Mortality

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention to arrive safely in a pretty and well preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming 'Wow! What a ride!'”
- Hunter S. Thompson

It seems such a trite quote, but true at the same time. Life is about the journey - the adventures along the way, the failures and successes. A life well lived is a person with stories to tell, taking the chances along the way that will provide fulfillment. You don't realize how close we are teatering to the edge until something happens that affirms our mortality. 

In eleven years of practicing physical therapy in a nursing home setting, I've had my share of experiences with death. Never close though - far enough removed to be touched by the passing but not affected. Sometimes it's expected and everyone says "it's for the best. They are happier now." Other times, it's not and we are all shocked when we get to work and hear about it. Even when not directly working with the residents, we still get to know them and form friendships. In some ways, the expected nature of life jades us. Death happens. It's just a question of when and how.

Until this morning. A patient I've worked with before and one who we all cared about. Someone who'd had his share of medical issues, but seemed to be turning a corner with one last surgery. The OT saw him yesterday and said it was the clearest he'd been. Memory and conversation bright and alert. I decided to come in early and start my eval before my exercise class. Usually I get to work on Fridays and run right upstairs to teach a class for the AL/IL residents. But with an afternoon appointment, I decided it would be smart to at least start the paperwork and do the eval prior to my class. I grabbed his chart, glanced over it for any precautions and new concerns, then headed into his room. Immediately concerned over the amount of confusion I was seeing, I let nursing know and asked on of the CNAs to help me with the dressing and tranfers. I just didn't feel comfortable with doing it alone. Something was wrong.

And then he started breathing strangely - gasping but not taking full breaths. I got my pulse oximeter, tried to get a measurement but it wouldn't read. And I couldn't feel a pulse. He was still gasping but ashey and grey blue - and not responding to his name or to stimuli. I had the CNA get the nurse - this wasn't good. I knew what was happening - could see the light, the "aliveness" fading quicky. Time does stand still when things are happening. It was only seconds but felt like an eternity before the nurse got there. Still nonresponsive, eyes empty. We both knew but didn't want to believe. Until it was clear. Saying that someone is "gone" sounds corney, but it's true. One minute you're there and then next - an empty shell without a soul, a spark. 

We have so many days on this planet, so many trips around the sun. One day, maybe tomorrow - maybe in many years it will be over. To be content with the status quo is to waste the chances we are given. You don't realize how important it is to grasp adventure until death comes so close. To blindly go through the day, same routine in and out without once pausing to wonder what's around the corner does not honor the soul. My husband has been pushing for years to try something different - get out of town and take a chance on an adventure. And I've always been resistant, reluctant. Afraid of change and disrupting the routine. But if we don't take that leap now - when? In the years down the road, when I'm the patient in the hospital bed, will I be satisfied with my life and my adventures or will I wish I'd done something different, explored more? Only time can answer that question, but I can point the compass in the right direction.

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