Friday, August 16, 2013

The Last Trip Through The Lobby

Working the graveyard shift is one that generally doesn’t bother me. I'ts quiet and I can get a decent amount of work done on the computer in the middle of the night. It has sapped some of my sleep but I am still able to get most of what I need to get done during the day so long as nothing pops up. It is a bit of a bother but nothing that can’t be overcome.

Sleep is something that can be made up, I certainly have on many of my days off, and after a couple of good night’s sleep the tiredness is soon forgotten. However, there is one thing that I can’t fully forget and, given the demographics of our building, something that I am most likely to see again. I can’t seem to get the last trips that some residents take through the lobby in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, during a particularly unpleasant period over the first four months of the year I watched as this happened three times. Each time I said good bye without the expectation of a response. One of the residents I knew well while the others I only knew by name. Either way, it is something that is very difficult to witness and something that lingers with you during the overnight hours when you know there are people up stairs that are in worse shape than those who have passed.

These departures were so regular that it had gotten to the point that I recognized the medic that worked the same shift that I did whose job it was to check vitals and confirm time of death. About 30-40 minutes after this unpleasant declaration, the funeral home would arrive, recognize me behind the front desk, and head over to the elevator. The next time I would see them was when the elevator came back down, the doors opened, and they accompanied the resident through their last trip across the lobby.  

What might have been more difficult than that period of time was that in the months prior to the changing of the calendar I was asked to check on a resident who wasn’t doing well but still insisted on living alone. Each night, I would head up to his floor, open the unlocked door, and quietly walk down the hall and peek around the corner to make sure he was breathing. Every time I walked through the threshold I was terrified by what I might find. It wasn’t so much the fact that I might find that the resident had passed peacefully in his sleep and was no longer in pain it was more that I didn’t want to have to cause his children pain by informing them of his departure.

A couple months into the New Year, he also made his final journey through the lobby. A stark contrast to the man I met shortly after my wife and I moved into the building whose personality was barely contained by the concrete walls. That night in particular is the one that I will never forget.

During the night, when nothing is supposed to happen, it is these moments that are the most difficult but also the ones that motivate me to continue pushing forward. They also make me a more pleasant and tolerant person as I still say good morning and good night to everyone that passes through on my shift no matter what their response, or lack thereof, is going to be. But, more importantly, it motivates me because I dread the night that I witness this again and, I admit a little selfishly, I don’t want to be there when it happens.