I am sitting here listening to my father’s death rattle. First, there is the puff of the oxygen concentrator machine accompanied by the gurgling of the attached humidifier, then, like an echo, the rattle of his breath.
Things are progressing, or rather degressing, very rapidly. He started having breathing/panic attacks on Thursday, and by Saturday, he was experiencing them every couple of hours. I thought everything was more or less under control, but Saturday evening, he fell. He wasn’t hurt. Just scared. He kept demanding a doctor. I sat with him and tried to soothe him until hospice came. The nurse and I got him on the bed, but he was agitated, sweating, twitching, having problems breathing, and experiencing what seemed to be hallucinations, so she suggested he take morphine to open the bronchial tubes and haloperidol for the agitation.
Although she wouldn’t say how long he had left, I recognized the “end signs.” I stayed up with him most of the night, and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully, but this morning, he got agitated again. Tried to get out of bed, couldn’t cough up the secretions (as they so delicately call his prodigious amounts of mucus. I’ll spare you the details of my holding him while he drooled those “secretions” all over me). I finally got him partly settled, half on and half off the bed — he’s too heavy for me to lift by myself. Luckily, right about that time, the hospice nurse came to check on him, and she agreed that he is displaying the end signs, especially terminal restlessness.
I won’t bore you with the story of my (his) day, but the upshot is he is now in a hospital bed with rails (so I don’t have to worry about his falling). He’s mostly comatose, and although he doesn’t have mottling of the skin to show that his organs are shutting down, it does seem he has little time left. The nurse says her best guess is 48 hours. He can barely swallow, so I give him his few drugs with an oral syringe. He stopped eating and drinking yesterday. (When Jeff was at this point, he still had five days left, but dad changes by the minute, so I sincerely doubt he will take that long. Since he’s made up his mind to die — in fact, he asked me to help him die, which of course I cannot do — he will proceed posthaste as he always does when his course is set.)
I am with him almost constantly, monitoring his distress, and keeping him as comfortable as possible. I am hoping he doesn’t wake up — the realization that he is in a hospital bed will be too demoralizing for him.
Still, at ninety-seven, he’s led a very long and charmed life, a lot longer, happier, and healthier than most people. And his end won’t be prolonged. Something to be grateful for on this eve of my orphanhood.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.