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The Last Act

18th March 2007 by Arrow Durfee Posted in Uncategorized

I pay tribute to those who have died under my care in the free standing hospice that I work in. I honor you and acknowledge your trial, your long journey and your last walk.

They come in fear and pain carrying their bags of drugs, ports, prosthesis, artificial airways, crutches and wheel chairs, bandages adorning their countenance, their bodies with foul odors trailing behind them. Flesh and spirit dissected, mentation annihilated. For they have crossed the battlefields of the war on cancer, gone through the technology of heart disease, the shame of AIDS, the disintegration of diabetes, the destitution of alcoholism and drug addiction, the emptiness of Alzheimer’s, and the humiliation of poverty, all lost in their drive to survive, until the bittersweet end. That bittersweet day when peace finally presides.

I remember Dorothy at ninety.. Chipper and talkative. She told you her story and it was a story worth telling. Now the lung cancer binds her to her bed. Morphine to assist with every venture to the comode. She feared the day when she could not rise to the toilet. Blood comes from her lungs. The morphine is frequent, and the ativan for anxiety. No, not that SHE was anxious. No! It was just that dam body that has a mind of its own. The shortness of breath was to blame. She had never had an anxious day in her life. Thank god for Ativan.

Then the day of determination came. To the couch room as we call it, where important decisions are made. She sat tall and clear on the velvet sofa, with a word of wisdom or support, individually, for everyone in the room. Here she did not seek counsel, but to give it. Here she spoke her truth to us all, individually one by one as she addressed each of us as she circled the room. But especially to her children did she speak, who had come from a distance to bid her farewell, to whitness and accept. Soon the oxygen would come off she said.

She would take it off and end this misery. Take it off and avoid her worst fears, for death was not one of them. Nursing, social work, chaplain, Mormon bishop, friends, family, were now all present. It was clear to see this was a telling of her last act of power.

I went that evening to say good bye to her. Her intent was clear and I knew she would not be here when I returned. In that last moment she had her way of making me feel special, when that’s what I wanted to give to her. Well, she is older, more experienced, more in control than I. She knew better the gift of giving. It just poured out of her and comforted my fears.

That night I sat home and worried. Would she do it well? Would that new nurse know how to take care….

That night she asked for and was given the ativan. Not much. Just a milligram. But soon she was asleep. Sleeping deeply. Now the morphine. Morphine, in low dosage eases the sensation of tightness, makes you not care that you are short of breath. Her daughter took the oxygen off as she had requested. In a very short time she was gone.

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