Date of admission: 2nd Sept 2022 (Friday)
Date of Surgery: 5th September 2022 (Monday)
Date of demise: 2nd December 2022 (Friday)
Length of hospital stay: 13 weeks (91 days)
82 years old gentleman with no significant medical history was admitted for an elective Anterior Decompression of Cervical Canal Stenosis. He wanted to regain his confidence in walking and return to playing golf. He was not on any regular medications. He was not overweight, diabetic or hypertensive. He had no history of heart or lung disease. He lived independently with his wife in their flat on the second floor of a building that had no lift. He went out at least once or twice every day without much difficulty. He was an ardent and proficient bridge player. He drove his car to a friend’s birthday party one week before he was admitted to hospital.
He underwent an uneventful surgery but afterwards he lost power in all his limbs. They took him back to re-operate and make more space for the spinal cord that had swollen up, according to the MRI. That didn’t make any difference. His lungs were unable to work properly as the muscles of his diaphragm became weak. The domes of the diaphragm separate the chest from the abdomen. They play an important part in effective breathing and coughing. Yes, surprisingly, the nerves to the diaphragm, originate from the neck (C3,4,5). They stopped conducting electricity. His lungs became unsupported.
His doctors said he’ll get better. It was just a matter of time. We needed to be patient. He needed help with his breathing so his windpipe was hooked on to a machine with numbers and waves and graphs and bleeps. He could not speak. No air came through his vocal cords.
Over the next few weeks he regained the sharpness of his mind and found that he was unable to breathe or speak, move or eat, turn from side to side in bed or have any control over his environment. He couldn’t really tell if it was day or night. The machines in the ICU made mad beeping sounds throughout the day and night and no one cared.
Patience wasn’t one of his best qualities but he was patient. Over the next few weeks he regained some strength in his forearms, enough to wave us hello and bye. Enough to blow us kisses and indicate that he was enjoying the music we were playing for him. Enough to bring his hand up to my ears and mouth the words “Nice ear-rings.” He learnt to communicate through his lip and arm movements. He said thanks to everyone who came to see him. He also said, “I love you” more than ever before. He smiled a lot despite his predicament.
His younger son is a writer and a storyteller. He told him a story of two well-known writers of modest means who visited a super-rich investment banker about something. In conversation the banker said he had great wealth, what did these two measly writers have? One of the writers said, we have something you will never have. “Really. What might that be?” He asked with a smirk.
“We have enough.”
After a moment, this patient father on Bed number 19 formed these words with his smiling lips, “I have enough.”
His lungs got infected five times in three months and the morale of his family went up and down like a yo-yo with him. No one knew what would happen next. In between, there were good times – going for a spin on a wheel chair, bowing to the statue of Buddha down the corridor, having bits of tomato-ketchup-flavoured-pringles with tiny sips of Coke, watching sparrows on frangipani trees. But this was not his chosen way of life. He had had enough. His heart had had enough. It stopped. The time to say good-bye left his doctors and nurses in tears too.
Ninety-one days of pure love and deep suffering. The former remains while the latter is done.
May there be peace for all beings everywhere.
“What will survive of us is love.” – Philip Larkin.