We had an episode last night that was quite alarming. I was on the phone and walked into the living room where my husband was watching TV. I had heard him coughing and wanted to see if he needed any cough syrup.
When I saw his face, I knew that it wasn’t the usual cough from sinus problems. He was clutching his throat and he was trying to talk. It was similar to when I have a bad asthma attack. He was able to get out that he had taken a drink of cold water.
He had such a look of panic in his eyes. I hung up the phone and I began to assess the situation. I knew that this was like one of the warnings regarding a side of effects of one of the cancer drugs that he took. This drug continues in the body after the patient stops taking the chemo drug. One of the side effects is having a tingling, almost like an electric like shock to the hands, should you touch something cold; but this was like the other side effect that we were warned about. If you went outside into cold air or drank something cold, you could have a laryngospasm like response. A laryngospasm is when you feel like someone is holding their thumb in the middle of your throat. It feels like this even when there nothing is obstructing the airway. The patient feels like they are suffocating.
He kept clutching his throat and he began to hyperventilate. I saw that he was not changing blue in color nor was he cold and clammy. I knew that he was getting oxygen and this was a side effect of the drug rather than an immediate problem. I began helping him to breath slowing through his nose and his mouth. As I instructed him to slowly breath in and breath out, he began to relax and the terrible feeling was beginning to subside. As he laid back in he recliner, I saw a lonely tear form in the corner of his eye and I realized that he thought that this may be it, he thought that he could be dying. I saw the fear that hides in the shadow of his mind. I knew that he saw the look on my face as I was trying to quickly decide whether this was something I could handle or that I needed to call for help. It was a moment of truth and reality.
Severl time, he has asked the doctors what to expect when it is time to die. He wants to know what to look for when his time on this earth is coming to a close. The doctors try to find ways to side step a direct answer to his direct question. As a nurse, I have some idea how this may end, but I also know that there is no exact path or no exact predictions to make. Cancer never ends a life. It is usually complications or infections that will kill the body. The doctor’s lack of cander is very frustrating and frightening to him.
After about 30 minutes, he was sleeping in the recliner and I was grateful. It was a reality check for both of us. To survive living with cancer, there is a certain amount of denial that is required. If you don’t try to live some semblance of normalicy, there would be the tendency to find a spot and just wait for death to come. It seems like that anyway to him and to me sometimes. Instead, telling yourself that death isn’t here and you have to find a way to live, you go about your day, washing dishes, mowing grass, feed the animals and making meals….. But, just underneath the surface of conscience thought, you know that with each season that passes, you wonder if he will be here to see the same things next year.
Anticipation isn’t an easy thing in which to live; even more when it the anticipation of death. Living in the shadows can be frightening. It is the unknown that seems to plague your waking thoughts. Is this the day? Is this the time? How much pain is coming? How long, oh Lord, how long?