Thursday, January 15, 2015

Death and Taxes ...

So I was listening to This American Life today ... that's my new thing ... and I came across an episode called "Death and Taxes."  The theme of the episode was dealing with things that are inevitable ... i.e., death and taxes.

There was a story in the episode about a woman who was dealing with the death of her step-father ... who she helped take care of through home hospice.  She ended up going to a hospice center to talk to the nurses to try to get closure about the experience and to find out if her experience was the norm.

Listening to it was hard.  So much of the story shadowed my own.  Sitting with someone during their last days ... listening to their worries ... trying to make them comfortable.  And listening to the nurses and their stories, I found myself remembering our hospice nurse, Billy.  He was just so ... kind.  He didn't lie ... he didn't sugar coat ... but even so, he was kind.

My strongest memory of Billy is probably the last day he came to the house.  He and Dad were siting in the living room and I was standing at the breakfast bar in the kitchen.  They could see me ... and I could see them ... but I was very much "outside" their conversation, if that makes sense.  Billy was taking Dad's vitals ... and they were just talking small talk.  Nothing important or notable ...

Until Dad said, "What if I don't die?"  Billy looked up from the blood pressure cuff and looked a little startled.  "What do you mean?"  "What if I don't die like you expect me to.  Everyone is expecting me to die ... what happens when I prove you wrong and I don't die?"  Billy smiled ... it wasn't condescending or mean.  I suppose it was a little sad ... although maybe I'm projecting my emotions into it. 

But he smiled and said, "Well, Sarge ... in you're still with us in six months, we re-evaluate your case.  They'd probably do more tests ... see if your heart function has improved.  But ... you know that's not going to happen ... right?"  My Dad teared up.  My Dad ... the ex-Marine ... teared up and said, "I'm not ready to go."  Billy nodded.

I felt embarrassed ... like I was eavesdropping on a private conversation that I was never supposed to hear.   Part of me wanted to walk in and lie and hug Dad and tell him everything was going to be alright.  Part of me wanted to stand there quietly and let Billy fix everything.   I'm a coward ... I did the latter.

Billy said everything he should say ... comforting things like everyone has their time ... and Dad wouldn't go until it was his time ... and maybe Dad would be there in six months ... maybe he wouldn't ... but he would be there to make sure Dad wasn't hurting.

That was on a Friday afternoon.  Sad died Sunday night.  There was a different hospice nurse on call that weekend ... and I talked to her a half dozen times ... asking what medicines to give him and how to handle different things.  She was so kind and sweet ... and her voice and confident instruction was probably the only thing that kept me sane those 48 hours.

Billy never got to come back.   I wish I'd had the chance to thank him for that day ... the day he comforted Dad.  So since I can't tell it to him ... I'll just say thank you to all the hospice nurses out there.  You're doing a job that's incredibly hard and incredibly important ... and you're very, very appreciated.

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