Wednesday, March 7, 2007


All chemotherapuetic treatments have been stopped, as have been many other medications. Weeping sores have opened on his forearms; I am not sure of the genetive factors. The constant purr of the oxygen concentrator can be heard throughout much of the house. He is on morphine.

He spends his day in his hospital bed, exhausted, frequently dozing. He cannot get up, or even turn over by himself. Thankfullly, he has assistance. He is almost bald, a side effect of the chemotherapy, and vastly shrunken from his former girth, having eaten so little for so long. His atrophied legs, as he described them recently to a friend, resemble those of a concentration camp inmate. The change over the past few days, as described this morning by a visiting former student, has been “exponentially” for the worse.

His breathing is labored. A side effect, I believe, of the mass in his superior vena cava. After learning about it, it struck me that the mass is not only forcing fluid (plasma) from within the vessel through the vascular walls, to pool in his forearms. The mass is also greatly impeding overall circulation and, especially, pulmonary function: less blood through the lungs means less oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange. Hence his chronic shortness of breath and need for the concentrator.

It is four months to the day that I first learned of his illness. I am suffering from a kind of cognitive dissonance: It seems both much longer and much shorter than that.

It is, simply, the end. My mother, a former Registered Nurse with experience in an oncology ward, does not expect him to survive through to Monday. None of us, I, my mother and sister and other relatives, nor his many friends are ready for this. But it is out of our control. We feel so helpless and fragile ourselves.

He will not finish his audio history. There was never the opportunity for me to record any of the remarkable stories of his youth that I remember him telling me at bedtime in my own childhood. I blame myself: Too much focus on work and not enough attention on what really mattered. I presumed I would have longer. I have cried for the lost opportunities. It is a lesson most painfully learned.

My mother and I, and his attendants and visiting friends, are all doing what we can to keep him comfortable. I gently rub his head and arms, which he likes, lubricate the interior of his desiccated mouth using a small moistened sponge on a long stick, fluff up his pillows and adjust his covers. The tasks are small but the disease is large and renders moot any attempts at greater efforts.*

I sit across from his bed, watching him. He is sleeping, snorning softly. Ocassionally over the past few days he will seem to stop breathing for a moment and his body will slump. Each time I tense: Is it his last? Up until now, that has always been followed by a wriggle or a shift, as he unconsciously tries to get comfortable in his bed. But it won’t be long. Tears are pooling behind a dam of temporary self–control.

It is a vigil.

*Such as surgery or radiation.

No comments: