Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

What he saw

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I don’t know what he saw. He was lying in the hospital bed that had been re-located into what was the living room, propped up on a few pillows. They oxygen tube had been removed as had all of the cancer fighting drugs. Pain control was what the hospice people offered on their daily visit, pain control and monitoring. But what is the use of monitoring if the battle is not to be fought? The battle, which he had not asked for but came upon him anyway, was deemed over and the patient had accepted that finding earlier while still lucid, signing forms indicating that he was no longer to receive any treatment. The body though and its autonomic reflexes had not seemed to have gotten the message as it continued to struggle for existence. After a few stroke-like events in his last days, I don’t think he was in there anymore and the vigil that was being maintained was over the flesh and not the person. The sound of each breath was wet as though he was sucking through a straw immersed in a glass of water, except each breath carried with it the sound of fluids sinking deeper and deeper into his lungs. Each breath was a struggle, each breath revealing that his lungs were becoming more and more congealed. He lay drowning in bed even though he had not been able to consume any fluids for days. This state had come upon him over a few weeks time, but had become much worse during his last. 

He was always with his glasses as his eyesight was fairly poor. His glasses were around somewhere but had faded from importance and had been placed to the side in moving from hospital for treatments to the nursing home for rehabilitation, and then one final trip to his home of over 40 years. For some reason that bothered me, I felt like he needed to be wearing his glasses to retain some semblance of who he was. He had stopped reading weeks earlier and he no longer needed his glasses now as he lay there in the bed. At times he reached out in front of him, plucking unknown somethings out of the air and placing them into his other hand. Keeping his hand cupped to make sure that his unseen treasure did not spill out. He made no eye contact and his eyes seemed out of focus, not fixing on any single point. The vision of what he was seeing, what he was reaching for with his unsteady hand, was not entering his oxygen starved brain through his eyes, but rather was being visualized through some other mechanism. Ice chips placed on his cracked lips was the only healing medicine he now consumed. How ironic that there was no medicine, no cure, no relief for a man that had spent his lifetime handing out medicine to bring relief to others.

The last time I saw him where he seemed more-or-less his normal self was at the nursing home about a week or so earlier. The days and weeks were becoming a blur one running into the next. I went over early, before the rest of the family and had stopped to get him a cup of coffee and a donut. He struggled to press the button that would allow the bed to move him into the sitting position. The act of pressing the button was exhausting, causing him to have to pause to recover. But he was eager to have some of the fresh coffee I had brought. He took one sip and then another and was done. He could not consume any more. He tried a small bite from the donut and forced it down, he did not take another. His body was already shutting down rejecting the need for fluids and food. We chatted mostly about nothing. As usual he asked about each family member and wanted to know how each was doing. He went through the checklist he maintained in his head making sure that he did not leave anyone off. He talked to me about going home and he was sure that he was about to go home even though the rehabilitation that was supposed to restore his ability to walk, lost to the radiation treatments, was having no effect. A day or so later when he was brought home, though his physical condition was steadily worsening, his mood noticeably brightened as he was back in his own space, his home. He knew, as we all did, that it would be for a relatively short period of time.

Once at home he had periods of lucidity interspersed with periods of only semi-lucidity. At times he recognized those gathered around at other times not. When lucid he asked each of present us how things were and when satisfied that all was well he lapsed back into near unconsciousness. As the days progressed he no longer had lucid periods.  I could not help but contemplate whether my genes fated me to this scene or a similar one or if I would meet my end in a different fashion. Only time will tell.

I went home for a few days and received a call that the end had come in my absence at around 2am. By 5am when I had covered the miles and arrived back at the house not only was the person gone but the flesh as well. I wondered in a tortured way if I should have stayed a few more days so I could have been there at the very end.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 8, 2009 at 11:16 am

Posted in Human Behavior

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