Sometimes I ask myself if my decision to branch my fire service career toward EMS was worth it. Then I remember…
The hour is late, and the life of the man whose dying breaths fill the room is going to end soon. His agonal respirations prompted one of the family to call 911, hoping for a miracle. They thought they were ready, and had prepared for this moment for months, but when the end closes in, few of us actually are ready, and able to let go.
Most were there now, the phone calls going out a few hours ago, that chain of communication families dealing with terminal illness know all too well. The voice on the other end of the line saying the words that everybody has been waiting for, praying for and dreading.
The gathering of loved ones parts as we arrive, making way for our bag full of meds, the defibrillator, and the stair chair, prepared to do what we must. We join the family, strangers in their house, but oddly the people in charge. I go to the side of the bed, and touch the dying man gently, first his forehead, brushing a wisp of hair back, then his wrist, where the pulse has slowed, and retreated, and is barely perceptible.
"Does he have any final wishes?" I ask, hoping somebody understands and comes up with the DNR. My partner puts an oxygen mask over the man's face, a few people protest, most just watch.
"The Hospice people have the paperwork."
His respirations are slowing now, his eighty pound frame shaking, thankfully unconscious as the morphine pump grinds along.
I hear the sirens of the engine company in the distance, more strangers about to invade this intimate gathering-this final farewell. It's a moment that will stay with the survivors forever, and give them comfort in the difficult days ahead. Knowing their loved one died with dignity, in the home he built, surrounded by family.
"I need a Do Not Resuscitate order signed by him or a doctor," I say to the person who appears to be in charge. He nods, understanding my request and the position I am in.
Two respirations a minute now. The guy is fumbling for the paperwork as his dad is about to leave this earth forever. The engine company arrives on scene, chaos about to enter and ruin the hoped for serenity of a man's final moments with his family.
"It's okay," I tell the man, and we step outside for a moment, closing the door behind us.
So, I missed a few fires, and ultimately destroyed my back, and things didn't go exactly as planned. But if I had it to do over, I wouldn't change a thing.