It started like many of the false alarms I’ve written about during the past couple of years, but I could tell this one was different from the get-go.
In recent weeks, my 92-year-old father’s health had continued to decline. He was still hanging on to “independent living” in spite of a tube that had been placed in his right lung to alleviate the fluid build-up of congestive heart failure.
During a recent weekend visit to Dad’s, I knew he felt bad when he hardly ate and said he wasn’t up for a car ride. Less than 24 hours after we left, he was on his way to the hospital yet again. An infection had developed around the lung tube.
When we arrived, antibiotics had cleared up much of the infection, but pneumonia was developing. Dad could no longer pull himself up or walk. Because he was immobile, he was in excruciating pain from the arthritis that had riddled his back and legs, and his feet were swollen to twice their size. Dad was miserable. “No more,” he said. His status mid-week changed to hospice. His choice.
The next five days were a steady stream of visitors – church members, family and friends. For a while, Dad could reminisce and even joke a little and tell his grandchildren he loved them and was proud. By Monday morning, Dad’s vital signs were still stable, but he was in a deep sleep.
Hospice staffers had reminded me that even those who are unconscious can hear, so I had been reading to Dad from his favorite book, the Bible. “What should I read now,” I asked my husband early that Monday morning. He recommended Revelation 21 and 22 – chapters that describe heaven from the size of the city to the precious stones of the foundation. I read slowly and loudly. I couldn’t tell whether Dad had heard, but just as I finished the cleaning staff arrived.
So we stepped out. I returned, alone, about 10 minutes later. I heard the sound before I’d walked through the door. A piece of equipment on a wall was beeping and flashing. I looked at my father and immediately realized something was different – the color of his skin, the position of his head. I became alarmed until I remembered my father wasn’t hooked up to any equipment.
Dad’s nurse happened to be passing by. She told me not to be concerned about the equipment. Likely a dead battery. She glanced over at Dad and I could tell she saw the change too. She listened to his chest and went for the charge nurse. The charge nurse came and listened. And then Dad took a long slow breath – almost a sigh. The nurse looked relieved. “There he goes,” she said. “He’s breathing.” But as the nurses and I stood watch, no second breath came.
Just another false alarm? Not this time. My father passed away August 29, 2016, one year to the day – and almost to the hour – of my mother-in-law’s exit from this world. And as much as you think you’re prepared for that last breath, trust me, you’re not.
My father was a high school football star and continued to love the game to the end. Professional football has a two-minute clock, reminding players and spectators that the game is about to end.
That beeping equipment was like my game clock, warning me time was running out. A two-minute warning and all the years of living and loving and worrying and caring were over. Just like that. And he’s gone.
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