Finding Meaning at the End of a Chaotic Day
It was late. I don't really remember the hour but I know that as I was wheeling the Bipap back to the department from the ER, down a side hallway that wasn't lit up because it was the weekend, and only staff uses that hallway on the weekend. I looked out the glass doors that lead to the precious outside world and saw that it was dark, as it was when I arrived at work that morning, 14 hours before. That was where I saw her standing in the shadow of a dimly lit exit sign, looking out at the parking lot and the stars above it.
I recognized her. A short woman of about 80. Silver grey hair, wire-rimmed glasses around brown eyes. I had seen her in her husband's room over the past few weeks, always by his side as he grew weaker and weaker with each passing day. (COPD is a progressive disease and, though it can be controlled, it does not get better. Eventually you run out of air.) A few days before, I had to give his treatments with a mask because he was too weak to hold the neb. Earlier that afternoon we had D/C'd his treatments as he had expressed his wishes to go home on hospice the next morning so that he could die at home.
"Hello!" I said, trying to act cheerful, though I felt anything but. It had been one hell of a shift. Two babies, one RSV kid, a code blue and one therapist trying to squeeze 20 nebs in between all the chaos. I was wiped out, hungry and hadn't seen my kids all day. I just wanted to go home.
"He has decided to go home," she tells me between tears, "It was his decision; it is what he wants." She told me they recently celebrated 60 years together. All of their five children and their families, which included untold legions of grandchildren and great grandchildren, came to help them celebrate. She said they will always have that memory.
She told me how excited he was to get home and see his dog, a beagle, who has howled for him non-stop since he went to the hospital a few weeks ago and hadn't been back since. "He is going to die at home," she told me, tears framing her eyes. "The doctor said he has one to two weeks, maybe less, and he wants to die at home."
I told her I wished that there was something I could do. She said I could give her a hug.
When I got home my kids were sleeping, so I kissed them all on their cheeks and ate some cold pizza that I never thought could taste so good. I held my wife and told her I loved her. I told her I had a good shift. 14 hours well spent.