Wednesday, October 7, 2015


(B's father died yesterday before I could finish this post.  His is no longer suffering and lived a full and vibrant life for most of his 67 years.  It doesn't seem right to elaborate or edit or change the tense, in the context of what I initially wrote, and so, my words remain unfinished.)


Fentanyl, one of the many drugs pumped into our son's system during the last six days of his life, is absorbed through a patch on my father-in-law's chest.  The drug's name is printed on the metallic surface of the patch in a uniform and repeated pattern.  The name, the number of milligrams, over and over again.  A narcotic to sedate, mass produced, in sticker form.  It looks like an iron-flattened candy wrapper.  It is supposedly keeping his pain at bay; the agonized and tormented look on his face says otherwise. 

I flash back to Zachary's hospital room in the middle of the night between Wednesday, January 15 and Thursday, January 16 of 2014.  There is such mass chaos, there are so many unexpected interventions, that the IV tubing running various drugs into the body of my son is twisted and tangled.  Between emergencies, one of his two nurses says they must hand label the lines so that there is no confusion when changing the bags.  I cannot stop weeping and trembling.  I am still trying to understand how any of this is happening at all, how my previously healthy son is now being eaten alive by lethal bacteria.  I see her handwriting, the word Fentanyl, slightly slanted to the right with a capital F, all other letters lowercase, wrapped around the clear tubing.  In desperation, I cling to her neat handwriting, her desire to organize, to make sure there are no more mistakes or accidents in the care of my son.  I tell myself to believe, I pray, that her diligence will help my suffering boy. 


B's dad is dying and everything about it intersects painfully with the trauma of losing Zachary.  I watch him struggle to live through his last weeks and it looks so much like Zachary's suffering.  His moaning and restlessness, the distant, suffering expression on his face.  The inability to understand what he needs, to know how and where he's experiencing pain.  The helplessness to do much of anything to relieve it. The shifting position to prevent sores and to try to keep him comfortable.  The rattled, mucous-ridden breathing.  The spiked hair, fresh from a sponge bath, almost identical to Zachary's but for the silver.  Evidence of a much longer life lived.   

Familiar end-of-life phrasing: mouth care, the power of touch, mottling. The need to hold his hand and tell him, assure him, it's okay to leave us.  How utterly horrifying it is that we actually said those words to our two week old baby boy. 

1 comment:

  1. oh, this was so intense, Gretchen. I cried reading your last paragraphs.

    First, i am so sorry for B's and your loss(es.) I know that B.W. also passed in October so i can only imagine how these three deaths so close to you and linked together must make you feel. And the suffering. It seems so much more cruel to not only lose someone who shouldn't be gone already (a still young parent and even more so a baby) but to lose them and know they had to suffer. I am so sorry. For them, for you.

    I was moved by your parallels between the last days of your father-in-law and of Zachary. Though i am thankful that Paul's last days were not filled with pain (to the extend that we know), i remember feeling so desperately sad to see my family surrounding us and recognize the rituals -- standing around the bed, holding hands, bringing food... -- that we had already gone through at the deaths of my parents. There is something a little surreal in feeling like you already know how these events unfold.

    I am thinking of you, holding your family in my thoughts and in my heart.