Tuesday, March 6, 2012

One Last Voyage.

Unfortunately, I found out a few weeks ago that the hospice organization I work with is closing due to financial problems. I'm still seeing my patient, however, and will continue to do so until the family makes other arrangements. It's been very rewarding spending time with this particular patient, even though this person has gone in and out of lucidity during my visits.

On my first visit, I learned that this person had voluntarily chosen to stop eating, so I didn't expect that I would be visiting much longer. My patient started out very out of it, experiencing hallucinations. As I sat next to the bed, my patient implored me in a whisper: "Let me go, please, just let me go. Take these chains off and let me go." Oh, how I wish I could have. I felt powerless to help but thankful that I could at least share some of these hard moments.

Over time, however, my patient decided to start eating again, and got much stronger and more lucid. On one visit, as I was holding my patient's hand, I was told that I had a 'very proper face.' I have no idea what this means, but I hope it's good! On another visit, as I came in to the room and sat down, my patient told me how good it was to see me, that it got very lonely at times. And I thought to myself, I'm sure it does. I've been sick before, and I know what it's like to lie in bed, alone, limbs aching, waiting for the hours to go by. It must be even harder when you know you're going to die; when you, in fact, WANT to die, but have to bow to the dictates of your mortal body and it's decision of when its had enough.

The other day, as I sat there, I watched as my patient pulled on the blanket, repeatedly, although weakly, tugging it up and over the bars on the side of the hospital bed. It slipped down every time, but my patient kept pulling it up over and over, to the point of exhaustion and anxiety. I realized that this person was whispering something over and over very quietly. I leaned over the bed, and my patient caught my eye and gestured with the blanket in their grip. "Help me put the sail up." my patient said to me, "You've got to help me put the sail up so we can go."

I have no idea what, exactly, my patient was experiencing, but I suppose the blanket did kind of resemble a sail. It brought tears to my eyes that this person was trying so hard to set out on this journey, imaginary or otherwise. I pulled the blanket up as far as I could and tucked it over the railings, then took my patient's hand in mine and looked deep into their eyes. "Look," I said, "the sail is up and you're ready to go. Have a safe journey." As I said this, my patient squeezed my hand and closed their eyes, finally at rest, at least for now. I know my patient was a sailor in a younger life, and I hope that this was a good memory/hallucination, and that he'll journey on soon.

This work has been so very rewarding and I'm so fortunate to have been given the privilege of sharing the private moments of a family or individual. I'll never forget what I've seen and learned and been given, and it's helped me so much to deal with my own Father's illness and eventual death. My Dad was a sailor, too, and loved being out on the water with the wind blowing him along as fast as possible. I hope that when the time comes for his final journey that it will be as easy as raising his sails, pulling up anchor, and floating off.

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