Thursday, June 08, 2006

This is the coin.

They sat her up every morning at eight, put makeup on her face, and dressed her in a sweet pink bedjacket with lace around the collar. They begged her to eat, to get into a chair, to walk around the floor and go to the gift shop, even after she had a pathological fracture from the cancer that was eating her body from the inside out.

Her daughter dressed her in clothing that wouldn't reveal the mass that was growing on her side, a mark of the cancer that had come back, or the tubes that came out of each side of her chest to drain the fluid that was accumulating there.

We'd talked about hospice, but they wouldn't hear of it. Mom was going to get better, by God, and she'd have surgery to fix that arm, even after the orthopedic surgeon told them there was no chance of it healing.

Finally, after admissions at three different hospitals, they took her home. They'd heard the same thing at three different places. It was obvious there wasn't any hope, that her best chance at comfort was morphine in her own bed. All they'd let her have with us was ibuprofen. She hurt all the time.

She died the day after they left our floor.

***

They were both shocked when the doctors came in with the news: tests showed that he had, at most, a few hours to live. Life expectancy is funny that way: you can go from weeks to live to hours to live in almost no time.

Still, he wouldn't take morphine. Not because she wouldn't let him, but because (his words) he didn't want to lose the hours he had left. They'd been married forty years, and she'd been with him through all the important times, so he wanted to be with her now, when he was dying.

He lasted four and a half hours. They lay together on the bed, holding hands, talking about how wonderful their lives together had been. At the end, he got sleepy, so she cuddled his head into her shoulder and held him even after he'd stopped breathing.

This is the same coin, the coin that has hard-won, painful life on one side and a gentle death on the other. The one side is selfishness and pain, the other is acceptance and love.

These are the coins that we pay the ferryman with.

14 comments:

shrimplate said...

That was transcendently beautiful.

But I like it when you write about shoes, too.

Kate said...

What shrimplate said.

may said...

and the ferryman, is he happy? life is full of ironies. and you write about it with such ease...

Betty Sue said...

De-lurking to say, that was one of the most beautiful things I've read in a long time, and it made me cry.

Thanks - I enjoy your blog a lot.

Anonymous said...

We'd talked about hospice, but they wouldn't hear of it. Mom was going to get better, by God

Families...geez, when some of them get on the Good Ship Denial, it makes it all the more harder. God help them.

Sonic Nurse

Anonymous said...

Somehow, families think, that once they accept Hospice...that they are somehow speeding up the dying process, when in all actuality they are simply accepting that death is the ultimate end of life...and it should be peaceful.

Anonymous said...

Don't we as nurses live this each day.I know how true the sweet ones death is as my mom died here on hospice four yeaars ago and being a nurse 21 years I see way to many of the other type at work.

Anonymous said...

Beautiflly said. Thank goodness for nurses like you who are there in the hard times.

woolywoman said...

wicked good. Chills down the spine, little tears on the (usually bitter) nurse's cheek.

Anonymous said...

Said so eloquently...as only a nurse who has witnessed the events can write. I have seen the same and felt the same emotions.

Tiesha said...

Thank you for this post. I've been there with more than few patients over the course of my career. This kind of heartbreak, mixed emotions, and frustration never leaves us.
Thank you again for a beautiful post.

NPs Save Lives said...

That was a poignant post that really makes one think about end of life care and all the tragedies that we see as nurses/nurse practitioners.. Sigh!!!

Karen said...

Hmmm....Which side was which?

J. Dack said...

Amazing sentiment.