Being Called

Yesterday morning, my partner and I got up early and went to the swimming pool, where I swam 40 lengths so I could get much-needed exercise and work out the stiffness in my injured leg and ankle.

When we got home, I prepared breakfast, then put some ice on my ankle and elevated it to rest for a while. Then a cop buddy of mine came over, and he went with me to practice driving again! We spent an hour in an empty parking lot where I turned, stopped short, reversed, and otherwise got comfortable behind the wheel again. Yippie! I can drive!

When I returned, I grilled lunch for my partner and me, then once again, put my ankle up and iced it. My partner and I were plotting out the rest of the day when the phone rang. The caller was a daughter of one of my senior pals, Hal. I had computed and filed Hal’s tax return, so I thought perhaps his daughter was calling about that.

Instead, it was something I didn’t want to hear. Hal had a heart attack and was in the hospital. I decided to go see Hal. I drove carefully, but fortunately traffic wasn’t bad and the hospital is not that far away. I found Hal’s room. His daughter greeted me and said that Hal was sleeping. She told me that the doctor said that his heart attack was bad, and that they weren’t sure he would recover.

I went over and held his hand. I sat with Hal for several hours. Nurses would come in to check from time to time. The doctor showed up and said that there wasn’t much that could be done right now but let him rest. His condition was grave, and the doc said that he wasn’t sure that Hal would have much of a quality of life because he may have had brain damage when his heart had stopped beating.

His daughter, who lives out-of-town, told me that over the years that her father had talked a lot about me, and frequently referred to me as “his young pal.” Hal was a very interesting man to learn from. We had many long, pleasant, insightful conversations.

I remember one of those conversations was about death and dying. Hal didn’t want to have a prolonged, painful death. He had signed a Living Will. His daughter was vaguely aware of it, but did not know where his papers were. Because I had done Hal’s taxes, I knew where to find them. His daughter and I talked, and she agreed that she should go back to the house to get the papers so that the doctors would have authorization to take care of Hal the way that Hal wanted.

When his daughter returned, Hal’s condition had not changed. He was still unconscious. The Advance Medical Directives (that is what a “Living Will” is formally called) clearly explained that Hal did not want any life-prolonging measures to be taken. It specifically indicated that a feeding tube or ventilator was not to be used. His daughter understood, and brought the papers to the doctor’s attention.

The doctor discussed it with the hospital’s legal people, and they agreed that everything was in order. The ventilator was removed. Hal continued to breathe for a little while, but then he stopped… he died.

I know this is very sad, yet I also know what this situation is like. I lived with it personally when I took care of my uncle through the winter of his life until his death. I was there when my uncle died.

There was no wailing and screaming, though Hal’s daughter and I cried and held each other. But this is what Hal wanted. His death was rather quick and the anguish was minimized. Hal’s daughter thanked me for being her Dad’s friend and for helping him all these years, as well as for remembering Hal’s final wishes and enabling her to help her Dad fulfill them and die as he wished.

I was pretty much mentally wasted and exhausted by the time I got home. I just curled up with my partner and had a good cry. My partner held me close, and said what I often say,

Life is short: show those you love that you love them.