What Would You Do?

What Would You Do?

Maybe we’re just getting to that age now… that age when death becomes a very plausible reality. I’ve mentioned our friends C & F before. John used to work with the hubby– they are about 20 years older than we. The four of us used to live about 15 minutes away, and they frequently invited us over for dinner. While we didn’t exactly connect the same way we do with our peers, they were always very warm and generous and kind.

Four years ago, C was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Every year prior to that, he’d gone in for his yearly colonoscopy. The results always came back clean. Then, all of the sudden he started having aches and pains. After running tests, doctors learned that cancer had spread all over the body– to his lungs, his kidneys… The colon cancer had gone undetected for so long, because it had developed on the outside of the colon. Back then, doctors gave him two years to live. Since then, he continued to work while also seeking experimental treatment all over the world.

We lost touch in the years following. Chemo and radiation took its toll on C. He no longer had the energy to cook and entertain and host parties. Without him leading the charge and with us moving farther away, the interactions grew sparse. I thought of them often, but I was too lazy to reach out.

Then last Friday afternoon, we received word from another ex-coworker that C had been in the hospital since Tuesday. There were perforations in his intestines; toxic fluids leaked throughout his abdominal cavity causing severe infection. Surgery was not an option as doctors feared he would die on the operating table. The prognosis was 24-48 hours.

When we arrived at his hospital room, he looked surprisingly well. He was completely coherent and lucid. He had lots of tubes, but he was fully aware. I always remembered C as a vibrant and gregarious person. Like I said, he was always hosting parties, cooking up some fancy Michelin-level meal from scratch, listening to music, watching movies on his projection screen in his living room. Even though at work, John said he was oftentimes grouchy and sometimes difficult, outside of the office, he was clearly someone who loved to be around people. And he was a kind and generous man. They didn’t have kids, but I always saw stacks of donation mailings on the dining room table.

By contrast, his hospital room was so sterile and cold and white. The sunlight in his room was strong and oddly unforgiving. C said he was ill-rested and visibly, we could see he was very uncomfortable. He knew doctors were predicting the end. A lot of visitors came to see him, but the tone was solemn and silent. No chatter, no music, no tv playing in the background. I struggled with what to say. Frequently, we would all just sit there in silence.

The last few nights, I’ve been thinking, “What would someone else do under such circumstances.” He’s not ready to die, but doctors say nothing can be done. Limited time and yet, zero mobility. He misses his cats. He’s scared. Call after call, he explains the news. What must that be like?

And on top of that, it’s been days and NO ONE from his family has arrived. His spouse’s sisters have flown in from Singapore and Indonesia. Where are his brothers and sister? No one knows what’s up with that.

Meanwhile, C is hanging on… already doctors are surprised he has lasted til now, but even so, the situation is tenuous at best. This morning his white blood cell counts jumped so high that doctors decided to risk external infection by inserting an abdominal drain to pipe out the infection and pus. The physician reiterated that the drain does not cure/repair the problem, which is his perforated/broken bowels.

John and I have gone to see C & F the last three days. I know we aren’t very close, and the visits are extremely uncomfortable for John. But I just thought of how social C always was… and somehow I just felt like having a lot of people there would comfort him, especially in the absence of his family.

I want to be hopeful, but the reality is that he has been in stage 4 for a long time now. Small measures may buy him more time, but… not much.

I just can’t stop thinking about what it must feel like to not be ready for death. When astronauts go to space, do they spend their time before the launch thinking they might not come back? Do they have some kind of bucket list that they make sure gets done before take off? Do they say goodbye as if it’s their last? Maybe there’s higher likelihood of astronauts returning from space than not. I dunno. For some reason, death makes me think of people who go to space.

Thankfully, F is doing much better than I had expected. Four years ago, she was an utter mess– completely paralyzed by the news. Obsessed and yet completely immobilized by it. Fortunately since then, she has become stronger. She still has difficulty understanding what is happening medically/technically, but she clearly gains strength from the support of her sisters, so I’m very glad they are here. F will be ok. Still, this is someone who has relied very heavily on her husband for nearly two decades. She’s an immigrant from Indonesia with limited English literacy– she has never held a job, and it’s fair to say, she is completely co-dependent. Undoubtedly, the transition will be tough, but she will be ok.

So needless to say, this has been a stressful weekend. I’m still holding out hope.

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