It seemed like it was going to be just another usual Sunday night on our med/surg floor where I work as a tech prior to starting nursing school in the fall. A 3-11 shift doesn't include baths, but if the patient is incontinent of the bowel, there's a good chance that a tech will change the sheets, bath the patient, provide a clean gown several times in the course of the night. This can be an unpleasant task; let's face it, being up to your elbows in someone else's bowel movement isn't very delightful, especially if it is the liquid, odiferous, potentially C-diff bearing stool that was the case with this particular patient on this particular night. However, I do my darndest not to shy away from these situations, as I can only imagine how difficult it is for the patient to be so limited and to need that sort of personal care repeatedly.
As I was getting the linens ready and running some warm water in the sink while preparing to clean up the patient, I began humming a tune. I'm a singer in my out-of-the-hospital world, and I frequently get tunes in my head, which I sing or hum. As I came from the bathroom, the patient this night heard me humming, and began to sing the words with me. I asked him if he knew the whole song, and he said he did, so we started off together at the beginning. He knew me only by my voice, as he was quite elderly and blind as well. We started talking about songs we knew and loved, and before I knew it, we started singing some of our favorite numbers from the musical "South Pacific." I was joking how, now that I was older, I was going to be too old to play Nellie Forbush, but instead would have to play Bloody Mary. That naturally led me into the song made famous by that character in the show, and we were laughing by the end of the bedding change.
He had no control over the illness that was ravishing his GI system, so I was in the room several times that night. We sang songs from "Carousel", from "Oklahoma", from "The Music Man", "The Sound of Music", all of those oldie-but-goodie Broadway shows. There was a 45 year age difference between us, but we both had loved all those songs and had them tucked away in our memories. What could have been a distasteful and smelly task instead became, for both of us, a delightful break in the monotony of the long shift?
When at shift's end I came to get his final set of vitals and to help him settle in for the night, I told him I'd thought of the perfect song to end the night's songfest, a lovely tune from the World War One era entitled "Till We Meet Again". Now, while the song's lyrics are written for sweethearts, and that wasn't our case, it was still a lovely thought to wish each other well until we were to meet again. We sang it together, and I wished him a pleasant good evening.
Two days later, I had to come into the hospital for an educational meeting for techs. I wasn't scheduled to work again until the weekend, and I usually exit out the back door to the employee parking lot. As I was completing a cell phone call, I stayed on the main floor planning to exit using the door by the ICU (I never go out that door on a normal basis.) Glancing into the ICU waiting room, I saw his family, whom I'd met earlier that Sunday night when they came for a visit. Going to them, they told me how he'd slipped downhill rapidly on Monday, and things did not look good. I had their permission to visit their dad, so I went into his room. He was on a respirator and was completely unresponsive. It was evident from looking at the vitals and other info on the machines at the bedside that he was very critical. I held his hand and quietly sang to him "Till We Meet Again" one last time, and left. It seemed a very fortuitous choice of exits to me; otherwise, I'd never have known he was in the ICU.
The next day, his obituary notice appeared in our local paper. I cried a little, and yet, it was a comforting thought to know that on his last aware night of his 88+ years on this earth, he sang the old songs he loved so well, had talked about his beloved deceased wife of 60+ years, and knew that while he was in a difficult care situation with the diarrhea he was suffering, that he'd given ME the gift of his music as well.
Rest in peace, Mr. W.; until we meet again.