Sunday, September 4, 2011

We Must All File On

The old man was in pain, and I was called to check on him. When he first got here, he was able to make it to the dining room some times. Not so, now. He has been confined to his bed, with the oxygen machine as his constant companion. Pillows, lots, behind his back, between his head and the side wall. It's hard being comfortable, and it's the best that can be done. 

I asked if I could sit, and he said yes. 

How about the pain, I wondered? He grimaced. "An 8, it comes and goes, can I get more medicine?" Folks on hospice always want more meds. More morphine, more Vicodin, more Klonopin, more . . . How come we the living well get to decide when and how much? Who makes these laws? I get angry when I see all the suffering that comes with some endings.  The hospice nurse had been called, and we had to wait. 

I asked if I might touch his hand, and he said yes.

The old man is usually not very talkative, but this time was different, and he proceeded to tell me his whole life story. A sad one, filled with many tragedies, and also marked by great resilience in the face of so much adversity. The old man was not able to attend school, but he had spent his life in books, to make up. I got treated to Schopenhauer and Shakespeare, and this from Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

But one by one we must all file on. Through the narrow aisles of pain.

"The young ones, they don't think about it, but one day they too will have to file on". The old man looked at me. And I told him I knew, yes, one day my turn would come also when I would have to file on, through the narrow aisles of pain, I was very aware. The old man seemed to get comfort from knowing that we all got our turn. "Such is life . . . and I wish I could just go to sleep and not wake up."

I asked if I should stay a bit longer, and he said yes.

Serena was playing a good game of tennis. I adjusted the TV so that the old man could have a better look. "Once, I was able to run, and jump like her . . ." 


  1. Thank you Marguerite for your compassionate and much-needed reminder to keep my head out of the sand.