One Final Breath
I love writing about everyday people doing everyday life. Being a casual observer often affords me the opportunity to pause and watch, but always to give some profound thought to the simple origin we call life. Life is the presence of existence, the essence of breathing, thinking, moving, being.
I hear so many excuses from people to cover some blunder that they have forgotten, sometimes coming from my own mouth, how life gets in the way of some mundane task. We go through the motions of our days and often forget to say thank you or please or I love you. We take for granted that the air that we breathe or the ability to breathe it is a gift.
Today began no different than most days. I had a routine follow up at one of the most prominent medical facilities in Buffalo. I have been coming here for almost two years, so my routine is just that, routine. Thinking about that statement, in this place, routine is actually a blessing and should not be looked at as anything but! Being in this place and seeing the faces that pass me, it stimulates so many emotions from the daily routes of the medical personnel to the faces of those who are terrified to be there, to those who often are possibly clinging to life. This is a great place, but not an easy one to fit into any thought of routine, yet for me it is routine now.
Today seemed different, it felt different, and it was different. I was my same usual cranky self after surviving the crazy drive along the New York State Thruway. I managed to stay in the appropriate lanes, even though after two years I have never gotten used to the route into the city. Of course there was a bit of profanity used around the big blue water tower, but all in all, it was a fairly uneventful trip. I presented my green card and filled out all the appropriate papers and waited my turn to see the doctor like the normal process of many visits before. An elderly couple sat just across from me in the waiting area. They spoke softly, but the area is not large, so it is easy to hear conversations. This visit was their first visit to this hospital and they were visibly shaken to be there. I am not sure exactly what kind of diagnosis they were referred to address, but it was for the husband. He softly and discretely was making plans to his wife to deal with the impending calamitous news they were about to be presented. The wife calmly held his hand in both of her hands and warmly smiled up at him, giving him a reassuring pat repeatedly. When they were called to see the doctor, she made eye contact with me, and I gave her a wink and a silent smile to let her know she had this. She gently touched my arm as they passed to say thank you. In all my people watching that I do, I never get this close to my observations, but for some reason today I did.
After completing my own tasks at hand, I made my way to begin the rest of my day. The lobby is an expansive area filled with the sounds of life. So many people milling about, so many voices making conversation that it becomes almost a white noise drone. The reverberation of the coffee machines as the baristas serve the waiting line of people can be heard. A guitarist is softly singing a familiar melody in the corner. There were so many people, so many faces, so many lives all in this place together.
I was sitting on the bench waiting for my car to be brought around by the valet service just like my many visits before. I was watching the steady flow of people come and go. I was absent of much thought at all, I had retreated back to my routine. In the midst of the noise and bustling lobby a sound pierced the air. This sound was like no other sound I have heard before. It was a primal, guttural, pathetic cry that reached a crescendo pitch above all the other sounds. Though it only lasted a few seconds, it seemed to stop time. Right there in the middle of circulating life in the lobby, my elderly gentleman fell to his knees and was the source of that horrible sound as his body arrested. His poor wife cried for help. I have no idea really what happened, it just seemed like the world around me became a slow motion scene as medical professionals attempted to revive him.
I stood like most others there in utter disbelief. I was audience to this man’s death right in the middle of the lobby, in the middle of a daily routine, yet I could not move. When I was called to retrieve my car, I walked solemnly away with tears in my eyes and the sounds of his agonal final breath still echoing in my head.
As I reflect back on this day and my elderly couple who somehow without knowing it, touched my life. I have been unable to stop thinking about the day. I feel uncomfortable and slightly guilty that it was not the sight of watching death that is troubling me; it was the sound of death.
I write this now to say to myself, to anyone who will read my words, to him . . . I heard you.
I heard your one final breath above everything else on this day and it made an impression on me that I will never forget. I hope that it will forever remind me to make the gift of life a bit less routine.