In the jobs I have had in my life I have been up close and personal with death on many occasions. As a paramedic for many years I’ve seen people die in traumatic accidents, I’ve had my hands on chests that have pumped their last heart beat and I’ve even had patients tell me they were going to die and they did. My position as a Medical Examiner took me even one step closer to death, the families and their grief. Because at this point, they knew their loved one was truly gone. When we pick them up on the ambulance, they still have hope we can save them–but when I would come wearing my other hat–the Medical Examiner hat, there was no mistaking death.
So I’m no new comer when it comes to dying: I’ve seen it, smelled it, touched it, tried to stop it from happening. I’ve cried with families, consoled people, put my lips on babies to try to breathe life back into them. You could say I’m comfortable with death if one can ever be so. At least I’m not afraid of it.
But now I am experiencing something different and I’m trying to cope with it. And that is to watch a dear friend of mine dying of cancer. Not only is he a friend, but he is a Captain of mine on the fire department. So at times I am his friend, other times his caregiver. It’s a fine line.
Cancer always plays games. It was a ‘bad’ cancer to begin with, but he was a fighter, so we were all hopeful. And fight he did, and rally and beat some good odds. He’s gone on way longer than anyone said he should. He had the love of being a fire fighter that kept him going, so go he did. But with cancer, it seems, there is only so much one can play those odds. And then the beast takes over.
While he has changed some physically, it’s his personality and will that is so hard to watch diminish. We took him to the emergency room again today and I broke down crying in front of one of our ER doctors. It’s just hard to know he’s in pain, has given up, isn’t himself, is discouraged and feels badly he’s burdening us. Of course we don’t care–we want to help him, but he doesn’t want our help. He just wants to be his old self…and of course, that’s what we all want too.
I have no idea how I will deal when the end comes near. While I know death inside and out and have shaken hands with the grime reaper more times than I care to know–in this case I just want to tell him he’s got the wrong guy. To take his cancer, pack it up and toss it in some garbage dump. Let my Captain heal and be well.
But I know this won’t happen and I have to prepare myself for the inevitable and try to help him through the process of dying. It’s not the same as someone I don’t know and love. It hurts a whole lot more and I can’t feel comfortable around this one or compartmentalize it. It’s too close. For his sake though, I will be strong. And take care of him until the end.