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5:26 p.m. - 2013-04-30
I spent two nights sitting by the bed of a man who is dying of kidney failure, watching him die. Rattle in, rattle out. Every now and then he coughs up white, snot-like phlegm and I catch it in a washcloth. He has bright blue eyes and he likes to cook. These are two things I know about him. I know he has four adult children, three daughters and a son, and when he called them two days ago and told them he is dying and he needed them, they all came to his bedside and they all left. There was a blow-up that no one on staff was un-busy enough to listen to. Then they all left. And now Larry is dying alone.

Two nights ago, somewhere around 1 a.m., after the nurse and another aide and I did some care on him together, the nurse and the aide walked out and I paused for half a second to ask Larry if there was anything else he needed. He grabbed my shirt and then my hand and held it. His hands were big and rough; he had been a very strong man, and he is only in his late 50s now.

I said, "Larry, do you want me to stay?" He nodded yes. So, I stayed.

There is a lot of dead time between rounds at 1 a.m. and rounds at 4 a.m., so I stayed with him. He was awake the whole time, but he looked like he was sleeping. His mouth gapes, and his eyes are half-open, milky and dull, the lids bisecting the irises. Every now and then he would open his eyes and look at me, and if I asked if he wanted a sip of water he would nod and take it, or shake his head. He'd cough and then squeeze my hand. I squeezed back.

Around 4 a.m. he fell asleep, which was convenient because I had other people to take care of. The nurse was sweet, though; she was willing to do my work if I wanted to stay with him. She helped out, even though he was asleep and I didn't need it.

Last night I don't know if he knew I was there or not. He didn't respond to much of anything, except to tell us we did a "good job" when another staffer and I boosted him up. I sat with him during the dead times anyway. He wasn't very peaceful although he is saturated with painkillers. He's sort of drowning in his own bodily fluids -- rotting from the inside out, the night nurse said. When I got off duty at 7 am I went to the supermarket and they were cleaning out meat coolers and the back refridgerated area and it smelled like smell hovering over Larry's room and the corridor outside.

Larry has been there 7 or 8 years and I think I am probably the one sitting with him because I'm the one who doesn't know him. This is giving my co-workers the benefit of the doubt -- otherwise I would be horrified that they surf the internet on their cell phones in the breakroom for HOURS at a time, on the company clock, while this guy who doesn't want to die alone is dying alone 20 feet down the hall, with nothing but the smell of his own putrifying bodily fluids and endless re-runs of the same COPS show, over and over, on his 48-inch flat-screen TV for company.

It's probably a lot harder to sit there if you know him. I don't know him at all and it doesn't particularly bother me. It would bother me more not to sit there and know he was alone, after he had grabbed my hand and told me he wanted me to stay.

I'm sure he died today after I left.

I think he was already gone, for all intents and purposes, last night by the time I left. I hope he stayed that way.



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