Saturday, September 02, 2006

Another Dear Friend is Dying

I lost an extremely dear friend in April. Yesterday, my other dearest friend, besides my wife, told me that she's in the terminal stages of her disease. She was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension almost five years ago. She had been feeling very short of breath and weak for some time, and when I took her to the ER, they determined that her blood oxygen level was dangerously low and hospitalized her. She's been on increasing amounts of oxygen ever since. Some of her doctors talked of a possible heart-lung transplant and other treatments that might prolong her life and improve its quality, and she continued to hold out hope that things might get better for her.

But when she recently became very disoriented and returned to the hospital, doctors had to place her on an extremely high flow of oxygen just to bring her blood oxygen level up to the low normal range, and after they ran a series of tests, they determined that there's nothing they can do for her but help to make the remainder of her life as comfortable as possible. They won't tell her how long that's likely to be. Either they don't have a good idea, or they don't want to upset her. But she thinks it isn't very long, and I don't see how it can be if constantly breathing even ten liters of pure oxygen per minute is barely enough for her.

She lives near Buffalo, New York with her ex-husband and eighteen-year-old daughter. But her ex works hard all day just to barely pay the bills and has little time or energy left to take care of her, and her daughter seems as though she couldn't be bothered. My friend is quite unhappy where she is and wants to return to the San Francisco Bay Area to live out her days with a friend of hers who has assured her that she can take care of her. I have my doubts about this, and I'm concerned about my friend even thinking of enduring the rigors of a trip out here. But she's headstrong and, if there's any way she can arrange to make that trip and relocate here, she'll probably try to do it.

I feel at a loss to know how to help her. I call her, but I don't know what to say to her, so I try to mostly just listen to what she has to say. Unfortunately, I can barely understand her through the oxygen mask she has to wear over her face, and she doesn't seem much inclined to talk anyway. If she moves to the Bay Area, I'll be able to visit her some, but not as often as I'd like, since she'll be over a hundred miles away. If things don't work out between her and her friend, she'll have no one in the area to take care of her, she won't be able to return to New York, and I wouldn't dare let her live here with my wife and me. She's on extremely heavy oxygen yet still smokes. She almost incinerated herself a while back that way. She claims that she learned her lesson and now moves far away from her oxygen or turns it off before she lights up. But even if that's true when she's coherent, what happens when she's incoherent and nobody's around to keep an eye on her?

I feel pretty helpless about it all, and I feel sad that she's probably going to die soon even though she just turned fifty. The only consolation I have is from knowing that after she's gone, she should be free of the discomfort and unhappiness she's been suffering for the past few years having to lie in bed all day alone. I think part of her, too, looks forward to the end of her suffering.

In the meantime, I will be as good a friend to her as I can. She certainly needs one.

No comments: