Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ain't no angel gonna greet me

The director of Doug's House, the AIDS hospice where I've been working, just called to tell me that the patient I've been caring for the last couple of weeks passed away this morning. I'll call him B. He was 35, and even up to the end, retained a sense of humor about it all, teasing the nurses and while watching the Dukes of Hazzard on television, talked about how stupid it was.

The director expressed her gratitude toward me, told me that B. liked me, and that I had a gentle spirit with him. Maybe they say that to all the volunteers.

B. was sort of a tough cookie. He's been on the brink of death for at least 3 weeks now, and should, theoretically, have been in a comatose state. But the way it was explained to me was that he had so much anxiety coursing through him, that it was literally keeping his body going. While I was taking care of him, he would want to watch television, but would start to doze off, and decide he wanted to lay on the couch. So I'd go through the motions of getting him out of his wheelchair, lift him onto the couch and help him get comfortable. Then about 5 minutes later he would decide he wanted to go to his bedroom and lie down in his bed. So I'd help him up, get him into the wheelchair, wheel him into his bedroom, get him back out of the wheelchair, and comfortable on his bed. At about which time he'd decide he needed to use the bathroom. So I'd help him to the bathroom, then back to his bedroom, back onto the bed, for about 10 minutes of sleep. When he would then wake up, and want to go back to the living room, and the whole cycle would start all over again. And I'm not exaggerating.

Being in that environment on a fairly regular basis certainly puts things in your own life in perspective. Which is one reason I selfishly chose to do this. I want to do good things for mankind, and I do genuinely care about these people, but it's also a good way to keep your own pain and suffering in check. Most of these people (aside from dying in a long, drawn-out and excrutiating manner that not only steals your physical faculties but your mental ones as well) have lost everything. Not a single one of the people I've taken care of there (all 3 of which are now dead) had more than maybe 2 visitors, tops, that ever came to see them. And it was never parents or friends or long-term lovers. It was a sister, a cousin, maybe one child out of the 3 that still spoke to them. And tellingly, the visitors are always females, never men. The last day that I sat with B., he was waiting all afternoon for some cousin to show up, and when I left at 5, she still hadn't arrived, even after calling for directions almost 3 hours prior to that. Maybe she came that night, I don't know.

I don't know if it's just the facing down of death that scares people away, or if it's AIDS in particular that people are afraid of. Like, by being in the same room, or touching someone that has it, they're going to catch it. Maybe they're just afraid of catching death in general. Maybe they can't stand to see the people they love wasting away to nothing before they do. Maybe in their eyes, the person is already dead. It makes me really fucking angry to even be writing this. In the specter of death you realize how fucking cowardly and selfish most people are. Which I guess is ultimately why we all die alone. Like the Death Cab song says, "Love is watching someone die/ who's gonna watch you die?" It's true. It's painful on both a personal and spiritual level. It's hard for me to watch these people suffer and die, and I really feel it, and I don't even know them, not really. I didn't know them before, as functional, independent people who had jobs and friends, and lovers and apartments and pets, and interests and who told jokes and went to parties and traveled and everything else that people do.

I had a shift with B. scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. I knew that since I'm leaving town on Friday it was probably going to be the last time I saw him. He'd grown on me already and I was looking forward to seeing him one last time. He was incredibly sweet.


Stacy_Storie said...

Thanks for being there for him and all the others there. They need courageous gentle souls, a rare one, you are.

karen said...

I know he appreciated having you there. Sometimes it's easier to be there for those we haven't known and loved our whole lives, because it's not as complicated.
I'm sure they can't express it, but I'll bet his family members and friends would be happy to know that he had someone like you caring for him in his last days too.