Southern Views

Francis has been living in the assisted living quarters for about two years now, needing little care, but gradually getting weaker. During this time he has been using a concentrator at night to help him with his breathing while he sleeps. Over the last year his ability to breathe normally has gradually decreased, causing him some distress, though he would never admit it. He loves his independence so he never tells us anything about how he feels, or how he is breathing; he leaves that up to us, knowing that we are watching him. He has known for awhile that he is moving towards full time care, dreading it, but he is compliant when the time comes for more help, which of course has been slowly growing over the last couple of years.

(Photo by Ian Britton)

About two weeks ago his breathing became more labored during the day. We took his pul-sox and it was 96% lying down, with the concentrator on 5%. The percentage is good, but once he starts moving — he uses a walker — the percentage drops quickly. Fearing congestive heart failure, Theresa, the head nurse, got him an appointment with his primary physician, so I took him to Dr. Manning’s office to get checked out. Once we got there, and after a talk, Dr. Manning thought it would be good to put him in the hospital, and while there get a chest x-ray, and, since his lungs were filling up with liquid, to get him some intravenous diuretic to help clear the lungs up, and also a blood test for a hemoglobin check. Francis, like most people, hates hospitals, but like always he went along with us, since he was having such trouble taking breaths. He only had to stay one night in observation; the nurse on duty noticed how uncomfortable he was, and could not rest, she notified the doctor and got an early release after all the tests were done. Normally he would have been there for two or perhaps three days. When I brought him home the next morning he was feeling better, breathing easier but still very weak. He is now using a wheelchair full time, and has to use oxygen on a permanent basis. He has a tank on the back of his wheel chair, and he continues to use the concentrator at night. At this time we use 2 liters, which is what is normally used.

On Christmas Eve he was very restless, did not want to eat and I think a little despondent over his condition. We talked a bit and I told him that if he wanted to get stronger he must eat; if he does not eat he will only get weaker. So now he is eating better, wanting to get stronger, and hopefully but doubtfully be able to move back into his old quarters.

What happens when you get to be his age, is when you get ill you never bounce back to the same level that you were before the incident. When talking to him about this I let him know that he would adapt, and hopefully hit a plateau, and still be independent much of the time, though he would have to sleep in a full care room so that we can keep an eye on him. Luckily his mind is still very sharp so he understands what is going on.

He is a very gentle soul, a transparent personality, very childlike, but wise and crafty (in a very good way), at the same time. He has a good sense of humor and is a man of deep prayer and insight when time is spent listening to him. He is loved by many people, and over the years has had many visitors coming to see him, though lately he has painfully come to the conclusion that he needs to pull back a bit on that. He allows us to let others know if he can’t see anyone. Hopefully he will get a little stronger and more people will be able to visit him.

When working with the aged, I often wonder how I will deal with my diminishment, will I be able to be as graceful as most of the oldtimers I help to take care of. Perhaps it is just the little choices we make everyday that will lead to a graceful old age, barring dementia of course……but even then some pull it off with grace and aplomb. Old age is tough, but working with them, knowing them, talking with them takes the edge off a bit, when thinking about my twilight years.

Francis died peacefully in 2007. He is still missed.

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Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.