Sunday, February 6, 2011

Saying hello, saying goodbye...

I was called to the 8th floor to visit with a patient and his wife. The patient had terminal cancer in his abdomen and there was nothing else the doctors could do to treat. There were no illusions about how this was going to end. Pain management and comfort care was now the highest goal.

As I entered, I noticed the patient, sitting in the bedside chair, covered in cheap hospital blankets hiccuping every second. Like clockwork, he hiccuped and took shallow breaths as he could. His wife sat on the bed edge holding his hand with the resolution of never letting go, as if she were holding her own source of life.

The patient could hardly speak. Somewhere between a whisper and a scratchy growl, his words came out faint and sincere. "I woke up this morning, and said to myself, 'I'm ready to go.'" I sat with them and listened. He expressed no qualms about death. "I'm ready to die. Not tomorrow, not in 10 minutes, now," he said while his wife could hardly keep a dry tissue for all her tears.

He was ready to say "hello" to God.

Turning to her, we discussed how difficult it is for her to be in that room. Watching her husband, suffering from unrelenting torturous hiccups, stomach pain from the cancer, and his body deteriorating, she also expressed that she wouldn't be anywhere else.

They talked about their life together and their journey through medical diagnoses and cancer treatments. She, always by his side, understood his readiness to pass from this life into death but could not ignore her own desire to keep her husband with her just a little longer. "I'm ready for it,....I'm just not know?" she said to me, with tear-filled eyes shimmering under florescent lights.

She was saying "goodbye."

I sat, and I witnessed this heart breaking and beautiful scene. Both were present with each other and at the same time present with themselves. He was in pain and wanted it to end, the only way left to him was to die. He also hurt in the thought of leaving behind his bride. She was terrified for her husband to be gone from her sight, and yet understood that his only release from suffering would come in the form of death.

It was a tender moment. My heart goes out to them both as they each make this transition, together and separately. One saying, "hello," the other saying, "goodbye."


Erin Miller said...

aaah. You are back.

Audrey said...

How do you write like that, in a way that can describe this precious scene and bring tears to the eye?

Nathan said...

Thanks Audrey for your kind words. I can only write like this when I have tears in my own eyes.