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Dec 5, 2006
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Thursday, October 4, 2007She Planned Her Last Breath
On Sunday, Sept. 23, after a painful, restless night, Lovelle decided it was almost time.
Swallowing was more painful than ever, like choking on broken glass or razor blades, she said. She had barely eaten in two weeks and started taking morphine to dull her pain.
She told family and friends to come Friday.
Lovelle sat on the foot of the bed, while 10 others gathered around. A photograph of Lovelle as a curly-haired 5-year-old stood on one bedside table; on the other was a glass tumbler containing the liquid medication along with a container of morphine and Lovelle's ever-present mug of Gatorade.
With some help, Lovelle yanked off her shoes and socks and slipped partway under the covers.
Eighmey stood by her bedside. He has attended more than three dozen deaths.
"Is this what you really want?"
"Actually, I'd like to go on partying," Lovelle replied, laughing before turning serious. "But yes."
"If you do take it, you will die."
Ever the detail person, she reminded him that she wanted her glasses and watch removed, "after I fall asleep."
Eighmey warned her that the clear liquid would taste bitter. She needn't gulp it. She would have about a minute and a half to get it down.
Lovelle dipped her right pinky into the glass and tasted.
"Yuck," she said. "That's why I need the Gatorade."
Holding the glass, Eighmey asked her again to affirm that this was her wish.
Yes, she replied.
Someone asked, "Can we have another hugging line?"
One by one, they came to the head of the bed for hugs and teary whispers.
"It's all right."
"Thank you for being my big sister."
"All the church is praying for you."
Lovelle was sitting up in bed, three pillows propping her up.
She held the glass tumbler in her right hand, raised it to her lips and drank. It was eight minutes after 5.
"Most godawful stuff I ever tasted in my life," she said, making a face before taking a sip of Gatorade and water.
She lay back and scrunched down under the covers, glasses still on to see her loved ones.
She reached for her mother, who leaned closer, then lay down next to Lovelle, stroking her hand.
"Are you OK, honey?"
"I'm fine, Mom."
"You're not sick?"
"No. I'm peaceful. It stopped raining, the sun's out. And I've had a wonderful day."
Her eyes closed.
"It's starting to hit me now."
For a while, no one moved or spoke, as Lovelle drifted into a coma. Then Lovelle's mom asked for a prayer. Others spoke up with prayers and memories, which prompted other stories.
Lovelle lay motionless but for the gentle rise and fall of her chest. Her heart slowed but didn't stop.
About an hour into the vigil, Lovelle's mom lit three white candles. "She's still with us," she said.
Hours passed. Eighmey was surprised how long she was lingering. But not her family.
"I hate to say this," one said with a smile, "but this is just like her."
"A little spitfire," agreed another.
"One last reminder that she's the one in control."
Jane O'Dell, a volunteer for Compassion & Choices, sat at Lovelle's bedside all evening, holding her right hand, whispering to her, monitoring her breathing and pulse.
About 10:30 p.m., more than five hours after she had taken the drug, O'Dell signaled that Lovelle's breathing had become shallower and more labored. Her pulse dropped, her skin turned pallid and her fingernails bluish. It was more than a minute between breaths.
Family and friends resumed their bedside vigil, and silence again fell over the room. Lovelle's chest stopped moving.
Eighmey leaned over at 10:42 p.m. and put his ear to her chest to listen for a heartbeat. He stepped back, shaking his head and spoke in a quiet voice.