old-clock-1426318Written by Angela Hu, c2018

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I walk into the room, along with another medical student and our preceptor for the day, a home care nurse.

The patient’s wife greets us cheerfully, welcoming us in and treating us like old friends. Outside the hallway of the retirement home is musty and old, but inside the apartment is bright and clean – a refreshing change.

Handmade trinkets adorn the shelves and walls. A lace handkerchief has been artfully made into a serene-looking angel. Embroidered flowers and scriptures are tastefully hung.

We reach the living room, and sit down on the floral loveseat. Across from us is who we’ve come to see: a man grasping the edge of the sofa, quietly wheezing. He is cachexic, dressed in his pyjamas, with his thin strands of hair matted to his scalp. His voice is raspy as he tells us of his worsening efforts with breathing. Visibly tar-stained nails with clubbing peek out from below his sleeves. We discuss his medical issues, and his palliative care. He tells us he is tired, and that he cannot hold on anymore until his grandchild is born. I look at the ground in discomfort.

The clock chimes, and I jump. Eleven strikes, the penultimate hour. The chimes seem never-ending, and I look around and count at least three more clocks. Their ringing is cacophonous, and the ticking ceaseless. Constantly ticking and ticking, with the same rhythm and autogenicity of our heartbeats.

I look back to the patient. He is clearly in much discomfort, and the nurse suggests going to the hospital to receive oxygen. He solemnly agrees. His wife gets up and starts getting his things ready. One last trip. She fusses around the house, making sure nothing is forgotten. She gets his health card, and he shows it to us. The picture was taken three years ago, showing an altogether different man with plump cheeks and a healthy complexion. We see his DNR form, signed, dated and stamped.

At last his wife has finished gathering everything. We place the 911 call for an ambulance. The dispatcher is calm and business-like, telling us the ambulance will be here any minute. We sit, and wait. The clocks continue ticking.

We hear the sirens coming down the lane. A crew of burly firefighters walk in, filling up the small space. Next come the paramedics, with their purposeful stride and immediate delegation of tasks. The patient is fitted with an oxygen mask and eased ever so carefully onto the stretcher. The clocks chime again – twelve strikes. The wife hurriedly tells us to lock the door with the keys when we finish. I accompany her to the door. I wish to embrace her, but awkwardness overcomes me. Instead I grasp her hand as she leaves. ‘Pray for us,’ she says, and I smile weakly. ‘I will,’ I say, closing the door.

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