I hadn’t been doing the work very long when I learned my first real lesson. I had been set to the home of an elderly Hispanic couple who had been married their whole lives. The man had been on the service for some time and was considered stable. I was only given the patients that were really stable in the beginning. I had my visit and did my assessment. The wife reported a condition change and the patient was not as responsive as before. He awoke and answered my question but didn’t seem to be in any distress so I reassured the wife and left to my next visit.
Later that afternoon I get a call that the patient was dead. I returned to the home to find the wife weeping loudly as the suddenness of the death had taken her completely by surprise. She turned to me and said “ why didn’t you know he was going to die?” I was shocked by the reaction. How could I possibly know the patient was going to die? I assured myself that she was grief stricken and was just venting.
The sentence haunted me. Why didn't I know he was going to die? What had I missed? The more I thought about it the guiltier I felt. I should have seen the changes. I should have helped this poor woman prepare. I was so busy doing the job that I didn’t do the job. Lesson one Pay attention.
I hadn’t been taking care of this little old woman but a few days. She was started on service deep into her terminal illness and was on death's door when we met. She was being cared for by her daughter. The family was obviously very loving with each other and were prepared for the death event. When the patient died the daughter was all alone in the home. She let me in to examine the body and pronounce.
The daughter was very shaken and was weeping softly as I made my way to the bedroom. The process of preparing the body for the funeral home is a quick one and I was ready to start when the daughter asked if she could have a moment with her mother. I went back to the kitchen to dispose of the medication. As I sat with my paperwork I heard the sound of someone singing softly. I could make out the words but it was tender and loving and filled with love. I went to the bedroom and found the daughter in the bed with her mother much like a little girl would do when she was afraid.
When she saw me she rose and began to softly brush her mother's hair. I knew I had interrupted something very private and had robbed the daughter of the opportunity to say goodbye to her mother in her own way. Lesson Two. Let people say goodbye.
When I met Ben he had a kickball sized tumor on the side of his neck. Tumors are real bastards. They grow leeching vital blood and nutrients from the body at an accelerated rate. As they grow, they die from the center out. Ben’s tumor had burst and had massive amounts of blood , puss and necrotic tissue seeping from the center. The smell was ever present but not overwhelming.
He had a wife and two small children. He was a man of God who was pastoring a small church on the north side of town. The lesson I learned from Ben would come from watching him live his final days. He never wavered, he never asked why. He accepted his fate as the will of God and faced his death with the confidence that his life was in the hands of his redeemer. He made home visits to his parishioners daily. I would visit him daily to change the dressing. Copious amounts of drainage saturating the packing I had placed the previous day, after which he would speak lovingly to his family before turning to me and asking me what he could do for me.
I was having lunch at the Stripes a few years ago when I was approached by a young man who said “ excuse me but is your name David? I recognized him immediately, He looked just like his dad. He said he was on his way back to college and wanted to say hi. I noticed a Hospice of San Angelo carryall. When he saw me looking at it, he said “ I volunteer there a couple of afternoons a week. Just like his old man. Lesson Three. It's not about me.