I had to attend the funeral of a dear friend, recently. I last heard from him the day before he died. This post is from a dear friend of mine. She is a phenomenal nurse. It touched me so much, I wanted to share and she gave me permission. It’s good reminder that even the smallest acts of kindness can make a huge difference. We tend to categorize our elderly into these “cantankerous”, grumpy “ol’ bats”. Perhaps they have a right to be grumpy. Perhaps we haven’t given them the respect they deserve. Perhaps if we were all just a little more patient. Perhaps we will soon be one of them.
I held a man as he died today. I wasn’t anticipating it. Yes, he was hospice, but he was stable. “Our Little Bump on a Log” I referred to him, as he lay day after day in his bed, expecting his coffee with 1/2 package of sugar and a little milk, ordering that his ice water be microwaved before he would drink it to take his meds. He was a cantankerous little thing, weighing barely 100 lbs as his shrinking frame occupied less space on his mattress. We talked as I set his tray up for breakfast this morning. Well, he talked. I yelled because he was pretty darned hard of hearing. “Oh good, you’re here,” he would say grumpily. “I’m glad someone knows what they’re doing around here.” I would just nod and smile as he lamented the incompetent staff. I’m pretty sure I only made the elite nursing list because I knew exactly how he liked his breakfast set up. He made me chuckle, and I appreciated that about him.
I wasn’t alarmed when the NA came to tell me Mr. P was having trouble breathing. He had done this before and the usual treatment of increasing the oxygen, giving him a nebulizer, and spending some time calming him down usually did the trick. I walked in to find him fighting for air, his breathing so labored he was unable to keep his mouth closed around the mouthpiece of the nebulizer. I tried to sit the head of his bed up, but he yelled at me, “Back down!” I frantically checked his electronic record to see if there was something else I could do. Morphine injection, great! As I ran to grab the medication, I felt relief that he might feel relief, that there was something I could do for him. As I inserted the needle, he grabbed my hand, his body stiffening. I looked at his face, my heart falling as I noticed his eyes begin to lose focus and his skin turn gray. Helplessness enveloped me as I watched his life slipping away with each struggling breath. I grabbed onto him, pulling him into me and talking into his ear, “I’m here. I’m here. You’re not alone.”
It wasn’t long before he was gone and a bit longer before I pulled myself together, wiping away the tears. I’m not sure why I felt so shaken. I was used to death, having worked as an oncology nurse for years. Maybe it was because I was used to the slow process of death–people slipping gradually into a coma, their breathing changing over hours and days. There was time to process and there was time to let go. In this case, It felt as if Mr. P had been ripped from this life and I held onto him, playing a tug-of-war with death.
I try to console myself…at least he went quickly, at least he didn’t have to linger, at least he got to have his blueberry pancakes for breakfast. At least he wasn’t alone.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.