It had already been one of the wettest summers in years. Grey skies outnumbered blue skies by many times. There was no risk of the grass turning yellow this summer. The weeds were having a good time with flowers abundant. Hayfever victims spent a lot of money on tissue paper this season as pollen was often in the air between bouts of rain. Allergic coughs could be heard amongst the populace with many people swearing it wasn’t COVID. “My eyes are itchy as well!”
The forecasts had warned of heavy rainstorms a number of times in the past month. This had led to severe flooding in a lot of areas around the country. Residents hadn’t completed the clean-up from the previous storms before the new ones battered them again. It had gotten so bad that locals stopped wearing business suits and wore wetsuits instead. The gumboot and raincoat store celebrated record sales.
The big city had been prepared for the cyclone to hit, but it had decided to wreak havoc elsewhere. It had gotten off lightly. The sun came out and everyone let their guard down. When the meteorological prophets warned of heavy rainstorms people heard “wolf,” cried too many times and didn’t pay much attention. Though they had been warned to expect the deterioration in the next hours to days. People were still surprised when the downpour started.
Light rain turned to heavy rain within minutes. The noise of the precipitation became louder on the rooftops. Water started to seep in through the gaps under the doors. Water streamed down the walls, and leaked from ceilings. Water, water everywhere but not a drop clean enough to drink. Supermarkets became swimming pools, local parks became lakes and buses became submarines. The power of nature had made its presence felt.
A family farewelled their loved one for the last time.
Before I left for my holiday I turned on the automatic replies. Correspondents needed to know that I would be away on leave for a fortnight. Not a long break but enough to recharge and unwind. It takes at least a week to really start relaxing. In the past, I had been used to pushing hard and living on adrenaline that if I relaxed too deeply my immune system would crash and I’d catch a cold. These days I make sure I have something to do each day, a task of some sort that needs to be done. Nothing too stressful but something to keep me from relaxing completely. The tightrope balancing act of modern-day life. Rest but not too much too fast.
It had been a while since I’d been on leave. Also been a while since I’ve had to say goodbye to patients that I thought I wouldn’t ever see again. People who I thought would no longer be alive by the time I returned. Some of them I’d only just met in the last few weeks, others I had known for many months. Some of the recipients knew what I meant without me having to say anything more. Others had different ideas about their situation and believed they would still be alive to see in the New Year 2024, let alone the current one. I also said goodbye to the patients’ family members as well.
Goodbyes in palliative care are usually final. Most of the time you will never see the patient or their family members ever again. In fact, each interaction you have with people you deal with may be the very last time you see them. You have to make sure you don’t leave things in a bad way, as you may never get the chance to sort things out. You don’t want what may be one of the final interactions for the other human being to be a poor one.
We thought his wife was dying and we needed to prepare him.
We weren’t the only ones who had done this.
We heard the Oncologist had told them she would only have three months left to live, but that had been five months ago.
We thought she would die six weeks ago when her mind became less clear, so we prepared her husband for death within days. The same afternoon she went out shopping for furniture.
We thought she would die four weeks ago, again her mind had become less clear, so we prepared her husband for death within days. The next day she went out shopping for clothes for the children.
Two weeks ago she thought she was about to die, and we agreed. She fell asleep and we thought she wouldn’t be waking up again. Again we prepared her husband for death within days. Two days later she woke up and wanted to eat something.
At the end of last week, she thought she was about to die, and asked her husband to bring the children in. We thought this time she had to be right and prepared for her death. Somehow she carried on but became less conscious over the rest of the week.
Her husband had thought he had prepared himself and the children as well as he could.
He thought she was sleeping, but the nurses who came in for the routine check and bed turn found that she had died.
Everyone had been prepared for her death but when it happened it still hit hard. The brains were ready but the emotional hearts are always slower.
For almost six months we had worked on connecting with our patient in order to help her. We had listened, negotiated and flexed in order to earn her trust. The sudden disconnection took us all by surprise as the strong one had finally completed her long final journey. Off to a better place with no more suffering.