I went back to see my dying patient this past Friday. He is being given morphine, but not enough to make him completely free of pain, which might also finish him off on the spot. On Tuesday, I spoke to a relative of his who was planning to visit on Friday from another state. Everyone thought that would be too late, but lo and behold, the patient was still alive that afternoon. The relative had hoped to converse with the patient, but for that it was indeed far too late. I never heard the patient speak a single word myself.
When I first saw the relative on Friday afternoon, he said he wanted the patient to get all appropriate treatment, but then the doctor came and explained gently but directly that the patient was passing away and that he was in pain, and they agreed that the focus would be on symptom relief and comfort. It’s the first time I’ve been present for such a discussion and was impressed at how the doctor, a Muslim woman in a headscarf, handled it.
I spent some time listening to what was on the relative’s mind and felt I was able to be of some real service there. He also arrived at his mother’s deathbed too late to talk to her, which he mentioned a couple of times. I could see that it was painful for him to have this happen again and that he was shocked at his relative’s appearance, which had become downright beautiful to me after the first half-hour of sitting at the bedside—a source of pleasure I would never have anticipated. I asked the relative to tell me a bit about the patient and learned what work he had done and what country he was born in.
On Friday I had lunch with one of my peers, which was enjoyable, and I saw another patient I’ve seen several times lately, a tough-talking atheist who is near 80 but looks quite a bit younger. She was headed to surgery and said that when she had spoken with her doctor that morning, she had gotten the impression that her chance of surviving the surgery was only 50 percent, which frightened her. She asked if she could end up in a wheelchair and her doctor said he didn’t expect that, but “anything is possible.”
She told me she needed a “bravery infusion.” I launched into a guided meditation, but she said, “No, no, no. I already have a script for lowering stress. I don’t need another script.” Oops. I should have asked if she wanted to do a meditation. So then I said, “You are in an ocean of bravery—clear, sparkling, refreshing bravery all around you.” But that was not helpful, either, and again, I should have asked what she had in mind. For all I know, her worst fear is of death by drowning. Oops again.
It turned out that what she had in mind was horses. The thought of horses around her makes her feel brave—imagining the sound of their hooves clip-clopping along beside her. So we discussed that, and she at first looked calmer and then suddenly burst into tears and said, “I’m scared! I don’t want to die! I have so much more I want to do.” I held her hand, and it ended up feeling like a very meaningful visit, as well as a good learning experience for me. I told her I would look for her after her surgery, and was able to find her later in post-op, which fortunately is also my area. She was still asleep, but I bent over and said to her, “Hello, [patient’s name]. This is Bugwalk. I’m here, and I’m pleased to report that you are one hundred percent alive! I will see you on Monday.”
Tom has had a cold this week and asked for my help making a trip to the grocery store today. Shortly before we were going to leave, he called and said he’d run into problems reserving a City CarShare car. He came down to my place, and sure enough, this now requires the use of Facebook. We are not on Facebook and have no plans to be on Facebook. Annoying. I sent them a polite note asking them to cancel our account and to return my refundable deposit of $300. Hoping that goes smoothly but won’t be surprised if it doesn’t. Fortunately, neither of us has been using the service much lately. I liked to drive one of their cars to visit Carol Joy, but can’t really justify the expense now. Fortunately, there is a bus I can take.
I have taken a 60 percent pay cut—well, actually, I got a 40 percent pay raise, combining my severance pay with the stipend I get from TWMC. But I have been saving every penny of the former, which will stop at the end of January, and then it will be a 60 percent pay cut, which at first seemed dismal and very not fun. But now I’m enjoying the challenge of living on my new income, and am even saving a token amount, just $100 each month, to adhere to the principle of living within my means.
It mainly has meant not taking cabs and not buying books, both of which are easy enough not to do. I’m taking Muni a lot more. I’ll be taking the bus to see Carol Joy from now on. It means really considering if I need something, and buying way less packaged stuff at Rainbow, where my typical weekly expenditure has gone from $175 to $75. They offer discounts in some departments if you spend a certain amount, so I’m planning ahead in order to take advantage of those. On the other hand, visiting my parents, going on meditation retreats and having bodywork twice a month are essential, so I am budgeting for those and doing without other things.
I now see that I can live on much less money than I would have thought—medical and housing crises aside—and I am now planning to do whatever I need to do to work as a chaplain or in some related area. For instance, I could see myself being a part-time chaplain and a part-time bereavement counselor. We shall see. I have a very strong sense of being carried along, of floating atop a powerful current.