On morning rounds, my attending asked me a question. “How long do you think he has?” It wasn’t the usual test-your-knowledge pimping that we’ve gotten used to as doctors in training. She genuinely wanted to know what I thought.
* * *
I’ve been privileged to stand witness only twice.
Six years ago, I drove down to McHenry from Wisconsin to be with my aunt. With her family—her sister, my mom and dad, my brother and his wife–we stood at her bedside as the ventilator was switched off. It was anticipated and planned, for as much as such a thing could be planned given that it was only two weeks earlier that she had successfully had a heart valve replacement and her room was decorated with the well wishes of “get well soon” balloons that were still there.
I really hate those balloons.
Four years ago, we—Scott’s friends—were in the middle of working out a schedule so that one of us would always be around to provide support for his mom, who had been with him every minute of his hospital stay. It was nighttime and I was getting ready to go back home to Wisconsin to show my face at work before coming back for my scheduled support shift, but our plans were soon to become moot. I don’t know what his prognosis had been—did he have hours? days? weeks? months?—maybe I was being purposefully ignorant—but we had been preparing for the long haul.
Scott had a group of close friends that had been with him since high school, but he and I only became friends many years later. They were present for his passing, with the exception of Joe. I asked Michael why I should have been there and not Joe.
“You needed to be there to get the story,” just as he so often is, to be the keeper of the story.
* * *
I wasn’t present when he passed away. I arrived at the hospital in the morning and asked my intern if he had seen him yet. “He passed away about an hour ago.”
When my attending asked me how long I thought he had, I sighed and shook my head. I thought of my aunt. I thought of Scott. “I don’t know. Maybe a day.”
Sometimes, there is no reward in being right.