The inevitable finally happened last week. A patient who has been coming in for blood draws who I came to just love passed away last week and for the first time, it really just breaks my heart to know that he won't be around anymore.
With the work that I do, it's common to see people come in and out of the hospital at various stages of illnesses. Acute. Chronic. Terminal. Within the 6 months that I've worked as a phlebotomist I have seen several patients come into the hospital and not leave. And when you're from a small town, you get to know everyone incredibly well -- especially those frequent flyers that need lab work on a daily to weekly basis. By far, this is certainly one of the hardest parts of my job. Having to go into their hospital room and drawing their blood as they sharply inhale and exhale a breath as their ribcage forcefully expands to accommodate what may be their last breath of air. Standing there while a patient breaths at a rate of only 3 to 4 breaths a minute, praying that that breath was not their last and anxiously anticipating them to once again fill their lungs, but knowing that the last breath will come at any moment. Knowing they can hear you, whispering to them how wonderful of a patient they've always been for you. Letting them know they are loved and cared about by many.
And then there are the experiences with patients who know that they are dying. It's such a tender moment when a patient knows that they are dying. When they confess to you, like one elderly woman did this morning, that they are "nearly dead", and as a man had to tell me 2 weeks ago that, "it's only a matter of time." You try to reassure them, comfort them, and be compassionate towards them, but what do you say? Being an outsider it's difficult to asses how they are dealing with their own mortality. With Spencer, for example, I knew where he was at and how he was processing everything. I may not have known what to say, but our intimate relationship allowed me more comfort to express my sadness and to help him through it. But as a professional, it's hard to know the right words to say.
A couple of Friday's ago I went up to the nursing home to draw a patient. I was looking forward to going up there because this was a man I had really come to enjoy seeing in the lab. He hadn't been in in a little over a month as he was recovering from a surgery that he had. I walked into his room and he was laying on his bed not looking so good. I looked over at him and smiled and told him that I had been thinking about him constantly and that it was good to see him.
I asked him how he was feeling. How his surgery went. I was genuinely interested and concerned about him. As I was palpating for a vein in his arm which had grown thinner, veins becoming harder to find, he told me that things did not go well. The look on his face and in his eyes told me that was quite a grim response. He then proceeded to tell me, "It's just now a matter of time." At that point I wasn't sure of the full extent of everything so I replied with, "Just a long road to recovery now, huh?" but he shook his head no and I suddenly understood. I'm sure my face went ghost white, my heart sank down to my stomach, hands started shaking, and as a slight tear started to form in the corner of my eye I fought it back, knowing I had a job to do and I had to get through it. I had to be strong for my patient.
After drawing his blood, I stood up and took a moment to chat with him. I had been considering coming up after work some day and visiting him, and so I decided that there was no better time like the present to ask him if he liked visitors. So I did and he told me that yes, he loves them. The moment I asked him, "Would you like me to come up here in a few days and visit you so that we can chat a little more?" his face completely lit up. It was the first time in the entire conversation where his eyes opened wide and he actually held a smile on his face. He told me he would like that very much. I knew instantly I had to do it as soon as I could. I was really looking forward to visiting with him more.
After saying my goodbyes to him I left the room and just felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. My leaned my elbows on my cart as tears welled up in my eyes. I couldn't believe it. It just wasn't fair.
I will never forget the short and sweet relationship that I built with this man in the time that I knew him. The very first time that he came into the lab he was a bit grumpy and really not feeling well. His wife accompanied him. At that time we didn't exchange too many words, but I thought that I recognized them. I knew that I had seen them somewhere before but I couldn't place who it was. The next time that he came into the lab, a few short weeks later, it finally dawned on me who he was. I asked him if he had any relation to a family whose son I used to date, and he told me, "Oh ya! I sure do" with a grin on his face. He told me that he thought he and his wife recognized me. He said that his wife asked if that's who I was but he couldn't be certain. He remembered exactly who I was and I couldn't believe that he remembered me spending time at their house one Christmas with their family. We chatted some more while I drew his blood and then he left.
He came back many, many times after that and after that conversation we had, his whole demeanor changed towards me after we found common ground. He always greeted me with a family at 6 am in the morning. Never left without the routine of telling me, "Thank you, you take care, sweetie."
We often talked about the extent of his health and how he was feeling. Some days were good for him, but most days he struggled. We bonded over doctors appointments and a doctor that we both shared out in Colorado, agreeing how amazing he is. Sometimes we would laugh together and smile when he was having a good day, and sometimes it was somber when he was having a particularly rough time.
I truly began enjoying seeing him at the lab. He was one of those people who just made my morning a little bit better. He was always so sweet, gentle, and very kind to me. I can't pinpoint exactly what I liked so much about him, but I think it was just his over all attitude towards me when he was there.
Unfortunately I was not able to go back up to the home and see him. It's a hard pill to swallow. My grandpa passed away after that and didn't get the opportunity to visit him that weekend. The day that I was planning on going up after my first day back at work he was admitted into the hospital and had passed away. It really happened quick, a lot faster than I thought it would. I'm sad that I didn't get the opportunity to visit him again, but I am beyond thankful that I spent a few extra minutes that day that I drew his blood to talk with him.
He was so sweet and I really miss seeing him around. It was a truly a pleasure Mr. Clark. Rest Easy.