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But This Time

But This Time

Several years ago, an elderly couple came into my office. They held hands as they made it to the exam rooms. The gentleman could not raise his head. He was a slight man, balding and wore black rimmed glasses. He spoke with a clear deep tone in his voice, although it was a bit muffled because his chin touched his chest. His wife had a kind and supportive spirit. Her purpose for living was to care for her husband, only daughter, and her two adult grandsons. She loved to cook.

They had heard that I could help her husband. He wanted to regain his strength in his neck muscles so he could hold his head upright and communicate better. As an aside, he wanted to get out in the garden and grow his food again. Many of his doctors had told him he would never be able to do the things he had done before his illness.

After a thorough evaluation, I realized he was just incredibly deconditioned. He was weak everywhere. His breathing was labored because he had what he called weak lungs. I prescribed several hormones and physical therapy, changed his food plan a bit, and encouraged him to get outside and stress his body to recover his lost functionality.

He did. He worked hard. The second time I saw him, he was holding his head upright. He was stronger, more vital. He gained weight. He had made great strides. His wife Sybille worked right along with him. She supported his every move and desire. They worked well together. They were married over fifty years.

Over the course of a few years, he became less functional. He had gotten tired. I am not sure why he had a respiratory arrest, but he stopped breathing one Saturday afternoon. His grandson called me to report his grandfather had started to labor with his breathing. His grandmother was out shopping. He wanted my advice. I told him that if he stopped breathing, he should leave him be. His grandfather did not wish to be put through a resuscitation. The grandson was frightened and alone with a dying loved one. I tried to relate to him his grandfather was dying, and there was very little anyone could do to stop his transition.

The grandson hung up the phone and, unsatisfied, called 911. An EMS unit was dispatched to his location. The paramedics at the scene intubated his grandfather and resuscitated him. The squad took his grandfather to the hospital, and he was admitted to the intensive care unit, unconscious but alive. His wife and daughter called me the next day. They had both stood vigil over him as he remained in a coma. They wanted to discontinue life support, but the physicians caring for him refused to listen to their pleas. I knew this would happen if he made it to the hospital. It was a runaway train.

The physicians-in-charge managed to keep his body going for another three months. He remained comatose, but he showed signs of pain at times. Sybille sat by his side every day. She cried constantly. The doctors placed feeding tubes in him, placed chest tubes in him, and paid no attention to the family’s desire just to let him pass. On the day he died, Sybille left the hospital and came to my office. She cried. She watched him suffer for three months and was powerless to change his lot. She apologized for not listening to me about his fate. She said, “Those doctors will never do that to me. Ever!” All I could do was hold her for a few minutes. I could feel her pain and anguish. She did not lose a husband of over fifty years; she lost a part of her soul. She watched him suffer which made it much, much worse.

 A year or two went by, and Sybille became very involved in her daughter and grandsons’ lives. Her daughter went through a divorce. Afterward, she moved in with Sybille, and the two of them had much happiness. Her youngest grandson had a couple of setbacks in his life. He moved in with them and provided much-needed help around the house. Three generations are living under one roof. I saw each of them flourish. Sybille was the matriarch of the family. Her wisdom was priceless. She was always kind, never in a hurry, and cooked fresh meals each day.

A few weeks ago, Sybille came to the office. She knew she could go and I would evaluate her anytime she was ill. Her overall countenance had declined. She had turned ninety-five years-old. She still was her spunky self, but something was missing. She just could not do the things she enjoyed doing for herself and her family.

A week ago, she appeared in the office looking frail. She was tired, worn out. She related she was weak and could not cook anymore because she could stand up long. Her legs would give out on her. She had a terrible eye infection that had started to clear up. She was weary. Sybille asked for her hug. She always wanted a hug. Sybille told me that she loved me and thanked me for everything I did for her. I thought she meant for that day. I realize now she was speaking for her last fifteen years.

She was at home when she could not get out of her chair. When she did stand, she collapsed, stopped breathing, and fell unconscious. The same grandson that called 911 before for her husband began chest compressions. He called 911 again. But this time, the angels took her before the vultures in the medical system could pick her body clean. Although the EMS unit took her to the hospital, she crossed the river Jordan before they arrived so there was no one to resuscitate. Her body was a lifeless vessel. Sybille said she would not undergo what her husband had. She was absolute in her command. And, she didn’t.

Take a moment to think about all the Sybilles in our world today. How lucky we are to have them around. Sybilles hold us together, give us hope for the future, and they live exclusively to be of service to others with no expectations. She was selfless in all ways. It was an honor to care for her and her husband, and I will miss her; especially demanding a hug now and then.

Doc

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