The thump-thump of the hurting and the dying

This post has been written by me, Mike Staton.

This post has been written by me, Mike Staton.

The tenth-floor hospital room rumbled and shook… thump-thump-thump.

Earlier, I asked, “Is that the bed in the next room?”

“No, I think it’s a medical transport helicopter,” replied my dad’s niece, Belinda Barfield.

Several days before dad rested in a coronary care step-down bed that could be vibrated for massage and bedsore-prevention purposes. A few hours earlier I’d heard and felt the room vibrate just as it had when a nurse activated the vibration option on dad’s bed. It turned out to be the bed of the next-door heart patient. The landing helicopter felt the same way. Well, actually the room’s “helicopter” rumbling was far more powerful. I felt it deep inside my bones.

The tenth is Ruby Memorial’s top floor and on the Morgantown hospital’s roof are two helicopter landing pads. Dad didn’t come to West Virginia University’s teaching hospital by helicopter after his heart attack. Instead, he came by emergency squad from Minnie Hamilton Hospital in Grantsville, a 2.5-hour drive. His life hung in the balance; he’d not just suffered a heart attack, he battled a severe case of the flu and pneumonia. “He may not survive this time,” his wife Linda told me when I called her from my home in Las Vegas.

A medical transport helicopter brings a patient to a hospital in Iowa. Similar helicopters brought patients to the Morgantown hospital where dad was a patient.

A medical transport helicopter brings a patient to a hospital in Iowa. Similar helicopters brought patients to the Morgantown hospital where dad was a patient.

My mind wandered as I listened to the spinning, vibrating blades of the helicopter. I turned philosophical. These helicopters are bringing folks in dire straits to Ruby Memorial from other hospitals all over West Virginia. Auto accident victims, shootings, heart attacks, plane crashes, construction accidents… every reason imaginable, time of the essence, life leaking away unless skilled doctors can keep the hearts beating.

Just like me, family members and friends are sitting in waiting/hospitality rooms or inside hospital rooms, hoping and praying that their loved ones will recover, that their visits are pilgrimages of hope and encouragement, not death watches. It can be a roller-coaster ride. The ups and downs are frustrating, galling. One moment, your loved one is smiling, full of tales of past fun times; the next, he’s in the bed moaning of severe chest pain. That gurgling in his throat that you think is a symptom of pneumonia… you learn it’s actually a throat problem and his food and meds are not reaching his stomach but going down his windpipe into his lungs. Yes, hope one moment; despair the next.

A helicopter can be the difference between living and dying for folks injured in an auto accident.

A helicopter can be the difference between living and dying for folks injured in an auto accident.

Sometimes it’s a precarious balance between hope and despair. We wonder: How will the balance ultimately tip? For dad it’s tipping toward “hope.” Belinda writes today (which is actually January 22): “Uncle Lou slept well last night and got up in the chair this morning to eat. Hopefully, if things keep stable, he will be leaving soon.”

That’s the ultimate hope we all keep close to our hearts. That our loved ones will prevail over the odds against them and return home to hugs and kisses or to a rehab facility for physical therapy to regain strength and stamina. We all want them to walk through the front door if possible, not seated in a wheelchair.

The sounds of the helicopters landing and taking off also tell me that someday I could very well be a patient on a whirlybird. A friend of mine likes to say to me, “Be careful. You break easily.” There’s no “if about it” when it comes to illness, disease and accidents. Something’s going to happen to me and to you in the future – maybe tomorrow or maybe years or decades from now. Chances are great that we are going to end up in a hospital bed hooked up to all kinds of monitoring equipment and IVs, with tubes down our noses and mouths, perhaps even our stomachs. People will be gathered in the hospital room, praying for us, offering encouragement, chastising us when we turn gloomy. Bulwarked by prayers, kisses and doctors’ skills, perhaps we’ll return home to resume our lives. Or maybe not.

When I visited dad at his Grantsville, West Virginia, home, we always walked one block to the restaurants on Main Street for lunch. Here (left to right) are dad's buddy Robert, dad's wife Linda, me, and dad.

When I visited dad at his Grantsville, West Virginia, home, we always walked one block to the restaurants on Main Street for lunch. Here (left to right) are dad’s buddy Robert, dad’s wife Linda, me, and dad.

I’ve heard stories of “visits” to the dying. An uncle heard the fluttering of angels when his cancer-wracked brother died back in the early ‘50s when I was a toddler. When my mom lay dying from ALS in 2003, she claimed that same cancer-wracked brother – Kenny Kurtz – was in the room with us. So I’m ready for the fluttering of angel wings and the reassuring voices of departed loved ones when the time comes to shed my frail earthly body. As the hymn “Amazing Grace” reads, “’Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far, and Grace will lead me home.”

Postscript: Grace led dad home. He passed away at 12:15 a.m., Sunday, January 25.

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27 Responses to The thump-thump of the hurting and the dying

  1. Neva Bodin says:

    I am so sorry Mike, but your dad is probably happy now. I was already tearing up before I read your postscript. This is a beautiful blog and a hopeful one. What a time of reflection, hope and heartache this must be for you. Thanks for sharing and you have my prayers for comfort for all of your family.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thank you, Neva. My sister, her husband Larry, dad’s niece Belinda and me were all at his beside just after midnight when he passed away. We talked of Heaven, shared stories of his life, caressed him… knowing hearing is the last to go for the dying.

      Like

  2. Donald Kurtz says:

    So sorry for your loss Mike, your blog is wonderfully written. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

    Like

  3. Wranglers says:

    So sorry Mike. I know how hard this time is. It makes it a little easier since you know were he is. I’m not that far from you, let me know if you need anything. I hope you know how much your friends at WW&W love and care about you. This is a beautiful blog. Cher’ley

    Like

  4. Mike, I’m so sorry. You’re in my thoughts.

    Like

  5. Nancy Jardine says:

    The past week has been difficult for you, Mike. It’s very hard to watch relatives who are nearing the end but it’s worse when there seems to be hope for a little longer and then that doesn’t happen. We never want our loved ones to suffer, though, and need to keep that in mind through the sorrow.

    Like

  6. This is such a heartfelt post, Mike. We all have to come to terms with dying at some point in our lives. The pain we feel is acute, but it’s for the living, not the dead. Your father must have been a great man to raise such a thoughtful and caring son, and he knew you were with him and is looking down even now with a big smile on his face. You’ll feel him around you and be at peace. I’m far away, but if I can do anything at all to help, please let me know. You and your dad and family have been in my prayers and they’ll continue. Blessings to you.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thank you, Linda. You are so right… the pain we feel is for the living. And the prayers from everyone over these last weeks are truly appreciated. The Lord does bless, though not always as we would wish.

      Like

  7. Mike, my husband and I completely relate to your post. As you may recall, my father-in-law passed in April; Greg was at his bedside. And, like you, he was at his father’s bedside. I’ve been with my parents when I thought I might lose one (or both) — it’s not an easy journey but we recognize the reality and frailty of this life. Your blog is beautiful, heartfelt, and true, and I thank you for your honesty and openness. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. God bless and comfort you.

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  8. Doris says:

    Mike, words really cannot do justice to what you are going through. Just know my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. If I were there I’d give you all a hug. Those who have departed are in a better place, but the one left behind are also left with the pain of loss and the question of did I do all I could. My answer when both my parent passed on was, yes. Doris

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Hey, Doris, it’s an online hug. I can feel it. Yes, like you, I answered “yes” to question of did I do all to make sure I was there for him including hold his hand at the time of his last breaths.

      Like

  9. S. J. Brown says:

    Mike, I hope you find comfort in the knowledge that your parents are together again. You will be in my thoughts.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Whoops. I should have made it clearer. Mom and dad were divorced. He has since been married to his second wife, Linda, for 37 years; she survives him. I always joke with Linda about our ages… she’s a month younger than me.

      Like

  10. erinfarwell says:

    Mike, I’ve been reading your posts on Facebook and am so sorry for your loss. Lovely post and an accurate portrayal of what waiting in the hospital feels like. Take care.

    Like

  11. sstamm625 says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Mike. But glad you were there with him–for both of you. Condolences.

    Like

  12. This is a beautiful post, Mike. So sorry for your loss.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thank you, Cindy. I just contacted the kids of dad’s last surviving relative from his youth, a cousin named Gloria, to see if she has any photos of him and her as youngsters/teens. Their moms were twins, so Gloria and dad were extremely close growing up. If the photos are available and can be scanned, I’ll include them in a slide show I’m making of dad’s life. It will run during his New Life Celebration.

      Like

  13. katewyland says:

    So sorry for your loss. The ups and downs and waiting is so hard. Just went through that at a distance with a nephew and that was hard. Even worse when it’s your dad. Lovely post and so heartfelt. My thoughts are with you.

    Like

  14. Travis says:

    So sorry to hear about your father. I’m glad you were able to spend a few days with him. Wishing you the best in this time of mourning.

    Like

  15. Kathy says:

    This is a beautiful piece, Mike, and is in itself an example of Grace. Blessings to you and your family.

    Like

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