Sunday, 27 April 2008

Life and Death

How deep have I drunk of life today? Not deep enough, never deep enough. I held a child, fresh and clean, just months old, in my arms today, and cherished the chance. I walked in the rough spring wind, I spent time with loved ones. It was good. But I often feel there is so much more to life, so much I should be striving for, so many challenges unmet. My mind keeps drifting back to a weekend at work awhile ago...

It was a time when death hung heavy in the air, stalking, silently waiting. There were two lives, both far to young, that hovered in that hinterland 'tween life and death. Everyone working that night knew it might be the last night for these two. One person was assigned to me. To be honest, I can count on one hand the number of times I've had a patient die on my shift... I'm that young to nursing. Or perhaps it's partly the wards I normally work on don't take patients that are palliative, that have accepted that death is the next step. Because on this night, for these two people, death was a welcome embrace, a release from all that came before. I prefer to see death this way, it's predictable rather than an assault. The person, or the family, make their requests for how they are treated. You check on them regularly. If they flinch and shutter, more pain meds. If they breathe through their mouth, you wet their lips, their tongue. If the family is there you gently ask if they have questions, if they need help, if they want to spend the night, if they want to be phoned... And as carefully as you can, you come in and roll the person side to side every few hours... for comfort. And you watch them breathe. And you whisper in their ear, because hearing is the last thing to go.
It's odd, but silence walks so close with a gentle death... you whisper as much as possible, or talk soft. Nothing sudden, nothing loud, just gentle and quiet. Like a mother holding a sleeping child, death is gentle when it comes slowly. Everyone has time to say goodbye. No matter the age, this slow progression of death seems to be a good way to deal with what's to come.
And yet, death is never expected. Grief still follows. Sadness is inevitable. Even us, who are taught to deal with it must come to terms with each new death. Some can't. Some harden their hearts and do well. Sometimes we "grow too attached". And sometimes, we're superstitious. Even I felt a little superstitious that weekend. There were so many people that got infections, grew sicker in those hours waiting for death to come, that it felt a little like death was hovering, and as he brushed past, people in his wake were affected. Funny how we have to draw conclusions, how we tie things together and blame unrelated events on each other. And funny how we never think of our own death until we realize that we are mortal too.
There is no guarantee that we will be here tomorrow, or that our loved ones will. So take life by the horns, and live, truly live and don't look back. Have I lived enough today? Well, it was a good start, no turning back!

No comments: