Thursday, February 10, 2011

All I can do.

The elevator is full when I get on in the parking garage. It had stopped at the first floor, people got on and rode it down to the basement.

We get to the first, it stops again but those who were waiting are already on.

We move to two. Stop. No one gets on.

We move up to three. Our nurse G. is standing there with T, the man I wrote about before Christmas who has cancer and went horse-back riding.

G. sees me and says, "Oh Louise. I just left a message for you on your phone." And she motions to me with her hand to get off the elevator.

I look at T. He doesn't look well. I get off.

"I've just called an Ambulance for T," G. says. "We have to send him back to hospital."

He'd been in hospital two weeks before. Spent three days and got out. But he's been failing fast.

I look at T. "You look kind of scared," I say.

"I am," he whispers back. He reminds me of a little boy. A child. In that moment of hearing those painful words, "We're getting a divorce." or, "You can't go to camp this year. We can't afford it." Or, "Mommy has to go away for awhile."

A little boy who didn't really know what was happening. All he knew was, it was scary.

I gave him a hug. "I'll drop up to see you later today," I said.

I ride down to the first floor to meet the ambulance with them then carry on back up to the sixth. I walk into the Program Director's office and the talk is of hospice care and next steps. Of living wills and My Voice documents.

I don't want to listen.

T wants to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. A young woman volunteer bought him a ticket for Christmas. Four days at Mardi Gras.

I've been working on finding a corporate jet to take him for a one day trip. There in the morning. Back at night.

I don't want to think about his not being able to go.

But I must.

Another staff member goes to see him in the early afternoon.

"He's agreed to change his My Voice to include hospice care," my colleague tells me.

I am relieved. T needs options. This is a good one.

"He's asked if you will bring him a quart of Homo Milk when you go to see him," my colleague says. "He gave me money to give you."

I take the money. I don't want to. But I know T. Pride is important.

I reorganize my schedule later in the day. My five o'clock meeting can be handled by someone else. I leave, stop for milk and walk into the Emergency where T. is still waiting to hear what the medical team have decided is his next step on this journey.

He's lying in a cubicle, curtains drawn, lips drawn parallel. A thin line behind his beard.

"How are you doing?" I ask when I walk in.

"How do you think?" he replies. "I'm in this place."

"Yeah. Guess that answers my question. I brought your milk. Would you like a glass?"

He shakes his head no.

I pull up a chair and sit beside him. Reach for his hand. He is skin and bones. 111 pounds. There's an IV needle piercing his skin, connected to tubing, flowing into an apparatus that pumps fluid and antibiotic into his veins.

His hand is warm.

Really warm. There's an infection running rampant in his body.

"So, looks like New Orleans is out of the question," he says.

"I like to think we play it one day at a time right now," I reply.

I don't want to tell him about the possibility of a one day flight. I don't want to give him false hope.

"Yeah. One day at a time."

I sit and T doses.

"I don't mean to be a party pooper," he says in a moment of wakefulness.

"You're not," I reply. "I'm perfectly content to sit here while you sleep. It's exactly where I want to be right in this moment."

He squeezes my hand. Falls back to sleep.

And so the evening goes. He drifts in and out of sleep. I sit and watch and listen to the world outside the cubicle where he lies so still.

I have my journal with me. I pull it out of my purse. Begin to write.

I want to capture every moment. Nuance. This time. these moments. Capture them and hold them still. These are his moments. His. I don't want them to slip away. Undetected. Unnoticed.

Sitting in the Emerg. T lying on a gurney. Cubicle. Curtains drawn. Waiting. Fearful. The unknown present amidst the beeping aparatus and tubes and needles.

Outside the cubicle. footsteps. Noise. Voices.

Clacking of a cart.

Rubber soled shoes squishing by.

A voice. Male. Do you need an assessment on those TAs?

Another voice. Female. He's getting up now. On his own. Doing better.

Voice. Male. I spoke with the Endro doc. He'll take a look at it this evening.

Other voices. Disembodied. Echoing through the halls.

The sound of paper rustling.

Hum of the airvac. Constant noise.

Beep. Beep of a machine.

Somewhere a pen drops. Scuff of a shoe. A voice. Argh. Pain. Quiet voices. Murmurs.

A moment of stillness. Fleeting.

T lies quietly. Drifting in and out of sleep.

He stirs. Opens his eyes. Looks at me. "You still here," he asks.

"Do you want me to go?"


"Good. Because here is exactly where I want to be."

He smiles. I can tell it's a smile. The corners of his moustache lift up.

"You sure will go to great lengths to avoid a haircut and shave," I joke.

He laughs. "Yeah."

He was going to have a haircut and shave today. His ginger, streaked with white and grey moustache and beard are scruffy. His hair is matted. He's been losing. Hope. Weight. the will to live. The ability to take care of himself.

"Maybe they'll come here to give me one," he says.

"Maybe they will," I reply.

He closes his eyes. Drifts back to sleep.

I continue writing.

down the hall, a baby's voice. A gurgle. Cough. A poignant cry.

Louder. Two. three. Four cries.

Sound of a page of paper being lifted. Turned over. put down.

A drawer opens.

Rattling of dishes.

Water running in a sink.

The babies cry grows stronger. Pain.


and death.

T sleeping.

And dying.

In a place where doctors and nurses fight to save lives.

There is little they can do for T.

I sit. Waiting. new turf. Unknown territory.

There it is again. That word. Territory.

Here. A land of different territory. Terrain. Space.

I look around the cubicle.

T lying on the gurney. white sheet beneath him. White pillow case. head of bed slightly raised.

His body is covered in two flannel sheets. Doubled over. White. Three blue stripes line their edge. Narrow. Wide. Narrow.

Oceans. Seas. Voyages. Distant places.

"I wish I'd gone to Europe," T once told me. "I always wanted to."

He was supposed to go to New Orleans. I want to make it happen. I want him to go.

I look at his frail body lying there so still.

I don't see how he can.

Intercom chatters to life. Emergency physician call 313 for Radiology Consult.

Chair squeaks.

Voice on phone. Female.

Is she violent?


Oh. She wasn't here. I wonder what's happening?

More voices. Distant. Muffled.

More papers rustling.

Movement. Constant noise.

And still Terry sleeps.

And still I sit and wait.

It is all I can do. To sit here and wait and let him know, He is not alone.

Not alone in all of this.

Not alone in dying. It is what he fears most.

I want to help alleviate his fear.

It is the least that I can do.

A burst of laughter. Someone coughs. A cry. Pain. Fear. I wonder.

Voices talk of everyday things. A cart rolls by. Loud. Wheels grinding as it rolls past.

I sit and wait.

It is all I can do.

It doesn't feel like enough.

Yet, it must be. Enough.



Hope said...

the waiting...
that moment when the pendulum is gearing up to shift directions or so it seems. that's the hardest.

my thoughts and prayers are with you and T. Louise

trisha said...

it takes so much courage to be with someone who is passing away.

they need this love so much yet only very brave persons can offer it.

this is why i truly admire mother teresa and you.

katdish said...

Thank you for being there for him. It may not seem like enough, but it's a beautiful gift to give another person. The gift of your presence.

Maureen said...

Feel as though I'm there with you, your words hit home.

You give what otherwise is wanting, and what you give - being there - is big and full of grace and love.


Joyceann Wycoff said...

waiting, feeling the dwindling.
waiting, knowing there is no other gift
just the waiting.

you inspire me always.

S. Etole said...

there really is no greater gift than to give in this way of love ...

nance marie said...

is beautiful

into new

walking through
the valley
of the shadow of death

that is our life
we live it in the shadow
of death.

and you
open your heart
for others

that is the kind of
Love that Jesus
speaks of

JTS said...

It may not feel like enough, but in reality - his reality - it is so very much. Isn't that what really any of us would most long for... that we don't have to face the ending all alone? You are a wonderful friend to T, the very best of friends. If he doesn't make it to Mardi Gras in this lifetime, he will get there soon enough. :-)

Brandi said...

Oh my heart! You sweet, wonderful, amazing woman. I cried as I read this - is it SO more than enough, I hope you recognize that.

Hugs and prayers for both of you.

M.L. Gallagher said...

thank you everyone. Your words are music to my heart, they give me wings.

I visited with T tonight. he was in better spirits. I told him I knew he was feeling better, he was almost grumpy :)

I also told him all sorts of people he didn't know were wishing him well on his journey.

He almost cried.

Thank you everyone.

You make my enough even better!


Fi said...


You are pure gold, a truly inspirational person.

Those of us that have been touched by your specialness are truly blessed.

T is very lucky to have someone like you to care.

hugs, Fi