On Tuesday we got a phone call saying he had only a few hours left to live, and that if we wanted to say goodbye it was time. It happened so quickly, the day before he appeared fine.
I have never been close to him. I honestly could not say that I love him, I've never had the opportunity to. But still, hearing that someone you have known your entire life, your Father's Father, is about to draw their last breath is confronting to say the least.
His diagnosis? Pancreatitis. Necrosis. Septicemia. They're ugly words. Ugly to read, ugly to hear. Though far worse to experience them, I can tell you.
You know it's serious when you are escorted through a packed triage to a resus alcove of the emergency room with a sign on the door that says one visitor at a time and they let in three adult children, one adult grandchild and one great grandchild in a massive pram. The rules don't count at times like that.
I go over, kiss him hello and squeeze his shoulder, the only place that doesn't seem to have tubes or wires coming out.
"Hello, Glow, you're looking good"
"Hey Pop, Yeah I'm real good. Got a few tubes going on there, don't ya?"
Stilted, pathetic conversation. I don't know what to say. What can you say? I only came because you're dying? He knows that anyway, I'm sure.
I stand back and watch the scene unfold, not wanting to get in the way. I thank some unknown deity that Tricky is managing to sleep through all the chaos. A screaming toddler is not a welcome addition in a room thick with tension.
His heart rate and blood pressure are wildly erratic. They soar and bells chime, then moments later they plummet and yet more buzzers go off, this time with more urgency. I watch the numbers drop, drop, dropping and he blacks out. I've never been in a situation like this before, and it occurs to me that I might be about to witness someone die.
The medical team aren't rushing about like you see in the movies or the reality emergency room shows. It's so obvious, even though they are amazingly supportive and empathetic, that they are certain of how the events are about to unfold. Why rush? They are doing a slow, perfectly choreographed waltz of death.
|Death Invites the Old Man for a Last Dance - Frans Franken 1635|
He is in and out of consciousness but when he is there, he is lucid. He knows exactly what is happening and it tears at my insides like a rake dragging across flesh. How bizarre must it be to hear people talking in hushed tones about you? Whispering "he's a very ill man... he doesn't have much time left" and knowing that it's about to all end. Laying there wondering what's on the other side. Praying? Cursing? Regretting?
He grasps my aunt's hand, "Look after your mum. Don't put her in a home."
My grandmother, so small and weak and fragile, holds his hand silently. I can see her heart breaking. For a couple who seemed to never smile, never laugh, never show any signs of affection to anyone... here they are, showing me that there is love there. I am surprised, joyful and saddened at the same time.
He chooses to have surgery, with only a 20% chance of surviving. For her. A 20% chance to get better, go home, and care for her. It's all for her.
And all I can think, even as I watch it happening to my own family; my grandmother broken, my aunt openly weeping for her 'Papa', my father and uncle steeling themselves with arms folded across their chests; is what a waste of resources.
He is an old man, not just knocking at death's door but stepping over the threshold. How many thousands of dollars are being spent to prolong his life? And for what? A few extra days in a coma?
Where do we draw the line? Where does quality of life come in? And whose quality is more important; the person about to die or the people they leave behind to pick up the pieces? Who gets to decide that?
EDIT: Thank you all for your lovely comments. I have replied to those that left a story and an email address. I find it really hard to reply to comments like these, my usual sarcastic self doesn't quite know what to do.
My grandfather passed away at 1:20pm on Monday 15th August with his wife, five children, two of their partners, three grandchildren and one great grandchild by his side.