Note: This post may be disturbing or upsetting.
The night shift, also known as the graveyard shift (don’t ask me why) is opposite to what many would expect and is one of the busiest shift. This is a time when the patients should be asleep but on the contrary. This when the call bells go like crazy. This is when patients want to pee, this is when pain strikes with a vengeance, loneliness too, and the patients call, you are at their mercy, their needs need to be met. It’s your job, so you rub the shoulder of a person writhing in pain as you wait for the medication you just administered to kick in, you make a cup of tea for this old lady who insists she has not had her dinner despite the fact that you are the one that gave it to her. You empty catheters, you change the pad of a cranky old man who does not appreciate the fact that he is no longer capable of performing his activities of daily living for himself. You straighten sheets and fluff pillows all the while trying to keep a smile on your face.
This is often also the time that the monster who is death creeps in. Quietly like a thief in the darkest time of the night, to take, to claim, to snatch relentlessly and mercilessly.
On this particular night, it is silent, eerily silent. Hardly any bells. Everybody seems to be asleep. My colleague and I look at each other, luck may be on our side. This might just be an easy shift. As is routine though, we do the rounds after every handover from the previous shift. Those that need turning get turned. So far so good.
One hour into the shift I walk in with my partner to turn her (It is company policy that this is done by two people), this lady that I am so fond of. Friendly lady, always nice to the staff. She always asks how your day is and compliments you on something even if it is the color of your shirt which is by the way your uniform. She has a naughty mind too this one, she will tell you how tired you look and ask if you have plans for night. “Are you and your husband doing anything special tonight? You should.” She will say even before you have had time to respond and maybe tell her that husband still doesn’t yet exist.
I hadn’t been to work for a couple of days, but during handover, I learn she has not been doing well. She is deteriorating. That does not come as a shock to me given that the last time I took care of her, I had noticed her increased drowsiness and decreased food and fluid intake. At one point as I was trying to feed her, she seemed to wake up from her drowsiness and her face brightened with such a smile. On asking her to share what was making her so happy, she told me she had seen her husband, and that he had told her he loved her. I knew that she was hallucinating, her husband was past. All signs of imminent death in a person in the palliative phase.
Her family is outside, five children in total. Some of whom have flown from different sates just to be with her. They know she is nearing her end. She is sedated. I move towards her and as I bend to turn her, I hear it, for the first time ever in my life. The death rattle. My lecturers had gone on and on about it, I had even written a 2,500 word assignment on the topic, being a nurse, encountering death that intimately is inevitable, but nothing ever prepares you. No amount of research, lectures or whatever prepares you for the first time you hear it. The death rattle is a chilling sound often made by a person very near death. It is caused by a loss of the cough reflex and loss of the ability to swallow. This causes an excess accumulation of saliva in the throat and lungs. Once you hear it you never forget it. From my previous research, I know she has less than 48 hours to live.
We turn her and leave. What do you do when you know you have done all you can but that the inevitable is going to happen anyway? What do you do when you feel so hopeless, so helpless? What do you tell a family who thanks you for doing your job? I smile and say a prayer for them in my heart.
One hour later, the daughter calls us into her mother’s room. She has passed on peacefully. They mourn their mother, but they say they are at peace, she lived her life well, she was happy, and she was a good person. Always there for others. Her work on earth was done, she is gone, but she has left her mark. I know they tell the truth, because she was one of the loveliest, kindest people I knew. Even when the pain took over her, she still found it in herself to smile. To offer a kind word even as her body turned against her. Who am I then, to be angry? Who am I to question God, when even her family is at peace with it all?
I have this minute, this very minute. It is all I have. It is my reality. Nothing is to be taken for granted, life is happening whether I choose to acknowledge the fact or not. This minute that I have, better use it wisely because after all, it is all I have got. So in this minute, I will be my best, I will be nice to somebody, I will be kind, make somebody smile, because this minute, is all I have. It is all you have.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.