Friday, April 20, 2012

Swan Song

He rushed out of the elevator bank and made a b-line to the first patient room at the edge of the nursing station. His smart clothing and athletic build did little to portray his age. He looked about sixty, at least one or two decades younger then reality. We had discussed, plotted, and strategized in the past. But this morning he didn't even notice me buried under the weight of a computer screen. He was a thousand miles away.

I continued with the clean, unemotional tone of the note that I was writing. I thought I would give him a few moments alone.

I was called by the nursing staff at approximately 6am to evaluate for obtundation. Patient was unresponsive to voice or stimulation. Breath and heart tones were absent.

I marveled at how plain the words could be. How the last markings on the chart could be so similar for each patient who passed. We all live such varied lives. Yet we all die the same. Every chart is buffed and polished with the same cold, objective wording. I pulled away from the computer screen and ambled over to the door. I waited before entering.

His movements were jerky and unnatural. He bounced around the room picking through her belongings and stuffing occasional articles in a shopping bag. He had planned for this moment. He watched the months slip by as her condition worsened. Death hovered at her bedside in continuous battle. She finally waved the white flag.

I entered and put my hand on his shoulder. There was no place for words. I slipped the bag out of his hand and walked him over to a chair adjacent the hospital bed. He sat for a time by his wife's body. But both of us new that her essence was gone. Only inanimate limbs and tissue remained.

After a few minutes he got up and left the room. He would make funeral arrangements and call family.

His companion of sixty years was gone. Everything in his life had changed. But in the end he had no choice.

He would reenter the world of the living.

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