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Stories

The gift of life

The ventilator pulsed quietly, keeping a steady rhythm, forcing air into lungs that were struggling on their own; supporting a fatigued body too tired to fight. She sat at the bedside, as she had the past several days, texting with family, welcoming updates from the caregivers, speaking tenderly to the man tethered to machines and lines and monitors, sedated and unconscious.

They had been married 35 years… a second marriage for both. Two people who risked loving again and found each other after friends decided they were a good match, and sat them next to each other at a church barbecue. He was able to win the respect and affection of two young teenage step-daughters. Together, they later welcomed several foster children into their home who brought challenges and blessings. Now many years on, those children brought them grandkids who brightened their lives.

Active, healthy lifestyles left them looking younger than their years. He was 81 and a marathon runner back in the day. But on this day, the race he was running was to stay alive. A minor infection had exploded into a full-body assault with little warning. Fear of the new virus running amuck in the community had delayed their visit to the Emergency Department until he was too confused to refuse her insistence that they seek help. Within hours, he was in the ICU in isolation, waiting for the test results that would eventually clear him of Covid-19, but not place him beyond the danger of death. The IV antibiotics dripped steadily into his veins. The ventilator continued to wheeze.

She was at his bedside, keeping vigil, praying for healing, praying for strength, praying for guidance. She asked me, “Do you have many patients here with the Corona virus?” Knowing of the fear that preceded their coming to the hospital I responded honestly, and reassuringly, “Fortunately, none at this time. We have people that come with symptoms of the virus, but at the moment, everyone has tested negative. We are lucky so far.” She was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “That’s good to hear. The reason I ask is that there is a lot in the news about the shortage of ventilators. And, you know, my husband… we’ve talked about what we want if we get really sick. And I know him. He would say he has had a good long life. A happy life. And he wouldn’t want to be using a ventilator that could be used for a younger person with the Corona virus. He would want them to have a chance at a good long life too. And so would I. If they need his ventilator for someone else… I want you to know… its ok.”

He got better. The infection subsided. His lungs cleared. The ventilator removed. He transferred to med-surg. He moved on to rehab. He made it home. To the love of his family. To his good life. To his happy life. To life.

Chaplain Mary Follen, MA, BCC

Providence Willamette Falls Hospital

Oregon City, OR

Identifying details have been altered to protect the identity of the patient and family.