Thursday, October 20, 2011
In Living and in Dying
I tentatively entered room 314 and introduced myself as I was directed by the charge nurse one day nearing the end of my student placement. I continued to do the things that I normally would do for the patients and families I had been working with. I brought a selection of music to soothe weary souls, I sat with patients as phone calls were made, coffee was consumed and as loved ones came and went. On this day, a family had specifically requested my services.
Their beloved husband, father and friend had slipped peacefully into a coma a few days prior and his breathing became very slow and laboured. There were long gaps between his breaths and a wheezy rattle escaped as the air moved in and out of his fluid filled lungs. I knew this to be called cheyne-Stokes respiration, a sign that the end was near.
Over the course of the day more and more family members joined his bedside. I backed out affording them privacy returning every few hours to see if there was anything anyone needed. On one visit, the family asked me to stay as they felt he was about to depart from this world. I stood quietly at the back of the room and was overcome by a rush of emotion.
I felt a panic that was difficult to suppress. The rising tension in me was ever so slowly replaced by a feeling of love and joy that was so powerful it almost set me off balance. The energy in the room was palpable. Each family member shared their story of connection to him and how he enriched their lives. They told stories that evoked laugther, tears, and a world of emotion. They expressed their gratitude for the ways he loved, challenged, and supported them and gave him permission to leave this world.
As I stood there moved by the stories, if felt as though every bit of air was sucked from my lungs. The love and connection in the room was so powerful I felt like I was lifted back in time to a moment when I had felt a similar energy. It was the moment my first child announced her entry into the world with a mighty cry.
It would take me many opportunities of reflection for me to understand how I could possibly have had the same feelings evoked when a life began as when a life ended. In both examples everyone was united in love, faith and hope. In that very moment as I stood quietly in the back of room 314, life and death became one for me.