Friday, May 3, 2013

So long, my friend

They warned me when I started this job that there are certain patients you will become more attached to. They warned me to make sure and take care of myself because sometimes these losses will hurt more than others and will stay with you. I've been in the shadow of death before, just not as I fully embraced this path as a professional, dedicated to walk this journey with those who are dying.

I met you while I was on orientation, though I don't think you realized it yet. You had only visited us a few times at that point, so it was all new and overwhelming to you. You were just one of many until that day you were cold. You were so cold that your entire body shook, and your fever climbed, and it was rapidly clear to all of us that you were not cold but reacting, badly. Trying to help you get stable that day pulled at my heart. Telling you that you were not driving home, whether you wanted to or not made your strength and determination shine through. The look of love, devotion and terror on your wife's face when she came to pick you up endeared you to me, to see her love and her heart breaking as you struggled.

Quickly, you became a regular, coming to see us three times a week for life sustaining blood products. Most days your visits were short. Sometomes you spent all day with us. Each time, you wanted tomato juice because nothing else tasted at all to you anymore. On New Year's Eve, you remained in good spirits, but made it very clear that you had to leave in time to cook surf and turf for you beloved. Those lobsters weren't going to cook themselves, you insisted.

You spoke of hope, of your wife, of your children, of vitality and overocming. Only in whispers did you ever give credence to what lurked underneath. Once you told me that the doctors had told you the cancer had stopped responding to any medications. You still took them, but you continued to come to see us as well. You talked of your two children, of the joy that day so long ago that you were called to drive to Ohio and pick up your baby son, after years of longing to be a father. In your words and your devotion, love shown through.

You talked of your youth and how you played basketball on a community team. When you saw an old basketball competitor, you took time after your own visit to sit with him, to comfort him as cancer wracked his body so horribly but not his mind. You saw beyond what life had given him and were simply an old friend until he too was ready to go that day. When he died, you were the one to tell us, having read it faster in the paper than we did.

All of that time, I knew what your chart said. I never let your records guide me, but I knew what the end would be. I knew that all of that vitatlity would not battle this disease tearing down your body. I knew eventually I would have to say good-bye, no matter how much you brightened my day when you came. Knowing you would come, and we would laugh, and when I showed concern you would repsond by standing up and trying to dance helped pass my days. Knowing that I could give you something precious, compassion, support, comfort was enough. I knew when it was your season it would hurt. I knew you were my first patient to be atached to. I wasn't the only one attached to you. It was hard to not when you light up our clinic with your smile and your gentle ways.

The lesions came and I knew goodbye was getting closer. I knew those lesions came from a complete shut down of an immune system. You sought a second opinion and they told you what I already knew, there was no hope for something more. Still, you continued to come, to act as if this was temporary and it would be over soon. Then, the lesions grew and more come. You often came with bruises covering your body and I cringed to know that to give you life sustaining blood, I also had to hurt you.

There was a day our assistant walked into the office and commented that she could no wait until you were better and didn't have to come so often anymore. I pointed out that your ending was not going to be with getting better but passing from this life and she recoiled. I knew from the very beginning that you were one who would not get better. I knew, as I told her that day, that our job is not always to get you better. Sometimes we simply make sure we make your life better every moment we are called upon to support you. Sometimes that has to be enough.

You made an appointment for a third opinion, and I knew in my heart that it would not be any better than the other choices. So, it was no surprise this week to be told you have moved to hospice. Hospice will not pay for the palliative treatments of blood products. Blood is not merely palliative but life-sustaining. It just doens't cure but it prolongs. Hospice will not pay for you to return to us, so you pass from the season where our paths cross to your last journey without the chance to say good-bye and to give you one hug.

Thus, I carry your memorty with me, my friend. So long, my friend. It has been a pleasure and privilege to hold your hand. It has been a blessing to stand with you, to make these months of your life more comfortable and attainable. My prayer for you is that your passing will be without suffering and surrounded by those who love you as much as you have shown that you love them. With them, your memory will be eternal. I will open my clinic doors tomorrow and another soul will greet me in your place. They will require the minstration and attention that I poured into you, and I will soothe their suffering as I did yours. May your memory be eternal, my friend. You will be missed by so many, mine is but a small voice that says good-bye.

No comments:

Post a Comment