Sunday, 9 October 2011


A children's channel shows quietly in the background. A young boy sits in a corner of the entrance hall trying his hardest to keep his eye on the television, as all around him chaos reigns. Dozens of people are in the house, men in one room, women in another. Children wonder between the two, the younger ones chasing each other, playing happily, their childhood seemingly unaffected by the grown-up reality all around them. 

A middle-aged, grey-haired man meets me at the door and guides me towards a side room. The house suddenly becomes silent as they see, hear and sense the intrusion of an unknown guest. Dozens of eyes follow me through the narrow corridor. Another man, of similar age and strikingly similar features to my guide joins us. He puts his hand on the handle, and just before we enter, he stops to explain.

"My name is Deepesh, and this", he says, pointing to the other man, "is my brother. I'm sorry you were called. There is nothing for you to do, but they said this was the only way." 

Deepesh opens the door, and motions me in. Two women are sitting at the other end of the room, their chairs angled gently towards each other. One wipes tears away as the other sits reading prayers from a book. Between them, lying on the floor and covered up to his face in a white sheet, is an elderly man. 

"He died a few hours ago," said Deepesh. "We called the family just before, when we knew he was in his last moments. Many of them have been here since then, many have joined us in the meantime. It is how we help his soul on its way. My sister and aunt, his sister, are the ladies in the room." 

It was the aunt who was crying. 

"We called the doctor to tell him that my father had died, but it was after hours, so they said we had to call for you. All we need is the certificate so we can prepare the funeral."

The call had been dispatched as a cardiac arrest. That would mean at least another three pairs of hands were on the way, possibly even four. I'd left the car and headed for the house with several bags full of kit and ready for a resuscitation. As soon as I had reached the front door, I knew that the equipment was surplus, and that any efforts would be futile. The calm, sad acceptance written on Deepesh's face told me all that I needed to know. As soon as I had seen his father, I called off the reinforcements. Distant sirens fell silent moments later. 

"We knew he was dying. A year ago, he was given three months, but he fought on. He wanted to see his first great grandchild. She was born last week, and he held her yesterday for the first and last time." 

Deepesh called to one of the children, and following an apology to me, asked them something in a language I don't understand. The child, a young girl of six or seven, her long dark hair tied in a plait, looked at him as if he was crazy. He, in turn just confirmed his request with a gentle nod of the head. A minute later she returned holding a digital camera, and handed it to him. He pressed a couple of buttons, and showed me the screen. Sitting there, a broad smile across his face and cuddling a tiny baby, was the same man who lay lifeless on the floor only one day later. 

"He knew it was his time." Deepesh wiped away the hint of a tear and stopped for a few seconds. "Only yesterday he sat holding the baby, and all he kept talking about was the cycle of life." 


Trufflethebendy said...

Wonderfully written post. Reminds me very much of my grandfather. He held on long enough to know I got my 21st birthday present and card from him. I just wish he'd had the dignity this man had, and hadn't endured a pointless resuscitation attempt. Thank you for sharing this.


Charlene said...

Another informational, enjoyable post to read.......thanks for putting it together.

TAZ THE AMBO said...

A good death I like to say. With loving family, friends and a full life. No glaring fluro lights, endless noise, poking, prodding and machines.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

The cycle of life drives us all...

Torge said...

What a way to go.
No slow decay in a home, no fuss in a hospital, instead he went away peacefully in the midst of is caring family.

Where did we westerners give that up?

Bear said...

This is why it's so vitally important for the dying and their families to talk about what they'd like to happen at death, to get a DNAR in place if necessary, and to allow them to avoid the indignity of a futile resus attempt - an attempt which ambulance personnel must otherwise make if the paperwork is not in place.

LW said...

ah you made me cry again! beautifully put as always...

InsomniacMedic said...

Thanks everyone once again for your comments.
This was a bittersweet call, the end coming for the elderly grandfather, but not before he was sure of his legacy. From memory, the family were exceptional in their unity and kindness, both to me and to each other.
His life had been well lived, and by all accounts he died a happy man, safe in the knowledge that all was well with his family.

Anonymous said...

Its the revolving door of life. I hope that's how I get to go. I'll definitely be getting Do Not Resuscitate tatooed on my chest and the formal letter framed on the wall when I'm old enough!