Time

{By Duane Scott}

He’s a frequent flyer, him with his crass language and inappropriate jokes.

The doctors from the big city, they inject dye into his hardened arteries, watch the way it flows and they tell us, “There’s no hope. Only 6% of the blood is being ejected from the heart with each beat.”

So he comes to us, time and again, and we give him a drug that will make his heart beat for a few more days.

Time. 

We think about it when we don’t have it. And we forget about it when there’s a belief that the clock won’t stop, that the heart will keep beating, that life will proceed in the face of the inevitable.

This is we, humans, chiming each hour and in our chiming, we lose the ability to be satisfied with life. We forget about the moments begging to be gathered between breakfast and lunch, we ignore the quiet afternoon, the sun setting before dinner. We instinctively put off until tomorrow what really should be done today.

So he comes to us, this man we’ll call Dave, and the drugs aren’t working anymore. Dave’s heart continues growing weaker and weaker and the doctor, he tells him straight, “Time. Only time. Maybe minutes. Maybe hours. Maybe days. What do you want to do?”

The doctor lays out the options and when the word “hospice” is mentioned, Dave starts hyperventilating and his oxygen plummets to 60%.

Maybe seconds is all he has.

The monitor alarms loud and his eyes grow wide, start twitching back and forth scared and I talk to him, tell him he needs to breathe, slowly in, slowly out, slowly in, slowly out.

“Do… everything…” he stammers, “Oh God, oh God…” and I have to put a mask over his face and give him 10 liters of oxygen, even though he has COPD, a condition where high oxygen can shut down his body’s natural drive to breathe.

He tries to pull the mask off, anxiety taking hold and he rips at the strings and he thrashes at the doctor and a nurse trips over an IV pole holding him down and nothing is calming him so I finally take the hard route and I tap him, hard, on the chest and say it sternly, “Look at me. If you take that mask off, I will have to put a tube down your throat and breathe for you. In the meantime, your heart will probably stop and one of these other nurses will start pushing on your chest. It’ll likely break your ribs and you’ll be transferred to a bigger hospital if you live through the first few minutes.”

I hate every word but he stops and his eyes grow wide and he stares at me with panic-stricken eyes and he nods and I coach him to breathe slow, nice and easy, in and out.

That night, we do this over and over.

And the cries echo “Oh God, oh God…” and he grasps my hand and I have to force his fingers open so I can move oxygen nobs, push drugs into his veins, change masks and one time, he stops and stares at the window.

“I think I’m going,” he whimpers, “Oh God, save me.” 

“Where are you going?” I ask, glancing at the window because something or someone is there but all I see is the tree branches, the birdfeeder, mere silhouettes against the night sky.

The heater below the window hums.

“I don’t want to go!” He screams, turns his face from the window and his oxygen alarms ring loud and my fellow nurses wheel the crash cart close, waiting…

His blood pressure plummets, his heart rate rises fast.

Any time now. Any second.

This may be all we have and he’s shaking now and the words continue to spill, over and over, “Oh God, Oh God.” 

“What about Him? What does He say about what’s going on in this room?” 

Dave glances again at the window and the scream pursed on his purple lips escapes.

“Oh God, save me.” 

Time sits still and I’m ready to cry now because this is too close to death and something doesn’t feel okay about what’s happening in this room, this slow gurgle to the end and this man, his heart is not ready to go and his heart won’t let him stay. 

The devil, all that darkness and twisted limbs flailing in the wind, they lurk at the window and I can’t look there anymore.

So I pray away the hours.

I pray that Dave can know God.

I pray that God can help me through.

And toward the end, I pray, “I’ve tried. It’s time. He needs to die. God, end this. If not for him, then for me.”

I watch the clock tick, waiting for 6:45 so I can go home.

3:30…

4:30…

5:30…

Dawn finally breaks and I nearly weep with relief because I’m convinced of it, God made the night so we can marvel once again how His mercies are new, blazoned warm across the Eastern sky.

I go home and fall asleep to horrific dreams.

The nurse taking over Dave’s care, she tells me later, “He wanted to make a phone call. To his son in a prison somewhere in Kentucky. Then he decided to become a hospice patient and signed a “Do Not Resuscitate” order. Shortly after, he died.”

I have to ask it, although I’m scared of the answer. “Was it a difficult death?”

Her eyes grow sober… “It was… I don’t want to talk about it. He just couldn’t catch his breath. I’m sure it was just the COPD.”

Time. 

Dave’s hourglass ran out and I am not here to judge a man’s life, whether or not he found his way home but I know this:

Today, there is Grace. And Grace reaches down, warm it touches our hearts, and it whispers…

“Today, this very moment, walk with me.

We’ll walk together through your trials, through your fears. The relationships needing mending, the sins still unrepented, the insecurities deep within. The lies you’ve believed, the scars you’ve been given, the distrust you’ve allowed.

We’ll walk, we’ll talk, and together, my child, we’ll find our way Home.”

 

{link to photo by Judy van der Velden}

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duane's pic of coat on coat  treeDuane Scott has been known to be jarred awake by a crashing of smattered M&M’s to the floor even as two angelic dogs innocently stand among the crime scene. But for the most part, Duane likes the silence and quiet of Iowa fields where he is married to his favorite Southern Gal. He also tends to the common farmer as an R.N.. A storyteller at heart, he likes to weave words with threads of this and that and believes we discover the answers by living the questions. Coffee is a critical nutrient in his opinion and anyone who drinks it, is already a friend. He quietly shares on his blog Scribing The Journey.

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16 Comments on “Time

  1. Wow, Duane, I can relate so well to that scene as a prior night shift nurse. It is so hard to see the struggle for life when death is near. I’m glad he lived long enough to make that phone call and I know that God heard his cries for help. Thank you for the encouragement to take care of the business that needs to be taken care of today. Life is a gift and we don’t know when our time here is over.

  2. It’s true. Time is a commodity only when we recognize that it is limited. What a gift and calling to help the dying and their families in their last days. Duane, your hospital stories always check my heart and remind me of the fragility of life.

  3. Oh my goodness. such intensity. I am so glad you can write and share and use these stories to spread the word that life is precious. My own dad passed away last September from Copd. He left peacefully but I know that is not always the case. I am so glad you are compassionate and kind and even though at times you need to be firm you are gentle.
    wonderful writing.

  4. Again and again, you make me cry because what you write is truth and it’s real. And you are so right, time is running out and running by and I am trying to catch it and slow it with every day. But it does what it always does and slips through my fingers. But I continue to try to capture it, Each second, each minute, each hour. Because they all matter!

  5. Finished reading the post but I got stuck for a second at “tree branches” and all I could think about was Mary DeMuth. Now I’m trying not to cry for three reasons.

    I wish you wouldn’t do that. And I’m so glad that you do. All of your words always hit me like someone stuck a maple tap into me to let all the excess emotions out.

  6. This is too beautiful. Words fail me, so I’ll just say, “Thank You.”

    Heart Hugs, Shelly ❤

  7. This just crashes about me because i -just once- witnessed someone cross the threshold, fighting. It was such a pitiable, desperate, awful sight, and your story brings that memory back. I offered up wordless prayers and must admit i can do no more. Real stuff, what more for you as an RN. God keep you and just keep letting light spill out from you. Thank you.

  8. Pingback: Easter is Coming | Nikole Hahn

  9. Praying your mind’s eye will forget the horrors and remember His grace. We all have enough time to get right with God. But saying no long enough, the heart becomes calloused to love.

    You are a man of God, Duane, and you are fighting the good fight.

  10. You might just have too much empathy for the profession you are in — as you will always be dealign with the broken and needy. But I am grateful that there are some like you when I am sick and in need. Your heart will break, but it can break right along with God’s

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