Saturday, May 12, 2012
What death looks like...
He was about 5’7”, wavy brown hair and big brown eyes. There was some meat on his bones, but he was not at all overweight. He just wasn’t thin. He had a huge smile that make you want to smile right back. He was intelligent and could talk for hours about the planets and prospects of life. He was cultured and went to plays, operas and the symphony. He always seemed to fit in, no matter where he was or who he was with. That was then.
Today he is thin. His grey hair is matted against his head. He can only open one of his eyes at a time so slightly that I wonder if he sees anything at all. He is crumpled and slumped as he lies in his bed. His frame is so small that his body almost looks childlike. His skin is now the orange color of the sunrise and against the white sheets, he almost glows. He doesn’t know where he is. He must struggle to only say a word or two at a time. There is an odor about him that is so distasteful that it makes me back up when I get near him. This is what death by alcohol looks like. This is now.Each time a person enters Riley’s room, the person must put on a flimsy yellow gown made of something like a fabric dryer sheet. Next the hands must be washed with hot soapy water and then gloved with bright blue latex gloves. When exiting the room, the outfit is torn off and discarded in the hazardous waste can. It is to protect others from any harmful bacteria that may be emanating from Riley’s body.
I was unable to go to the hospital yesterday and I probably won’t go today either. I’ve been sick with a sinus infection and bronchitis. My weakened condition makes it unsafe for me to visit. Riley’s weakened condition would make it unsafe for me to be in the room. I cannot return to the hospital until I’m well. Riley may not live that long. However, when I call his nurse, I am told that there is “no change.”For me, yesterday is just a blur of coughing, headaches, nose-blowing, and sleeping. But, I know I will gradually get better. I know that I will wake up, probably tomorrow morning, and feel like doing something productive. This is just a temporary condition for me.
Riley’s condition is not temporary. It will continue to deteriorate until he is no longer breathing. He will not wake up a few days from now and make the coffee. Nor will he watch NCIS or talk to the TV. He will never again be the person who laughs out loud and cries when he hears the Star Spangled Banner. Instead he will lie in that bed and wait for the end. Since he does not believe in God, I don’t know what the end will look like for him. I pray each day that he will change his mind about God and be allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven where he can be with his parents, sons and all the other loved ones who have gone before him.When Riley was more coherent, just after being admitted to the hospital, I told him he better do what the doctors requested if he wanted to reach his goal of living until he was 104 and be killed by a jealous husband. He responded with “I think I need to re-calculate.” It was the first time I had heard him acknowledge that he might not be immortal after all.
As he lies in the Palliative Care Unit, I don’t seem to be able to find any words for him. I ask if he wants water or applesauce or pudding. But, for the most part, I have nothing to say to him. It’s as though I had a certain number of words in my word bag that was just for Riley. I’ve used them all up. Sometimes, I want to scream out – “I told you so!” But, what good would that do? I would gain NO satisfaction if he agreed with me. So, when I’m in the room with him, I struggle with talk of the weather. That’s about the best I can do.Going through this alcoholic end of life thing, makes me want to plead with every alcoholic who reads this blog. Please don’t let Riley’s fate be yours. It is a miserable way to die. The family is so torn between anger and grief that they sometimes don’t know what to do. It is heart wrenching to watch someone as they fade off as a result of a slow suicide via alcohol – or drugs. It could have been prevented but if the alcoholic chooses alcohol over sobriety, they are sure to end up exactly where Riley is right now. Death is always traumatic, but don’t choose this route.
In the days to come, I will post before and after pictures of Riley. I’m not trying to expose his identity. I just want it to be very clear about what death looks like for an alcoholic. It’s not a pretty sight.As soon as I’m over this creeping cruddy bronchitis, I will go back to the hospital. Maybe I’ll read to him from the Lord of the Rings just like he did for me when I was pregnant with our son. For Riley that will be a good way to go.
at 6:37 AM