A few weeks ago I went on my 2nd of 3 weeks in Tucson for my Integrative Medicine fellowship. I was energized, educated and overflowing with new or improved approaches to medicine and life. I never felt more ready to LIVE IT.
As the week finished, my husband met me and we drove to Phoenix to visit family and friends. We stopped to visit my cousin who was in the hospital. At only 44 years of age, he had his unfair share of struggles. We had minimally kept in touch over the years and the majority of my memories of him were from childhood when we would visit him and as the younger cousin and I would try my best to keep up on the running races in their yard. He seemed to have endless energy and was hyper! He and his wife came to our wedding in 1999. They gave us a priceless gift, he videotaped parts of our wedding and reception.
Entering his hospital room that day, a new reality hit. He looked almost 80 years old! We had stopped at Sprouts grocery store before our visit and I came equipped with dried cherries, gum, nuts and aromatherapy (instead of the fried pork rinds that I had heard were his favorite)– not to mention the medical knowledge I had hoped to share. He had been in a nursing home for the past few weeks recovering from an infection and had chest pain the day before prompting his hospital stay. He was sad, unsure of all the medical tests and plans for him. He had lost control over his life with so much loss. Having already suffered multiple heart attacks over the past few years and experiencing complications from years of diabetes, he was on dialysis, losing his vision, as well as the loss of his job, his home, his independence and more.
So, we visited. I pulled up a chair to his bedside and we talked. He barely opened his eyes, due to his near blindness and I imagine the glare of light disturbed him. He frequently would drift off. I searched for something for him to hold onto, for a drive within him to pull him onto a road to recovery. He shared his love for his son, a teenager with great talent. He felt bad that he couldn’t see the wonderful art his son drew anymore. He shared his dream to be back in his home with his son, able to proudly walk down the street with him. He felt disappointed that they had less to talk about recently. His visits with him were the highlight of his days.
We searched for his belief in himself and reflected on those who believed in him. With his eyes closed, he shared with me the intermittent visits in his dreams from his mother who had died in 1998. He vividly described an almost party scene, with many faces and voices in celebration and the appearance of his mother, with her long red hair and in a long red dress. He described her wide, welcoming smile, inviting him to join. He interpreted it to mean that life beyond was good. He interpreted it as a reassuring message from her. He shared that he wasn’t afraid to die, but he still wanted to live.
He left the hospital the next day. He went back to the nursing home and tried to get stronger. During dialysis on Monday, he had an event where he went twenty minutes without breathing. He was revived and on life support until Thursday. As they withdrew the support, I imagine his mother’s beckoning even stronger. He died an hour later. I imagine him joyful and energetic again, as he was as a boy, in a world beyond us, that I do not understand.
I thank my cousin for reminding me that to LIVE IT, it is not all about control of all these elements. As a doctor, I cannot “fix” many things. I can remind people to believe in those around us and appreciate what is beyond us.
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