Saturday, May 21, 2005

On death and dying, part 1

Five years ago, my uncle was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Today he lies in a hospital bed, having his breathing done for him by a respirator pumping 100% oxygen.

Seven months ago, my dog - my friend - Haley developed a cough which was later determined to be a symptom of lung cancer. Yesterday she stopped eating.

Other than the respirator and the cancer and the congestive heart failure and the other consequences of an adulthood of smoking that are almost certain to kill him at the age of 62, my uncle is awake and aware of his surroundings. He is being given morphine for the pain and a sedative to help him sleep. We have no idea how long he might last.

We had an appointment scheduled with the vet for Haley this morning. Actually this was an appointment from two weeks ago, which we rescheduled in part because Haley seemed fine - and any news we were likely to get would not be good. Even a week ago, a fellow dogwalker commented on how young Haley looked.

(This same comment was made to my grandmother about her appearance during a marathon shopping trip I took her on the day before she had her stroke. It is entirely possible that the stress of this trip, coming so soon after an extended convalescence due to sciatica, contributed in some way to her stroke.)

My uncle has spent much of the past two months in and out of the hospital. He came home on the Thursday before Mother's Day. Our entire extended family just happened to stop by to visit him that Sunday. The Thursday afterward he was rushed to the hospital again, possibly for the last time.

The X-rays of Haley's chest taken today reveal that the tumor has completely invaded both of her lungs and much of the surrounding tissue, and there is much fluid built up in these tissues. The vet prescribed a diuretic to try to remove some of this fluid, which will possibly relieve - temporarily - whatever condition is causing Haley to not want to eat. Or, for that matter, sit or lie down, neither of which she has been very willing to do since yesterday morning.

Soon, my uncle will die.

Soon, Haley will die.

I gave my 69th pint of blood this afternoon.


Super G said...

I'm sure there are hundreds of people who've enjoyed the benefit of your giving blood and some perhaps saved from death. I'm sorry though you can't save your Uncle or your dog.

It seems ironic that we can sometimes help others that we barely know sometimes with little effort by being in the right place at the right time, but then we are powerless to stop horrific things happen to those we love.

I took my youngest daughter to see her sister's grave this week, which she did not remember ever doing. So we came home and looked at the 5 pictures we have. She died at 4 days and my wife opened the camera that had the only roll of film we had used to take picture of her. So, we ended up with 5 pictures and lots of white exposures. Anyway, there was nothing we could do to stop what happened, but other times I've helped out people by stopping when they were stuck on the road or just sending them a card or helping them get in touch with the right connection to get some job.

So - it seems - that I have been helped by others similarly with almost no cost to myself (or rather I was undeserving).

I'm not sure what it means, but only that I suppose we don't always know the good we can do and at the same time we don't control the world. Though, I am sure it is human nature to want to have the solution for all problems.

Take care.


D.B. Echo said...

Thanks, SG. And thank you for helping to put this situation into perspective.

Super G said...

Well. I wasn't really trying to put anything in prospective for you. You seem to have done that yourself. Our pets are sometimes special companions and I wasn't trying to lessen the importance of Haley in any way. It seems like you've done all you can and made her life very pleasant up to this point.

I figured you had included the 69 pints as a kind of bittersweet commentary on the suffering you were looking at. Still even though you'll never meet all of the people you've helped by doing that --- that action isn't for nothing. I think when we're down it is important to remember not only the bad, but the good - and the good that we've done.

Good luck.

D.B. Echo said...

Funny thing is, I included the bit about the 69th pint of blood because I couldn't think of any other way to end this post. I had planned on celebrating my 69th pint with a post that would be called "69 is a magic number", but it seemed inappropriate under the circumstances.

I was supposed to give this blood last weekend, but instead went to the HFStival. So the juxtaposition of my uncle's condition, Haley's diagnosis at an appointment originally scheduled two weeks earlier, and my one-week delayed blood donation is a coincidence brought on by two reschedulings.

Even though I didn't realize it at the time I was writing it, I guess it does go to show that even when we are facing inevitabilities that we are powerless to avert, there are still things we can do to make this world a little better for those of us who live in it.