Sometimes things stick with me after a long stretch at the hospital. Like glue on my shoe that annoys me with every step, clicking and making a mess until I finally do something to get it off. Please indulge me while I take a moment to do just that.
When I first met him I asked why he was in the hospital. He told me his story of the shed he and his wife were building just a few months before. The thing he thought was a pulled muscle turned out to be cancer that, once established in his lungs, invaded his bones. The strong right arm that swung a hammer was now too painful to lift. Standing was difficult and walking almost impossible. He told me his breathing was really a problem (he didn’t need to tell me….the mask gave it away…but he told me anyway) and then said “I just want to go home.” I told him that was my goal, too, but I needed to make sure he could do that safely, without rushing back to the hospital in a day or two. He nodded, accepting my concern and honesty. Over the next week while he was in the ICU I stopped in to see him whether or not he was my patient. We would talk about everything, his dog, his kids, his wife of 46 years…..and how much he wanted to go home, which he finally did.
Last week he returned. I answered the phone when the other hospital called with report. “You’re sending that sweet man back to us!” I told the nurse as I listened to his medical problems. When the ambulance transport brought him to our unit I was there to say hello. Each breath was a chore but he stabilized quickly and was able to transfer out of the unit within a couple of days.
This weekend he returned after having respiratory distress. The fluid that restricted his lung movement and interfered with his breathing was drained off. His pain was improved after his pain meds were tweaked and he improved…..temporarily. The cancer wasn’t just still there, it had grown invading new, previously untouched areas of his body. After discussing the CT findings with the patient and family, Palliative Care was consulted and a family meeting was held.
Soon after the meeting I went to see him. “It’s bad. I think it’s in the bone. Is it? There’s no stopping it if it is,” he said. “It is,” I gently said.
“I just want to go home. I want to go home to die. I don’t want to die in a hospital”
“You mean you want to live the rest of your life at home.” He stopped and looked at me with a funny look. “I don’t want to die in the hospital, either. If it was me, I would want to go home, too. I don’t know if you have 1 day or one thousand days but if it was me, I would want to go home, sit on my porch, and have my dogs by my side and spend time with my husband. I want to see family and friends. I want to smell fresh air and feel the sun on my face.”
“That’s what I want, too.”
“I told you the first time I met you my goal was for you to go home. It still is. I will help you the best I can.”
We arranged a tour of the Palliative Care Unit and wheeled the whole bed over there so he could see it. After meeting with the staff, seeing the room, and meeting the unit dog, Zoe, he decided he was ready to go. He raved about how friendly everyone was, how sunny and bright the room was, and how he would have enough room for his family to visit. “It will be a good transition for me until I go home.”
Tomorrow, we said.
That evening we talked about how he liked the VA because we respected him for his military service. He served in Viet Nam and told me of places he had been, naming places I hold in distant memory. He said he was 19 when he was there. “Do you know what it’s like to be in an 8×8 bunker, alone, while rockets are coming down at you? I was terrified. I thought I was going to die. I was so anxious and scared.”
After a while, he went off to sleep. The nurse who relieved me also developed a good relationship with him. I know I left him in good hands.
I don’t know if I will get to see him again, this kind man who loved his wife and family, his dogs, and was still haunted by the 8×8 bunker. I know a part will stay with me for a long time, maybe forever.
I hope he makes it home.
Post by Eileen of GoofingOff Sewing…..who is also a nurse caring for America’s heroes. Proudly serving those who served.