Wednesday, September 13, 2006


While on my shift last night at the hospice (my first night shift), I witnessed one of the patients in the final throes of death. It came on suddenly (well, sort of), as the nurses told me that he had been up walking around earlier that day. He had eaten pork chops for lunch.

This guy is in bad shape, for a lot of reasons, and is suffering from severe dementia. He came in a few weeks ago, and he's always freaked me out a little. He's covered with sores, pretty incoherent, and has a tendency to scream and cry out a lot in his sleep, with a very loud and gruff voice. You can hear it all over the house.

Last night he awoke, in a panic, couldn't breathe, and his temperature had shot up to 106 degrees. Despite having 3 heavy blankets on him, and a space heater in his room, he was still freezing, his entire body convulsing uncontrollably from the cold. His room was a sauna already, but I got him another space heater from the closet and turned it on.

I met another volunteer there last night, who only comes in once a month. A pretty cute guy, gay, very friendly and sweet. So we'd been chatting in the dining room for awhile before this started happening. While the nurse on duty began calling for oxygen and for EMS, this other volunteer and I went in the patient's room to try to calm him a little.

At this point he was dispelling fluids (peeing on the floor) and spitting up, and I couldn't handle it. Somehow blood doesn't phase me in the least, but as soon as any kind of waste enters the picture, my stomach flips and goes in knots.

The patient began reaching for his Bible and at that point the other volunteer placed his hand on the patient's back, stood over him and began praying with him. Which calmed the patient considerably. I'm sure the 20 mg of morphine helped some too.

But the other volunteer was praying like he meant it. He invoked the whole Heavenly Father, Child of Jesus, ease this suffering, all that. I could tell it was from his heart.

Which really brings me to the whole point of this post, which is that it seems really sad to me that someone dying actually made me less uncomfortable than 2 people unabashedly invoking Jesus did. At that point, there didn't seem to be much more that I could do, and I quietly slipped out. I felt like I was trespassing a little, honestly, like my embarrasment was somehow a hindrance to this person's physical and spiritual comfort at that point.

Later on in the living room, I told the other volunteer that I really admired what he did in there, and that it had genuinely seemed to work, and calmed the patient down. He was very humble about it, and said he was in Divinity School and was thinking about entering the Seminary. Which led us to a long discussion of Catholicism versus other denominations, and sort of faith in general. I sat out on the porch later, smoking a cigarette, watching the rain pour down. It was an interesting night.

No comments: