Smell the Barn

Salton Sea

The old man isn’t getting any better.

“Experience Vibrant Seniors Living!” says the brochure for Rocky Ridge Retirement Community.

It doesn’t seem like his experience was all that vibrant.

He took a spill 5 weeks ago in his apartment there. The nurses found him a day later. It took another 5 days before they got him to a doctor. He was admitted to the hospital malnourished and dehydrated, not sure where he was, pretty convinced he was in a hotel in Manitoba and it was sometime in the 1960s.

He never got better, and now it seems clear that he never will. The only question is how quickly will he get worse.

The symptoms are clearly evident. The cause is what has some folks a little bewildered.

In Canada they have something called Comfort Care. This is sort of like Hospice Care, except that Hospice Care means there is an official prognosis of death within 90 days. Because the doctors cannot isolate a cause, they can’t sign off on hospice care, so they are recommended comfort care instead. According to Canadian law, “Comfort Care means treatment, including prescription medication, provided to the patient for the sole purpose of alleviating pain.”

Pressed for an answer, the Doctor suggests that while he won’t give an official prognosis, he personally reckons it’s gonna be soon.

Why did it happen so suddenly? I suggest it’s just old age. My sisters don’t think so. They think old age should be gradual, and this decline was very sudden. Overnight, or so it seems.

Andrea has an idea. She likens it to the last few miles of a 100 mile race. Mid packers like us, we hit that last aid station, its dawn of a new day, and we know the race is almost done. We are going to finish. And somehow, we manage to speed up. Maybe we are dead tired, mentally and physically. Maybe the blisters are popping on the soles of our feet, quads are trashed, and the pain is pretty great, but we can smell the barn, & pull it all together for that last push to the finish line. And then it’s over.

Maybe that’s why it happened so fast. Maybe he passed that last aid station, a new day’s dawning, time to use what little strength remains and make that last push to the finish line.

Or maybe it’s like after the race. You cross the finish line, and it’s been a hard, rough race. 100 miles takes a long time. You finish strong and then it’s done, at least that’s how it always is for me. Everything just starts shutting down, and 15 minutes after I run across the finish line I can barely stand. Maybe he crossed the finish line all by himself one night five weeks ago at the Rocky Ridge Retirement Community, and now he’s just waiting for the awards ceremony so that he can go home. Give him his buckle and let him go quietly into the night.

If the race hasn’t already ended, he’s in that last mile before the finish line. Running without a pacer or crew, just like always. The old man is not really a “people person.” Maybe I picked that up from him. We’re more alike than I care to admit.

The awards ceremony looks like it might even be as close as New Years. The old man’s gonna get his buckle soon.

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