The image is as vivid today as it was some 20 years ago. I was a new nurse working the night shift in the oncology unit and in charge of caring for an 88 year old woman (Ruth) who was just brought in from a major car accident. She had suffered multiple contusions along with significant blood loss. She was beginning to have multiple organ failure related to the trauma along with a previously undiagnosed cancer that had already spread to her major organs and bones. She was conscious, relatively pain free (due to mediations we administered) and dying.
As I was frantically connecting tubes, lines and securing IV’s Ruth’s family arrived. Ruth was joined with her three adult children and her husband of 70 years, Bob. Bob was in a wheelchair and also suffered from ill health – Parkinson’s. As we gathered around Ruth’s bed I began to explain the gravity of the situation and told them Ruth will probably not make it through the night. The children were grief stricken and in various stages of anger and denial. Ruth and Bob just looked at each other tenderly and held hands.
Bob looked towards me and simply said “I am taking my bride home.” The children were emphatic their mother remain in the hospital. I immediately ran for the charge nurse. Although we tried desperately to convince Bob the most prudent thing for Ruth was to remain in the hospital he held firm to his conviction and asked me to “Please remove the IV’s.” The charge nurse was in the middle of another emergency so I was alone in the middle of the unfolding drama. Yet, I was swept away by the power, peace and love Ruth and Bob showed toward each other.
Two of the children left the room calling for assistance to hold off the transfer. I confirmed with Ruth that these were her also her wishes which she responded with a nod. Her remaining son and I quickly disconnected the tubes and lines. Ruth knew she would probably die sooner without the hospital and technical support. She simply looked at Bob, softly smiled and whispered “I want to go home.”
Ruth was too weak to sit in a wheelchair so her son, a rounding MD and I lifted her into Bob’s arms as he sat in his wheelchair. We wrapped her snugly and the MD gave her an additional dose of pain medication. During this entire time the sweetness, calm and love of these two people had enveloped us all. We were spellbound and completely under their control. It was a force that was completely out of time and context.
By this time my charge nurse was brought up to speed and made arrangements for an ambulance that was currently on site to transport these two love birds home. Hospice was notified and would meet them at their home upon arrival. Time was of the essence for Bob and this hospital discharge took mere minutes compared to hours. The two children who left the room prior had returned and they too were now caught up in the momentum.
As we followed the procession of Ruth and Bob down the hall and to the ambulance tears flowed from all of us. We stood outside the hospital, speechless and watched as the ambulance quietly drove away. The night was still and quiet. The love and commitment that these two demonstrated penetrated us deeply. Their actions were irrational, illogical yet seemed so right. Ruth died early the next morning at home in her own bed next to her husband Bob. I can only imagine what transpired during those final hours.
Thank you Ruth and Bob for demonstrating what love looks like even in the final hours of life.