Death Comes Closer

NaBloPoMo 2020 – Today’s Lesson

How many more before it’s over?

This weekend I felt the Reaper’s cold breath over my shoulder again.  It came last 20 years ago, when I left residency for a week and flew to Taiwan, where my grandmother was dying.  The ICU at the teaching hospital in her city was positively rudimentary compared to where I was training.  She was intubated but fully awake, and rolled over before the doctor even had to ask, so he could listen to her failing lungs.  That was Po-Po, always making life easier for others, even at the end of her own. 

Imminent death agitates and disorients like nothing else.  In training I learned to detach just enough to be objective.  My elders modeled the compassion and empathy required to shepherd both patients and families through the passage.  In the emergency department and ICU, and on the cancer floor, we observed a calm, professional reverence for the end of life.  But only a few patients might die on any given month-long rotation.  Today my friends in these specialties witness death, sometimes multiple, often gruesome, on a daily basis.  They risk their own lives, and serve also as intimate messengers and chaplains, in service of helping soul after soul ascend in peace, if that’s even possible. 

When it was my Po-Po, I was beside myself.  I cried non-stop the whole 15 hour flight stateside.  And then I went back to work. 

Tonight I pray for all of us, especially our healthcare heroes.  Death will likely claim someone in each of our circles before this pandemic is over, if it hasn’t already.  I wish I could do more to halt the unyielding march.  But how many times can I say mask and distance?  It’s futile.

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