Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 1091 - The Heart of Life


Shortly after publishing yesterday's blog entry, there was a "code red" at the Grand River Hospital. A code red indicates an emergency that could affect all staff and patients, something like a fire. At the GRH, this means shutting doors to all patient rooms, turning off systems like air conditioning, and posting an audible warning to everyone. After the warning was issued, it became eerily quiet. About ten minutes later, the code red was cancelled, doors opened, and the A/C was turned back on.

Less than 90 minutes later, there was a second code red. When it was cancelled, the nurses made the rounds of the rooms, opening doors and reassuring patients that all was under control. Except this time, as the nurse left my bedside, I heard an audible gasp, followed by commotion as other nurses and staff came into the room. My roommate had collapsed in the washroom.

It wasn't until 5:30 am, when I was awoken for a blood draw and to take some medication that I learned what happened. My roommate had died.

He and his wife knew death was coming very soon. But for my other roommate and me, it was hard news. Each of us are having a tough time. Each of us are dealing with a lot of pain and anxiety. But the bottom line is that his journey is over. We still have some steps to take.

This is the face of cancer death. This is what "do not resuscitate" looks like. For me personally, it was like a signature. Death will happen. It will not be pretty. But even so, there are still some decisions you can make now that will affect the course of an admittedly short time frame ahead.

Now that I and my family have agreed to stop chemotherapy and face the future at home, a lot of things are happening very quickly. There were meetings with oncologists, dieticians, social workers, home care coordinators, spiritual care providers, and pain management team members. There was removal of the PICC line. There were surveys (the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System), visits from family and friends, correspondence, phone calls, another "shower on a chair" and, thankfully, an abiding sense of composure about our decision.

More importantly, there were gifts, gifts of compassion and affection. How can I say this? Friends have written to me with personal thoughts sharing the gift of heartfelt expression, words that mean so much more than the words themselves. There were gifts of humour, jokes, stories about family members with similar journeys, reassurances that all will be well for my wife and sons when I am gone, and admiration - gifts that I can never hope to repay.

All I can say is "Thank you!"

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