Life is so fleeting and fragile. Cherish it.
Have you ever seen a person pass away in front of your very eyes?
It wasn’t a violent death nor an accidental one but still, it was unexpected because of the very fact that he was talking to you and moving about in bed and the next thing you knew, a couple of hours later when you walk in and see him unresponsive and gasping for air until eventually his heart stops beating.
As this sweet old semi-confused man lay there with agonal breathing, I tried calling out his name and stood there transfixed and in a daze. I knew he was a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) but all my nurse’s instincts were telling me to do something, to save him! No, it wasn’t his time yet, not on my watch. I checked his vital signs. They were all normal except for the temperature which wouldn’t register orally. I looked at him, he was the color of death and his feeble lips were still moving, trying to breathe. I knew I was in denial when I still attempted to check his temperature in his axilla while at the same time calling my charge nurse to come quick. His bony fingers were cold and his lips were grey. He was fading away fast. The monitor tech told me he still had a heart rhythm but an irregular one at that. I couldn’t feel a pulse nor hear a heart beat. The charge nurse and supervisor who came up a few minutes later confirmed that too. He literally stopped breathing and died in front of us. He then flatlined on the monitor. A doctor came up to pronounce the time of death.
My hands were as cold as his as I was trying to wrap my head around what just happened. No codes, no heroic measures. At least, we left his thin fragile and disease ravaged body intact and not be on life support. He surely knew what he wanted!
I was so relieved the doctor called the family. This task I really hated doing. How can you ever deliver such news? I never really knew how to say the right words.
As I went about doing other things, I can still hear his soft voice as he was consciously yet weakly talking to me earlier during the night, asking to be covered up because he was too cold or for a sip of water. And he never failed to say thank you every time. He got more and more restless and anxious as the night wore on. As if he knew death was coming, kept telling me “I am dying, call the doctor.”
The only thing I did to comfort him was to give him some mild pain reliever and an anti-emetic that were ordered because he also felt nauseous. I tried to reposition him and put his covers on or off as he requested. He was feeling hot and cold at the same time. He was just restless. He would quiet down and lay still for a few minutes and then he would pick at his hospital gown again.
I wonder if he really knew he was dying. I wonder what his last thoughts were. I wonder if he was afraid. I wonder if he was ready.
As my co-workers were being supportive and empathetic towards me, I kept my calm and held myself together. I was too busy to break down at this time. The more I did other nursing stuff, the more I couldn’t think about it. But at the same time, I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to relieve the pressure and burden. I wanted to cry.
Surprisingly, I didn’t cry. Even when I talked to my husband about it when I got home from work. Even when I had a good long hot shower. Even when I was getting ready to sleep.
Later that day, I still felt full inside and just about ready to burst. So I did yoga. When it was time for Savasana (interestingly enough, this is known as the corpse pose), I mentally let my mind float through the days’ events and at the same time trying to still my thoughts, that was when the flood gate of tears opened and in the silence of my living room, I cried my heart out. I cried for this poor old man who died without his family beside him. I cried because I could have done more to provide comfort to him. I cried because I couldn’t do anything about it. I cried because I can still see his face. I cried because I wasn’t expecting him to die that night. I cried because I just had to.
Nursing is a tough job.