This story is short and was hard to write because it is so much an attempt by me to deal through words with a currently ongoing situation. Be forwarned it’s emotional.
The monitor next to the blue sheeted hospital bed beeped quietly. It measured its occupant’s heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and every fifteen minutes blood pressure. The figure in the bed was stocky and round faced. The thin bed sheets outlined an equally stocky body that seemed shriveled and shrunken. A hand, yellowed with jaundice reached out and upward as the man shook his grey-maned head slowly back and forth while drool slid from the left side of his head to pool and soak into the sheets tucked around his formerly thick neck.
Beside the bed, a slightly younger man with a small bit of black in his silver hair reached out slowly to grasp the uplifted hand. His freckled fingers wrapped the pale mottled ones, holding them still as the withered figure in the bed futilely attempted to free his hand.
“Easy dad, I’m here.” The voice seemed to calm the man. He released a soft moaning sigh as his eyes wobbled behind the closed lids. “I’m here. I’m here.” Karl Thorson raised his head, and looked are the artificial cheery bare white room, then back to his father, who was in the final stages of dementia.
He’s being taken by inches in front of me, and I can’t help him at all. He’s not been dad for a year now. Mom’s a wreck, I’m sick of this whole thing. God, please let him die. He’s hurting so much…he’s
“He’s not hurting. He’s dreaming.” the words, spoken right next to his ear had him jumping up and spinning around to face the intruder. The man…woman after another glance, peered back up at him with a faint lopsided smile. Her hair was dyed a grey purple atop her round head and short rotund body encased in green hospital scrubs. Her name, ‘Tia’ was on the white card pinned to her left shirt pocket.
She toddled past Karl to peer at the old man. She clucked her tongue as she arranged the bedding and smoothed it out while the man groaned softly. She laid her hand on his forehead, and he calmed at once. His eyes continued their restless dance behind closed lids but there was a softer movement now.
“You’re the one taking care of him? Thank you. I know it’s rough like this, and I can’t thank you enough for all the kindness you and the other staff have shown him.” She waved her hand between them as if gently pushing away the praise, and chuckled softly.
“Yeah, I’m doing my best. I’m Tia, by the way. Everyone calls me that.” She turned and peered at the old man again. “He’s in the final stage. Two, maybe three days. Then the body will shut down.”
“How can you be so certain? The doctors said it could be weeks, even months before the body turns off. With dementia there’s no way to tell” Karl said firmly, his eyes sharpening with anger. “What’s your degree in?”
“I’ve seen a lot of patients like your dad. There’s a lot of small clues, or ‘tells’, just like in poker. The body always gives itself away in situations like this” Tia went on calmly. Her confident manner slowly dampened Karl’s budding irritation. “I learned that a while ago when I first started this job.”
Karl turned back towards his father, then slowly settled back onto the small rolling stool still next to the bed. Ms Tia didn’t move away from the bed, and continued to rest her hand on the old man’s head. Once Karl was seated, she removed her hand and took a step back. Karl nodded at her and turned back to his dad.
“This damned dementia is killing him, and killing us too. We keep hoping for one last good day to say goodbye, but it doesn’t work that way. He’s just going to…” Tia interrupted him.
“You’re saying good bye all the time. You know what’s happening, and you’re getting to understand and make peace with him and his passing.”
Karl spun on the chair and angrily faced Tia. “You’re telling me this is a fucking goodbye? Just what kind of new age crap are you peddling? Get out! Get out and stay away from my father!” Karl shouted as he stood up, hands balled in angry fists as he stared at the stocky woman. How dare she tell me this is a goodbye. It’s not even close! It’s a living death and it’s robbing any chance of dignity for my dad!
He strode towards the door. I’ll get someone to take her out of here! Fraking bitch!
“He’s not in pain. He can’t remember it. If you look at it from another angle, you’ve got a chance to deal with his passing. A car wreck just takes him. No last words, no time, no chance to say something or clear the air. He’s just gone.”
Karl thrust his hand out at Tia, then swept it towards his father.
“It’s a damn sight better than this! This is a living death! Where’s the dignity in dying this way!?”
“Well,” Tia said calmly. “How is being torn in pieces dignified? How is the body’s natural function of evacuating its bowels dignified. Death is not dignified. It’s just death. The flesh quits working. Dementia allows you to come to grips with loss while they’re still alive. You get to say goodbye and they can hear it.”
Karl ground his teeth so hard the enamel chipped with a series of small pops.
“He would never remember it!” The intensity in his voice seemed to get through to Tia, and she fell silent and watched Karl like a bird watching a hungry viper. Karl stepped closer to Tia, body leaning towards her as he held his anger barely in check. Tia started to take a step back, then shifted her feet, planting herself firmly in place next to Karl’s father.
“You’re afraid. It got him, and you’re afraid it will get you too.”
Karl ducked his head as Tia hit his fear squarely. He raised it to stare angrily at her as she nodded to herself.
“Yeah, I’m afraid. I hate what it’ll do to my family when it happens.” He clenched and unclenched his hands agitatedly. “I wish I could have five minutes with it in a small room…just me, it, and a baseball bat.”
Now she did take a step back, but not from fear. This was an assessing glance, and Karl felt suddenly stripped bare. Tia held her gaze on Karl for what seemed like minutes, then said, “Deal, I’ll see you when you get diagnosed.”
Karl opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Tia seemed to shimmer and fade. A small heat shimmer floated above his father, who moaned then smiled softly at something only he could see. He gazed, open-mouthed at where Tia had been, then pulled out his cellphone, and dialed son Pearson’s number. What the hell just happened? He took a deep shaky breath, then another. Pearson answered on the second ring.
“Hey Pearson, it’s Dad. I’m gonna need my bat back…”