what we could have done

The old woman died. I heard she slept more and more of the days away until one day she stopped talking and eating in the awake moments. Then her breathing slowed and her breaths shallowed until she stopped breathing altogether.

At home. Lying in her bed. Surrounded by all her children. Just how she wanted.

Things could have gone very differently.

That day in clinic 6 weeks ago when her blood test results were so ugly, we could have admitted her to the hospital. We would have been completely justified—the patient was dying of kidney failure. We could have placed a dialysis catheter in her chest and connected her to a dialysis machine until the numbers were pretty again.

And if removing the toxins and extra fluid didn’t improve her breathing, we could have placed a breathing tube down her throat and connected her to a breathing machine to do that for her. We could have inserted an IV line or two to start the medicines to bring her blood pressure up to a more attractive level. At least 90.

We could have even done chest compressions, not so hard as to break too many ribs, but hard enough to keep her heart pumping—just until we could get the non-invasive pacemaker pads in place. That way we could have sent enough electricity through her chest to make her heart beat a lovely 60 times a minute or so.

That way we would be able to say words like everything and fighter. Not that we couldn’t say them before in sentences like “Everything is coming up roses” and “I’m a lover not a fighter.” But only after this could we say them in sentences like “We did everything” and “She was a fighter.”

Like we did with Ms. L.

She died too. In a hospital bed. In a flurry of tubes, compressions, electricity, IV medications, and dialysis. Surrounded by the code team of doctors and nurses. While her children paced and worried and prayed in the waiting room, not realizing that what was happening was not temporary in the way they hoped.