I’ve been feeling lately like I have less and less to smile about. It’s been kind of a rough year and a half for me, marked with personal issues, family illnesses and the loss of a few good friends. Seems like one thing after another has gone wrong, with a few exceptions.
Now before someone out there calls for my pink slipping, I’m not that far gone. I have two beautiful children who are the reason that I get up in the morning. I have amazing friends who never cease to amaze me. I have a job that for the most part I love. I have school, thanks to ya’ll.
I am able to see the good in my life. I really am. I’m just… Good God am I stressed.
I was talking to a friend about “going to my happy place” yesterday… He asked, quite seriously, if my happy place was some island down in the Bahamas with a chair on the beach and a drink with an umbrella in it in my hand. Oddly enough, it’s not.
Although… That does sound pretty damn good.
My happy place (figuratively) is my Grandparents farm about 25 years ago.
There is nothing more enticing to an eight-year-old timid country girl than a hopper wagon filled with just picked soybeans. I remember waiting for my Dad and Uncle to head back out to the field before sneaking up the skinny ladder on the side and climbing in with my cousins. I can still feel the sensation of sinking a foot or so down and the way they’d slip through my fingertips as I’d attempt to “swim” through them. When we’d climb out, either on our own or under the irritated eye of our Dads (we weren’t supposed to be playing in the beans), they’d fall out of our clothes by the handful.
My Grandparents farm wasn’t a working farm as most people think of them… In the place of cows, chickens and horses were tractors. My grandparents were the proud owners of a tractor dealership. As a kid who spent most of her time playing with Barbie dolls or playing ball in the alley next to my house with the girl down the street, the opportunities for adventure on a farm were endless. Add a few cousins into the mix and not only were the opportunities endless, but the chance of me ending up grounded grew exponentially.
My cousins might have been a bad influence on me… Just saying.
I’m getting off track here. My apologies.
Some of my favorite memories are of time spent on that farm. Grounded or not. That’s my happy place.
Two words interrupted by an attempt to catch his breath.
The elderly man sat in an old threadbare recliner leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. I couldn’t see his face, just a head full of thick white hair. His son had called the hospice nurse when he realized that Dad couldn’t catch his breath. The hospice nurse called us.
Our patient was dying, and he knew it. The effects of COPD and cancer had left their mark both on him and the house he was living in. Portable O2 tanks were everywhere. What seemed like a country mile of oxygen tubing snaked through the living room, into the kitchen, down the hallway and ended in his bedroom, hooked up to his own concentrator. A hospital bed had replaced the bed he and his recently deceased wife had slept in for over fifty years. Syringes filled with Roxanol lay scattered amongst the thirty or so pill bottles on the counter top in the kitchen.
“No apologies, Mr. Allen, it’s our job.” I reached blindly into the large blue airway bag sitting next to me and produced a non-rebreather mask.
Joe started shaking his head. “No… No… Oxygen.” I didn’t need a pulse oximeter or a stethoscope to know that this man looked awful. His lips and fingers were already taking on that ugly cyan color, the effect of poor oxygenation. He sounded like an old percolating coffee pot and could be heard from the other side of the room.
“Dad, for the Christ’s sake, put the goddamned oxygen on, will ya?” His son stood nearby rubbing his eyes, reminding me of an exasperated parent at his wits end. Being a full time caregiver to a terminally ill parent has got to be one of the most exhausting jobs in the world.
“NO… no. Don’t… wantit.”
I knelt down next to his recliner and put my hand on his shaky arm. “Sir, I have to ask you a few questions. One word answers, okay?” The truth is I didn’t want him speaking at all, but my critical thinking skills were less than stellar that day and I couldn’t come up with any other way to judge his mental status. “Joe, Mr. Allen, what day is it?”
“Tuesday,” he answered instantly.
“Very good. Do you know who the President is?”
“O..Obama.” He answered slowly. At that moment he looked up at me and I saw tired, desperate blue eyes.
“Mr. Allen, do you know where I’m supposed to take you?”
He nodded slowly and whispered the word “Hospice”.
Good enough for me.
“No…more…oxygen.” He begged.
“No more oxygen.” I replied, rubbing his hand.
“What the hell do you mean, No more oxygen? Dad, you NEED it!” He turned towards me and unleashed. “You put that mask on him right now, you’re killing him.” I felt like he had punched me right in the stomach. He had all but abandoned his roll of wallflower and was moving towards becoming frantic. “Dad… You know what’s going to happen if you don’t fight? You’re going to die!”
He was right. He knew it. He wasn’t ready for that to happen, and I couldn’t blame him.
As if on cue, J, my partner for the shift (who I’m quickly becoming attached to, it’ll be a dark day when he leaves me!) walked in with the Hospice Nurse, Amy. One of my favorite nurses, by the way, because of the way she’s able to talk sense to family members unwilling to let go while simultaneously calming the patient. She was exactly what was needed at that point. She was a God send. If I ever become a nurse, I’d be lucky to have half her skill.
These Hospice Nurses are absolute angels, folks. Know that.
Amy worked her magic. Joe (as he insisted I call him) was now on a stretcher in the back of my truck, albeit without supplemental oxygen. I sat on the bench next to him, DNR paperwork at my side.
His son, who I’m pretty sure wasn’t very happy with me, followed closely (too closely at times) behind in his truck.
Amy followed him as we made the ten mile drive to the inpatient facility.
Joe was quickly going downhill, and while he seemed to be extremely comfortable with this fact, I was slightly less than calm while sitting in the back of an overheated ambulance and watching someone actively die again. In my head I knew it was what he wanted. That made things a easier for me. Still, I was sitting there, knowing there were at least a few ways I could (at least in theory) help my patient. Even if it meant that meant I was prolonging his death. At that point I wasn’t sure that he was going to make it to the facility and I really didn’t want him dying without his Son at his side.
Then he said it.
“Jeannie… get yer… ass in… here. The… dishes… need… warshin!!!”
And I knew immediately that he was in his happy place. I knew it. He continued to bitch at his dead wife from the back of my truck for four bumpy miles. He held on for almost a day and a half, and died with his Son, Daughter-in-law and two grandkids at his side.
On his terms. With no oxygen.