I always say that people can hear us even if they are in a coma. I believe they can hear us even when they appear to be dying. The family in the room wanted him to hold on. His son was on his way from overseas. Due to arrive that evening. I’m not sure how long it had been since they had seen each other. Likely it had been a while as COVID flight restrictions had meant that many families had been separated for much longer than usual. He wanted to see his son. His son was already on the plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of miles away, 33000 feet up in the air. Everyone was willing the plane to arrive faster.
I wasn’t sure if the son would make it in time to see his father. My patient was in his bed, not able to respond to any of the voices in the room. I counted the pauses in his breathing. 10 seconds, 11 seconds, 12 seconds, Gassssp. The longer the pauses the closer a person is to dying. My best-educated guess was that he only had hours left to live. I knew that his son was still at least seven hours distance away. I didn’t want to scare them but they needed to know of my concerns. No surprises.
“I’m not sure if your Dad can hold on for much longer, I think he might only have hours to go before he dies. He might not be able to see your brother. He will try and hold on for as long as he can, but his body is too weak. He knows that his son is on the way to see him, and he’ll try his very best, but he might not be able to keep on going for so long. There’s nothing I can do to keep him alive. It’s up to a higher power than us humans.”
I spent the next seven hours attending to work tasks. Seeing other patients. Discussing other patients. Writing emails to organize things for patients. Phone calls related to patients. I wondered if my patient would be able to hold on for much longer. I knew he would be trying his best, but he had no reserves left. The cancer had taken away his precious energy. It was removing both quantity and quality of life. It was beyond the control of sheer willpower, no matter how strong the person was. I couldn’t extend his life, no one in the world could, no matter how much money they had. They wouldn’t be able to buy him extra lifetime. I could try to make him more comfortable. I would try to reduce the pain that had been gnawing at his leg for so long. I would try to calm the distress revealed by his furrowed brow. To ease the worries of his gathered family members. I would try my best to make him more comfortable. To look after his family. That’s what I could do. To give him the best chance of seeing his son, or at least to be seen by him again.