Ever notice the false promises given to terminal patients?
No one intends for them to be, but they are.
They’re offered with professional smiles, in counterfeit light-hearted bravado by people wearing Happy Face masks. They know their promise is hollow. That agreement will never be honored. After all, the patient is dying.
I’m dying. All of them know it, believe it. I can see through all the mock jocularity, through all the attempts to reassure themselves. Of course, it’s for themselves. It sure isn’t for me, because I know what the end of this journey looks like. Despite everyone’s vows of what all we’re going to do “when you get better”, they know I’ll never last to collect on those promises.
Their word’s still good and their integrity’s still intact. They’re doing “the Right Thing”, so after spending a few agonizing, fidgety minutes bobbing from one foot to the other, looking at anything, anybody except me, they’re able to disconnect and get out of that hospital room.
I don’t blame them. Only those who best know me have any chance of recognizing the emaciated, pasty-white Borg with a terminal case of hospital hair lying atop that wheezing, whooshing air mattress, both calves encased in blood-pressure-and-circulation-aiding wraps quietly, rhythmically breathing like some form of alien life.
I’m terminal. No matter what they try – how many surgical procedures they perform – there’s only so much small intestine to work with. They’ve taken all of it out that can hope to sustain life, even with IV feeding. Actually, that fifth time Dr. Vinzant had to remove more than all medicine agrees is the bare minimum I need to be able to live.
I’m dying. Being pumped full of Total Parenteral Nutrition: sticky, thick, hideously-expensive nutrition and vitamins infused intravenously through a Hickman catheter 24/7, I’m still inexorably starving to death, 3 or 4 ounces at a time. At this point, my incision’s been reopened enough that staples won’t hold it together any longer. They have to use stay sutures. I lay very, very still whenever they’re doing what they have to do.
So, yeah. I understand what friends are doing when they briefly brave the festooning vines of IVs, catheters, telemetry wiring and the infamous NG tube making me resemble a malformed elephant, in order to promise me this or that. Nobody has to, you know, actually follow through. By unanimous, if slightly uneasy consent, they all forget what the others have promised this poor slob who’s not long for this world.
“We all agree none of these are serious offers, right?” Wink-wink, nod-nod. “He’s dying.” Big breath . . .
Before #3 of 5, Dr. Vinzant told me privately I may not live through that resect surgery, along with all the dire possibilities of what life might be like if, by chance and God’s grace, I did. I looked him in the eye and said, “I’m not getting better this way. Everyone tells me you’re the best. Should I not survive this, I’ve served God my whole life and I’m ready to go. We’re not sue-happy people. I know you’ll do your best, and I trust you. Go for it.”
After #5 of 5, even he looked haggard when he came out of that 9-hour effort. When your surgeon looks like that . . .
For His own reasons, God miraculously has me living. Only those who’ve heard Babycakes and I tell this story know where this narrative went from that point. But that’s for the book, as God helps me finish and edit it.
Mostly, I’ve chosen to forget, to overlook those assurances and promises made by loved ones and friends who believed my death was as inevitable as the neighbor-across-the-street’s dog making nocturnal visits to all adjoining yards.
Except two. Two separate pilots, both directly or indirectly involved in medicine, told me once I got healthy enough, they’d take me up in their airplane. They knew I love flying, so they offered the one thing that might make me want to fight harder to live.
Of course, they didn’t know how hard I’d been fighting.
© D. Dean Boone, September 2017