Technical note: those of you who are notified by email of updates to this blog weren’t notified about the previous post (“Mary Lee’s Memorial Tree (from David Platt)”), because Bloglet (the notifier) ran into some kind of technical problem and stopped sending out notifications. So please continue reading the blog below. I’ve re-enabled Bloglet so it’ll probably work again now.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Mary Lee's Memorial Tree (from David Platt)
I just had a meeting at Victoria University's Alumni Office (the lady was away on March Break last week and I allowed time for cheques to be mailed).
My thanks all of those who have donated, the generosity of some is quite outstanding. A sizeable amount has been received and we will wait until 31 March to see what the shortfall will be. A classmate and friend of Mary Lee has offered to complete the required amount to save Doug having to pay it. Tax receipts should be mailed shortly.
The tree's location near the E.J. Pratt Library entrance was shown to me. It will be a sugar (red) maple and in a perfect spot with good sunlight. As well there is a nearby lamppost which means her plaque will be lit during the night. I think Mary Lee would be pleased.
I have requested a mid-afternoon, mid-week dedication ceremony as that would be easier for people to get time off work. The tree will already have been planted, the ceremony will be to unveil and dedicate the plaque in Mary Lee's memory. I will inform all once a date, most likely in May, has been proposed by Vic.
My thanks to those who have donated for this memorial.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Virtual, then Real by Brian Oliver
)OPR PLEASE INCREASE FILE RES FOR 1234567 TO 1E6
.. moments later:
OPR: DONE. /MARY LEE
That was my VIRTUAL relationship with Mary Lee. She was in OPNS (Operations), where few other IPSA employees were allowed to tread. I knew who she was, but we never met face to face. That was in the late 1970's.
Then in the mid-1990's I was invited to do some consulting at Reuters which had acquired I.P.Sharp. I jumped at the opportunity, especially since I would finally get to meet Mary Lee Coombs in person. Thus began the REAL relationship. Mary Lee was strictly business and perhaps the most diligent person I ever worked with. The project meetings she conducted were straight to the point and never wandered off-topic. She was the most assiduous note-taker I ever saw — she went through rollerball pens like the rest of us would go through a bowl of Rice-Krispies. In the office — strictly business.
But Mary Lee enjoyed the occasional cigarette, and I experienced the occasional cigar. So twice a day, we would step outside the Exchange Tower for a smoke, and that's when the conversation turned personal, and I learned about pan, Trinidad, ballet, her irritating Thunderbird car and the condo controversy.
Of course smoking is a nasty, expensive and undesirable habit. But in this one instance, it allowed me to get to know Mary Lee Coombs as a very unique individual, and I miss her very much.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Service of Remembrance: what Bob Bernecky said
The first time I visited Mary Lee in the hospital, she immediately eyed the new Irish sweater I was wearing. She then grabbed the fabric, rubbed it in her hand, and nodded approval; only then did she say hello, and forthrightly tell me she was dying.
It's always hard to lose a friend, but we can lessen the grief by looking at the legacy of joys they left for us.
Mary Lee and I worked together for at least 25 years. I'm going to mention some things that she took delight in.
We have to start with chocolate. Of course. We continue with good food, then wine. White wine. Of course.
Mary Lee enjoyed these things, but her true delights arose from what she gave to others, in the form of such diverse activities as dance, clothing design, and music. Her creativity in these endeavors graced us with a beauty that reflected that of her own radiant smile.
Mary Lee is no longer with us, but her smile remains, Cheshire cat-like, to appear whenever we delight in great chocolate, good food and wine, when we see superb dance, exquisite clothing, and when we listen to the sweet music of the pan.
Postscript by Bob:
I think I was the causative factor in getting Mary Lee involved with pan music. I had been working in Caribana and going down to Trinidad to work with Peter Minshall on Carnival for several years, and had started to play tenor pan with Afropan. Mary Lee took an interest, and came down to Trinidad with me one year, where she immediately got hooked on Phase II and Fonclaire.
When we returned, she took up tenor pan with Afropan, and rapidly left me behind in terms of her skill, artistry; she went on to play a strong organizational role in the bands she worked with.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Service of Remembrance: what Sylvia Furlong said
We worked closely together on many condominium projects in that first turbulent year, and in subsequent years — projects that she tackled with what became her usual energy, dedication and thoroughness.
As might be expected, it was not roses all of that time. Two strong and opinionated women are bound to have their “moments” and Mary Lee and I were no exception. We had our share of “differences of opinion” over the years before we finally settled down and learned to “not sweat the small stuff”.
Mary Lee lived her life flat out, without guile or pretence. She always spoke her mind and left little doubt as to what her feelings on the subject were. Anyone meeting Mary Lee for the first time soon learned that “What you see is what you get”. She was always straight up, never played mind games nor got bogged down by “political correctness”.
She was kind, passionate and caring. She was generous to a flaw and supported every charity that came her way. She especially cared about animals, particularly the four-legged kind. As for the two-legged kind (unless they were birds), she was more selective and had no time or patience for those who felt society owed them a living. She never failed to stand up for her beliefs. Whether you agreed with her or not, you could not help but admire and respect her honesty.
Her love of animals was sincere and reciprocated. She never met a dog that she didn’t like or that didn’t like her. She could instantly befriend any dog she met on the street. The dog would wag his tail and lick her hand and then he would growl at me.
The number of lives Mary Lee touched is truly extraordinary. It was truly humbling to witness the number of people that surrounded her bedside day after day, morning, noon and night, for weeks. She was greatly loved and cared about by many. There’s a saying that it is easy to have a lot of friends when times are good, but only real friends are there when times are bad. Mary Lee had many, many real friends.
She finally realized this with great and genuine surprise. A few short weeks ago, while she was still able to speak, and in a rare moment when there was just the two of us, she said, with real wonder in her voice, that she couldn’t believe how many people came to see her and really cared about her. For whatever reason, she had always felt that she didn’t have many friends. How sad that she felt that way at all, but how wonderful that she was able to realize that she had been wrong while she still could.
It is a great privilege to have had her in my life, albeit for far too short a time. She never failed to amaze me with the depth and versatility of her knowledge about a phenomenal number of subjects. I was quite in awe of her ability to process, absorb and retain information in exquisite detail and accuracy. She kept me up-to-date on current events, and science (especially medicine), and politics, but most importantly, which of the current crop of TV shows were worth watching.
Mary Lee got me hooked on several TV shows which we enjoyed discussing, analysing and speculating about future plot twists after every episode by email and/or over coffee and cookies at our local Starbucks’.
Speaking of cookies, Mary Lee had an intriguing habit. She only ate the edge of a cookie and threw the middle away. Go Figure. That wasn’t the only anomaly she had when it came to food. She also liked her toast one stage below charcoal. Ditto for the tops of chocolate chip muffins. They had to be very “crispy” and were the only part of the muffin that she ate.
Starbucks’ will never be the same. I got a knot in my stomach every time I passed it when it became evident that Mary Lee would not get better. It is now an ache in my heart that will not go away anytime soon.
You were a remarkable woman, Mary Lee. An original. I miss you Doll.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Service of Remembrance: what David Platt said
In the garden of our shared lives there is a special, sunny place.
It’s on the warm southern side. There the hybrids and the rare wild flowers bloom.
The hybrids have a long recorded history. The wild flowers’ origins are uncertain and it is not known how they will endure a hard winter or a drought.
But they outshine all others in the garden with their colour and fragrance and glow with a brilliance, like a candle, burning at both ends.
What was the essence of Mary Lee’s spirit? What propelled her forward in life as in Dylan Thomas’, “the force which through the green fuse, drives the bud.”
I sought an incident, phrase or word that would help reveal her inner core.
The history leading to this special word I remembered is quite revealing as to who Mary Lee was.
She started high school with a strong musical background with a Grade 10 in piano. Her favourite subject and probably her best marks were in Latin. This was owing to Mr. Hope being her outstanding teacher. Her reverential respect and admiration for him, the first black teacher hired by the Lakeshore Board of Education, was lifelong. This led to Mary Lee’s deep interest in Caribbean culture and its people, and eventually, repeated trips to, and friends in Trinidad. As well, Latin provided the foundation for her simply outstanding vocabulary and great fluency in French. She was the best read non-English major I’ve ever known.
Forward 30 years to the early 1990s and Mary Lee was the only woman in a Trinidadian steel band. Characteristically, her role was to set the beat. They needed a band name. Mary Lee promoted, but without success, the name SCINTILLA. Scintilla – of course it had to be Latin – means a spark, and leads to “scintillate”: to sparkle, twinkle, to emit sparks and to speak cleverly or wittily.
That was Mary Lee: the spark and magic in any group who showed us style, grace and ease in all she did.
She was the one person who could captivate everyone in this room.
She had effortless brilliance: academically, in speaking, skating and dancing, in her career, and especially in making and keeping friends. She was the light.
It was truly remarkable for someone who complained that so few people called her, that she had so many visitors and such support in her last month. We would all be grateful for one quarter of her visitors at our hospital bedside.
One wonders at the coincidence that her night-time nurse attendant, Cecily, was from Trinidad and in whom Mary Lee found such delight in talking about that island’s people.
One is grateful for such small mercies for her and is also amazed how men only learn tenderness and compassion through the hands of women. That being the many, many women who held her bedside hand, caressed and spoke to her even until her last breath.
In the end, all we want is comfort and warmth. This, you most generously provided her.
Mary Lee will be remembered for the courage she showed us all in the last difficult five years of her life.
The scintilla is gone from our lives. No more is that special light and spark that touched us with her magic and the smile that Peter Henderson described on her blogsite as:
“One of the largest, most expressive smiles I’ve ever seen, a tall, wide, toothy, half-moon, Cheshire-cat smile.”
Let us not lament the days lost but instead remember the days we had with her, especially when her life was good.
In the garden of our shared lives there is a special, sunny place.
It’s on the warm southern side. There the hybrids and the rare wild flowers bloom.
The rare wildflowers outshine all others in the garden with their colour and fragrance and glow with a brilliance, like a candle, burning at both ends.
Please visit that place whenever you think of Mary Lee. And may the memory of Mary Lee Coombs endure with you all until the end of your days.
Arrangements have been made for a memorial tree planting for Mary Lee at Victoria University where she graduated in 1970. It will be a red maple near the entrance to the E.J. Pratt Library in recognition of her great interest in fine literature. It will have a cast brass marker on a 30” steel post and some of Mary Lee’s ashes will be scattered in the tree roots. The cost is estimated to be $2,500.00. Donation cards are available in the entrance lobby and tax receipts will be mailed. If you wish to be notified about the planting ceremony, most likely in May, please give me or Doug your Eaddress.
Andy Neilson's memories of Mary Lee
More than any story she told me, the memory that keeps coming to mind is walking with Mary Lee, and how she would invariably take my arm and snuggle up as we walked.
IPSANET marketing brochures
If you're curious, click here: http://www.rogerdmoore.ca/INF/ and go down to the second-to-last section, Marketing Brochures.
Service of Remembrance: what Rohan Jayasekera said
Mary Lee would spend huge amounts of time to make a new dress for an occasion and have it be absolutely flawless, down to the last stitch, even on the inside that you couldn’t see. She’d look spectacular. And then she’d never wear it again, because on future occasions she didn’t want to repeat herself.
Things like that often misled those who didn’t know her well. I'm afraid she was often taken to be a person not particularly suited to serious matters. Which was completely untrue. At I.P. Sharp Associates and Reuters, where she worked for over 20 years, she eventually became one of the best project managers. And in recent times, when she followed current events very closely, more so than anyone else I know, we had long discussions about things like federal childcare policy — and neither of us has ever had kids.
In the late 90s Mary Lee became disillusioned with both her job and the relationship she was in, and to me she was never the same afterward. The old spark wasn't gone, but it was much less frequent. She had some ideas, like making spectacular wedding dresses for a living, or opening a bed-and-breakfast in Trinidad. I was hoping that she would hit on something that would reinvigorate her spirit. But then she was diagnosed with leukemia, and had no way of knowing how long she was going to live, which put a further damper on any plans. In addition, knowing that she should start eating healthy food, not just cheese and crackers, wasn’t really consistent with her spirit. A careful and regimented life might suit some people, but not Mary Lee.
Which brings me to her experience with the disease PML. As savage as PML is, I believe that it saved her from a much worse fate later on at the hands of leukemia. Even though PML attacks the brain and tends to affect its victims’ ability to think, as long as Mary Lee was conscious and able to communicate in any way, her mind seemed as sharp as always. Which is exactly how she wanted it. She even made it clear that she didn’t want medication that would dull her mind, even if it meant enduring pain.
Shortly before Mary Lee went into the hospital she showed me two winter coats she’d bought: she was having trouble deciding which one to keep and which one to return. She asked my opinion, so I told her which coat I thought was the better choice, and why. She said she agreed and would keep that one. Well, at the hospital I noticed which coat was hanging in the closet: it was the other one. In a way I’m glad. Mary Lee lived her life her way. It wasn’t always easy, because to be exceptional you have to endure being an exception. And Mary Lee was nothing if not exceptional.
Service of Remembrance, and interment
Mary Lee has now been laid to rest at Riverside Cemetery in Toronto, with her parents.
Seeing the earth shovelled over the urn was hard for me. I guess her absence really is permanent.
There was a very nice service before that, with a full room of around 90 people (my estimate). For those of you who weren’t there: in addition to Rev. Linda Petrides of Wesley Mimico United Church, Mary Lee’s brother Doug Coombs spoke, as well as David Platt, Sylvia Furlong, Rohan Jayasekera, Craig Lindsay, Bob Bernecky, Avrum Fenson, Martin Levin and Ranney Hintsa (please point out anyone I’ve missed). Don Francks, who happens to be a professional actor and musician, spoke as well (in a rich voice much like Charlton Heston’s) and then sang “The Rainbow Song” and “The Rainbow Connection” (thanks to Debbie Lindsay, Julia Wooster and Peter Henderson for identifying the songs for me).
To those who spoke: I was very impressed with the quality of what was said. Most people spoke from written text, which I’d like to post here if you’re willing to send me a copy (I’ll post mine shortly, so you won’t be alone). And yes I can try to read your handwriting: fax the sheets to me at 866-274-4082 (toll free).
Thanks to all who were there. I know that Mary Lee’s family really appreciated it.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Memorial tree planting
Mary Lee was enrolled, loved being at and graduated from Victoria University at the University of Toronto. She was also a great reader of fine literature.
Plans are being made for a memorial tree planting for her near the entrance to the E.J. Pratt Library at Vic. It will be a red maple with a brass marker on a 30" high steel post.
The cost is $2,000 to $2,500. Cheques can be made payable to "Victoria University" and a tax receipt will be mailed if you provide your name and address. If you give an email address you can be notified of the planting ceremony most likely at end April or May.
Cheques can be given to Mary Lee's friend David Platt at the Thursday service or mailed to him at:
5 Hoskin Avenue
Toronto, ON M5S 1H7
Tel: 416 946 3535 extn 2238
This will be a fine tribute & living memorial to Mary Lee in a place she loved.
P.S. from Rohan: Mary Lee's brother Doug tells me that he plans to have some of Mary Lee's ashes planted with the tree. A great suggestion by Sylvia Furlong.
My neatest memory of Mary Lee, by Lib Gibson
My dear friend Mary Lee
When I went back to the States, we lost touch for a few years, but I thought about her often and eventually contacted Mary Lee again. Over the many years since then, Mary Lee and I have written, talked on the phone and visited each other wherever I've been (I move around a lot!). I've come to visit her in Toronto three times and the last time, about four years ago, was most depressing. It was then that I became determined to get her out of there. I have been a total nag over the last few years just trying to convince her to follow her dream to buy a little house in the country and to have a dog or two. I firmly believe that if she had managed to do that she would not be where she is now. Who knows if I'm right.
One of my other fond, if not so pleasant, memories is of one of Mary Lee's visits to Vancouver Island. It was a cold morning in November and we decided to go for a horseback ride with another friend of mine. She almost backed out because of the cold, perhaps she had a premonition? We bundled up and went out on the horses. About 45 minutes into the ride we discovered that one of our trails had been blocked. Not to be deterred, we found a way through the woods in the general direction we wanted to go. When we came out to the road we wanted to be on, we were confronted by a steep bank going down to a ditch. We decided to go for it and one by one proceeded slowly down the bank. I don't know if Mary Lee was tensed up and tried to steer the horse in a different direction, but the horse came down the bank too quickly and jumped the ditch. Mary Lee was pitched off balance and fell off. From where I was, I saw her land on her butt and side. The ground was hard and I was concerned that she might be hurt. We made her stay down and called for help. My friend's boyfriend came and got her in his truck and we took her to the ER. After waiting an eternity, they X-rayed her arm and back and came back to tell us that she was bruised but nothing was broken. Mary Lee still complained about extreme pain. We started giving her a hard time and told her to take a pill and she'd feel better. The next day she was still in a lot of pain but had to go home. At that point, I thought she was just being whiny (I still feel bad about that!), but helped her to get to the ferry to go to the airport in Vancouver. I can only imagine what pain she was in dragging her luggage from ferry to bus and from bus to airline. When she got to Toronto, she went back to the ER and got more X-rays. It was discovered that she had cracked her elbow. From what I understand, she never fully recovered from that.
I'll miss Mary Lee terribly. We had a connection that was indescribable. We weren't very much alike in many ways, but were like sisters in others. She was easily frustrated, prissy and opinionated. She was kind, cared for animals more than just about anyone I know and had intelligence that was beyond my comprehension at times. I just wish I could be there with all of her friends to say goodbye.
If anybody wants to email me, I can be reached at email@example.com.
Peter Henderson's memories of Mary Lee
When we were operators in the IPSA datacentre in the York Centre, Mary Lee had a passion for carrot muffins from the Great Canadian Soup Company in the mall at First Canadian Place; she would often use one of her breaks to dash down and across the street to buy a muffin for herself, and she would usually offer to pick up muffins for any other operator who wanted one.
During lulls I can recall having long chats with her about ballet, about her classes, ballerinas she admired and why, how ballet shoes worked, different positions, etc.; I learned most of what I know about ballet from those chats with Mary Lee.
Finally, Mary Lee had one of the largest, most expressive smiles I've seen, a tall, wide, toothy, half-moon, Cheshire-cat smile; I was a little surprised that I saw only hints of that smile in the photos that her close friends have put up on the flickr site, but perhaps my memory is playing tricks. [Peter's memory is fine. Mary Lee's full smile rarely made it into photos because she was usually a bit nervous about having her picture taken, fearing that she wouldn't look perfect. -Rohan]
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Babycakes and me
I shared an office with a technical writer. She sported a luminous lime-green top, a somewhat unkempt mop of blond hair, and one of the sharpest (if mercurial) minds I've ever known.
Mary Lee was an IPSA veteran. She had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the company, its culture, and its cast, past and present. And she was more than happy to share her arcana with the new kid. I learned about IPSA. All about IPSA.
I called her Babycakes. She called me Stevie.
Babycakes loved words--their sounds, their meanings--and was rarely at a loss for one. And not just for a word; she could effortlessly select the sole, singular, specific word for the job.
One day she said, offhandedly, "Stevie, let's go shopping--I'm feeling consumptatory." You won't find that in your concise Oxford. Another day she came in brandishing a newspaper, pointing and exclaiming "That's Daryl Strawberry! Isn't that a great name? Daryl... Strawberry!" She was beaming.
She could recount an incident that occurred any number of years ago, in holographic detail, in faster than real time, every quotation exact, the narrative chronology phase-locked to the original, sometimes for a good 20 minutes, never missing a beat, never coming up for air. She could leave me staggered.
She had a grip that could deform a golf ball, a personal space measured in millimetres, and rarely uttered the perpendicular pronoun without adding 5 decibels, presumably just to remove all ambiguity.
Sometimes we fought, but it didn't last. Once, after a particularly acrimonious exchange, and my subsequent tearful apology, she said, "I know, Stevie--we're the same. Prickly."
Babycakes was entertaining, infuriating, engaging, exasperating. And we were kindred spirits. And we knew it.
Good bye Babycakes. Elvis has left the building.
In today's newspaper
The notice is also available online (both newspapers have identical text):
Notice in the Globe and Mail
Notice in the Toronto Star
Arrangements - one more thing
Donations to the Toronto Humane Society
Cards can be sent to:
362 The East Mall
Etobicoke ON M9B 6C4
Now that the nature of this blog is changing, you may or may not wish to check it as often, and if you're getting emailed notifications from Bloglet and wish to stop you can unsubscribe at www.bloglet.com .
Monday, March 06, 2006
As I mentioned in the preceding post, if you would like to speak at the service, please notify either Mary Lee's brother Doug Coombs at 416-621-2852, or Rohan Jayasekera at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-532-0696 (OK to call 24 hours; please leave voicemail if no answer).
If you like, please bring photos to the funeral home as many people will appreciate seeing them. Also, we would like to expand the online photo collection that's been started. I've already posted how to add photos yourself (Wed. March 1, “How the birthday party went”), but if you don't want to do that you can email them to me at email@example.com and I'll add them. My email inbox is 2 GB so you can email me any number of photos without filling it up. Of course photos have to be in digital form to do this; if you have printed photos you can use a scanner. (When scanning, I suggest that you avoid saving the results into BMP format; use JPG/JPEG instead because it's much smaller.) If you email me photos, please include a short description if possible, including, if known, the names of any other people included, the date (if only approximate that's fine), and who took the photo.
The funeral home is Hogle Funeral Home (Mimico Chapel), 63 Mimico Ave., Toronto M8V 1R2, 416-251-7531. This is in Mimico (in Etobicoke), very close to Lake Ontario. A map is available at http://www.hoglefuneralhomes.com/Finding_Us_-69493.html .
If you're driving: Directions (from any location) are also available at the above link. Note that Mimico Ave. is one way, from east to west (you can get onto it right from Lake Shore Blvd.). As you drive along it the funeral home will be on the left side of the street, and parking (lots of it) is available on both sides.
By TTC: the number 76 (not 76B) Royal York South bus starts at the Royal York subway station (Bloor-Danforth line), with a bus every 10-15 minutes. It goes all the way south to Lake Shore Blvd., then northeast along Lake Shore, then west along Mimico Ave. Get off at the second stop along Mimico Ave., which is right across the street from the funeral home.
I'm sure I'll be seeing many of you shortly. I'm still stunned that Mary Lee is gone.
ADDENDUM: In lieu of flowers the family requests a donation to the Toronto Humane Society (Mary Lee was very much an animal lover, and had an automatic donation to the THS every month), or to the charity of your choice.
Rest in peace
Mary Lee passed away quietly at around 2:30 this morning. Her favourite night nurse was with her.
There will be visitations at the funeral home, followed by a “celebration” service. Details will be posted here once finalized during the day on Monday.
If you would like to speak at the service, please notify either Mary Lee's brother Doug Coombs at 416-621-2852, or Rohan Jayasekera at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-532-0696.
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Again, same as yesterday. When I first arrived her breathing was shallower than it had been for the previous two days, but later after the staff had repositioned her (they periodically change her position and her head faces the other way, etc.) her breathing was back to what I've become used to. Her skin temperature still hasn't dropped that I can tell.
I've been continuing to read out the emails that people have sent; she may still be conscious part of the time.
Every day as I leave I tell her that I'll be back tomorrow. When she's gone that won't be true, but if she can hear me I want her to know that I'm sticking around.
A note to new readers: You might not have seen the earliest post (“Introduction”) that has all the background information, because only the last 7 days have been showing on the main page, with earlier posts visible only by looking at the Archives. I've changed this so that all posts are shown here.
I'm now posting here every day after seeing Mary Lee, but last night I forgot (sorry — I was having a lot of emotional difficulty handling the situation and eventually dealt with that by just going to bed). So I'm doing it now. I'll post again after I see her today (Sunday).
Mary Lee seemed exactly the same as the previous day. Her brother Doug had been told that one of the things that happens as coma progresses is that the skin temperature drops, starting at the feet, but no sign of that yet.
Nancy Woodman's been trying to track down some of Mary Lee's friends, but with difficulty because Mary Lee herself wasn't trying to notify everyone: as her friend Janice put it yesterday, Mary Lee probably thought “well, Janice would come, but I don't want to put her to that expense”. Well, Janice flew in from Nova Scotia on Saturday morning after hearing the news, Nancy having successfully found contact information for her. Other people have been contacted as well, but there are probably more friends who haven't heard anything. It makes me sad that Mary Lee really didn't appreciate how many people care about her.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Today Mary Lee seemed the same as yesterday, except that she was breathing more easily and consistently. Again it's hard to tell whether she's conscious any part of the time. Sometimes her breathing would change a bit, but that happened even when nobody was saying anything. And we humans tend to find patterns in things whenever we want to, even if they aren't there. I know that I am still hoping that Mary Lee is still with us, even as the chance of that continues to drop.
I learned today from Doug (Mary Lee's brother) that last week someone brought in a small dog to visit the patients in the palliative unit. Mary Lee was pretty happy about that, and apparently so was the dog, who went beside the bed, where Mary Lee patted her and rubbed her tummy.
One of the topics of conversation among the visitors today was just how many friends Mary Lee has. She was quite surprised when so many people came to visit her in the hospital, but very pleased. I'd like to thank everyone who's visited. It's meant a lot to her.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Mary Lee's condition has continued to deteriorate quickly. Although she was conscious part of the day before yesterday, yesterday she may have slept the entire day (nobody I've spoken to saw her awake), and today was similar except that with her eyelids partly open the whole time (apparently because the control of her eyelid muscles is now gone) it wasn't possible to tell whether she was conscious at any time. There was some up-and-down eye movement but it's impossible to tell whether that meant anything. Some of us held her hand and talked to her, in case she was conscious any part of the time. Although "cognitive deterioration" is one of the usual symptoms of PML, I never saw the slightest trace of that while she was able to communicate, so if and when she's conscious there's a good chance that her mind is still sharp, even if she can't respond in any way.
Yesterday the doctor started her on a painkiller because she's been stuck in bed for a month and could be expected to have some muscle pain. She's always denied having any pain, even as recently as during the birthday party, but that could just be her wanting to avoid dulling her mind. (When she was told that PML had been confirmed and that she had at most three months to live, the doctor mentioned that an antidepressant might be helpful and she turned him down flat.)
This afternoon the doctor came by and said that she's in the early stages of coma: her pulse is weaker than it was yesterday, though her skin temperature is still high. He expects that she'll be in full coma in 1 to 3 days.
We are now trying to have someone with her around the clock. There is a nurse there overnight, and friends are covering the daytime. To help with that I've created an online signup page for those who are participating, at https://mlcoombs.jot.com/. Only those enrolled can access the page, so if you want to join the team please let me know at email@example.com .
One positive consequence of the loss of muscle control is that since yesterday her face has been fully relaxed, meaning that there are no lines or wrinkles. (This is also how Botox works.) We've been telling Mary Lee that, as she'd definitely be happy to hear it.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
How the birthday party went
Laura made the cake, a sinfully rich yet light (yes, that is apparently possible) and delicious chocolate thing that Mary Lee had requested. Unfortunately Mary Lee herself was not able to have any as she can no longer properly swallow food.
Mary Lee was awake for a while (though apparently not able to open her eyes) but very uncomfortable and nobody was able to figure out for sure what the problem was: when asked whether she was in pain, for instance, she said no. She may simply have been thirsty: Laura moistened her mouth and that seemed to help. But she was still in some distress, and a nurse gave her a sedative after which she fell asleep – or something like sleep. I can’t always tell when drugs are involved. Also, she had been coughing, but not able to cough very well, so the staff got the irritating stuff out of her throat. After they were finished, various people sat with her and held her hand and spoke to her. Nobody knew whether she was listening, but then sounds get processed even during sleep.
I had assembled a slide show of photos contributed by Laura Rust, Nancy Woodman and Catherine Fitzsimmons, but since Mary Lee was unable to watch it I had it running on my laptop in the lounge, where we were based while small groups visited with Mary Lee in her room. You can see the dozen or so photos by going to www.flickr.com and typing “Mary Lee Coombs” (with or without the quotation marks) into the “Find a photo of...” box. Also, you can add your own photos by joining flickr (it’s free) and uploading photos and marking them public and tagging them with the tag MaryLeeCoombs. If you’re new to flickr it may take a bit of time for them to approve your photos as appropriate for public viewing, and you’ll also need to upload more than two or three photos in total (i.e. not necessarily just of Mary Lee) for them to take that look.
When the last people left, Mary Lee seemed to be sleeping soundly.