Do Not Resuscitate

The average man takes over six hundred million breaths in his lifetime, most of them without conscious thought.

Death stinks.

Like the sweaty, unwashed scent of a body shaking with fever; and the sick, stomach-churning rot of a foot gangrene. Like the nose-pinching smell of oozing diarrhea. Like the last breath exhaled from a mouth full of rotten teeth.

I approach the bedside of the dying man and watch his chest rise and fall as he sucks in through his nose and blows out through his mouth. It seems to take extraordinary effort. With every heave, there is a rattle in his throat. I touch his arm.

“Mr. J!”

His eyelids flutter open. Can he see me? No, his eyes are rolled back in his head.

“Mr. J!”

His eyes close. There is no sign that he notices my presence. His body has shut everything else down to concentrate on the few critical movements essential for life. His heart toils away in his chest, working as hard as ever. His breath remains steady. One after the other after the other.

dnr-purpleThe average man takes over six hundred million breaths in his lifetime, most of them without conscious thought. Breathing is one of those countless tasks that our bodies do automatically. We don’t think about it until something goes wrong. Before the advent of modern medicine, death came once the heart stopped beating and the lungs stopped filling. Now we have interventions that have blurred the line between life and death. And sometimes these interventions save lives.

Other times, however, these interventions can do more harm than good. And that’s when conversations about the “Do Not Resuscitate” orders take place. Mr. J’s code status is DNR with comfort care only. If his heart stops beating, there will be no chest compressions. If he stops breathing, he will not be placed on a ventilator.

Under my hand, I feel the muscles of his arm trembling. I listen to the rattle in his chest. I watch him breathe his last.

Today’s Daily Post Writing Prompt: Automatic

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