It was one of those mornings when the light penetrated a window with a fierceness that could drown even a hospital room in a 10-foot blanket of warmth. In room 5307, this brightness shed light on frailty. He felt warm, alone. Bony ends obviated their presence beneath crisp white linen.
I sat beside him, agonal respirations as last words. I shuffled between bedside and nursing station telemetry monitor, focused on the upper right screen. 70. 54. 45. 30. Lifeless waveforms. A pause and end in pulsation. His hand in mine with no flinch, no change, and yet so much had passed.
The resident came in to confirm and announce time of death briefly before going to notify the attending, call the family and document the event. The warm morning light in 5307 suddenly felt astonishingly inappropriate. I somehow expected death to bring a repellent cold, something ludicrously wintry even in a blistering New Orleans summer. I thought how naïve of me to expect weather patterns to change according to human processes.
The Price Is Right played on in the background. The crowd cheered to Drew Carey’s big-bellied voice. $700. $540. I let go of his hand briefly to shut it off and sat beside him in silence until his family arrived. I’d never been alone in a room with a person who wasn’t alive. It was strangeness, quietness and loudness all at once. Someone beside me but no words to be spoken.
I often try to determine what about this momentary encounter sticks with me most, and what made it so difficult for me to assimilate. Was it the fleeting quality, or that aggravatingly sunlit room? I am forced to examine my glaringly poor end-of-life literacy and the medical culture deficiency surrounding palliative care. As my training has been framed towards saving life rather than tending to demise, I have allowed my views on death to be controlled by obligations to medicine over value.
Strangely, my mind frequently returns to the television franchise. I can’t help but think of the curious coincidence that Mr. I passed during the Final Showcase. The showcase showdown. Maybe his price was exactly right. This was his final bid. But instead of the flashy car behind Door 1 he got no extraordinary measures.
New Orleans, Louisiana