Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?
The doctor came in at 8:23am. I was kneeling, looking down, and with my hand on hers. My beard was thicker from another night of growing, and now stained with salt from dried tears. I slowly stood up, grunting, and having to push harder with my hand this time. I kept my hand on Wendy’s, and told the doctor my choice in a meek voice, and he told the nurses to remove my mother’s life support.
I stood aside to make room, and then gently squeezed her tiny, bruised hand that no longer had IV needles, and looked into the face I loved, and I watched the nurses slowly pull the long respirator tube from her throat and held her hand and said I was there in case she felt the discomfort of the tube being removed and her body trying to breath on its own again. The nurses moved aside and I stepped forward and placed my left hand beside her head and automatically, probably out of habit, observed the second hand of Uncle Bopb’s watch with my peripheral vision. I mindlessly monitored her breath rate and pulse, just like I had with hundreds of patients in college and in roadside emergencies here and there. I had worked as a paramedic during college to supplement the army college fund while I studied medicine and engineering, and I had always used Uncle Bob’s Rolex because it was an analog watch with Roman numerals, easy to see a quarter turn and multiply breaths in fifteen seconds by four, saving precious mental bandwidth instead of being confused by too many numbers on a digital watch and doing math and therefore not fully concentrating on what’s important. She wasn’t breathing, and she gasped and coughed up phlegm, and her heart rate became rapid and shallow and then the computer monitor began a long, steady beep that told me what I already knew. The nurse turned off the alarm and didn’t reset it, and I continued to squeeze her hand because I told her I wouldn’t leave her.
My eyes tried to shut and my upper lip quivered and I couldn’t take a breath, but it wasn’t time yet. Tears dripped down my cheeks and across my stubble and onto her face. I fought with all the effort I could muster to be with her. Finally, for reasons I can’t explain, my final words left my lips. I wasn’t thinking; they were the most true words that could stem from the strongest of the waves of emotions clashing within me. I said, “I love you, Wendy,” and then I squeezed her hand so she would know I was still there, and, unable to say more, gasping for my own breath as if drowning under those waves, I mouthed “love” again and again. I can’t describe how I felt it was time, but when I finally let go of her hand it was six minutes after the doctor had recorded her time of death.