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Susan Humphries

The hospital room where I witnessed an old man’s death last year. He was in the hospital being treated for an illness that he should have survived; yet he did not. My uncle’s passing was an emotional rollercoaster of relief and grief: the relief clearly etched on his face, as his features relaxed after his final breath left his body; the grief mine, alone in a hospital room with a man that would no longer demand a ‘smootch’ from me when I next saw him. There would be no next time. Bob was an 88 year-old man with profound deafness. His deafness was complete and had been since he was a young man. Despite this, he lived a full and productive life, particularly once he met and married my aunt in his late thirties. But after her death from breast cancer ten years ago, which was a long and painful process for all, he became very lonely. And once his little dog passed away, Bob slowly lost his will to live. He was a fit old buggar, but dementia had set in. We were in the process of finalising aged care assessments and seeking an appropriate aged care facility for him (none of which he wanted) when the floods of December 2016 hit his backyard like a tsunami. It brought with it debris from a number of fences that had been knocked down and the contents of his neighbours’ backyards. Somehow it also delivered the golden staph that left him barely conscious on his bedroom floor (when I found him) and saw him hospitalised for the next eight weeks.  Despite being assessed as medically fit to recommence the aged care process, Bob began vomiting blood. He was transported from rehab to the emergency department, and the next 36 or so hours were gut wrenching. You see, Bob had his wishes. He did not want to be resuscitated, and he did not want his life prolonged. Certainly not when there was nothing left for him to live for. And, in his mind, being moved from his home into a care facility was not worth living for. We advised emergency department staff of his wishes and had to carefully negotiate his health care. He was moved into a palliative care ward and ‘made comfortable’ until he passed away.  As I promised, I was with him at the end. In this hospital room. 

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