We pulled up suddenly, almost missing the correct address in the dark street. Across the lawn with the heavy bags, I made straight for the front door which was ajar. "Hello there?" ...I pushed the door fully open.
"The door’s open" came a quiet voice from inside and to the left. My partner was just behind me and I could faintly hear the radio traffic chatting away from the portable on her belt. Stepping into the house, I tuned into the bedroom, pushing the door open with one of the bags I was carrying.
It was a neat room, it had been well looked after, but there was a dustiness to everything almost as if the house had been locked up for a long time. There was also evidence of sickness too. I took in an oxygen cylinder on a trolley, a cardboard box of tablets on the chest of drawers and a thick folder of notes from the nursing service on the bed.
There was an elderly man sitting on the chair next to the bed, who looked up at me as I came in. He had red bloodshot eyes. I asked him what had happened and as soon as I said it, I knew the answer. All he said was; "I think she’s gone". The woman lying in the bed was pale and still and her eyes were already dull. She was white, paler than natural, paler than anyone should have been.
I went round the side of the bed and felt for a pulse. Nothing. As gently as I could I asked when he had last spoken his wife or heard her breathing. He said about 10 O’clock when they had gone to bed. I looked at my watch, it was 3.35am. She was cool to touch, her pupils were fixed. I cast my partner a glance, I’m sure we were both thinking the same thing as she passed the cardiac monitor to me. I put the monitor dots on and in doing so noticed the mottled skin and areas where the blood had already settled. The monitor showed nothing.
The hiss of air brakes outside announced the arrival of the fire brigade responder crew. I was about to ask my partner to cancel them and the MICA unit backing us, but she was one step ahead of me and already heading outside to stop them before they all arrived.
I began to ask her husband about her; her name was Eleanor, she’d had cancer, it had been first found in her lungs years ago, later in her bones. As if that wasn’t enough, she had an extensive cardiac and respiratory history and had been on home oxygen for many months. Increasingly unwell over the past 6 months, she had been lovingly cared for day after day by her husband of 46 years.
I came back round the other side of the bed, took a deep breath and told him what he already knew. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel to tell someone about the death of a loved one, it is nothing compared to what they must go through. I will never get used to doing it. When he had composed himself I took him out to the lounge room and sat him down on the sofa. We spoke about her doctor and family members. As I explained what would happen next, he listened politely. I looked around; there were pictures of smiling young people on the dresser and some old war-time shots of a proud looking young man in a uniform on the wall.
There were voices in the other room and I realised the MICA unit had turned up after all and were asking if there was anything they could do. We tried, but couldn’t contact the patients own doctor on the phone at that time of the morning so we tried an after hours number. No luck either. It turned out there was a nephew in Melbourne, and he sounded unsurprised when we woke him and told him the news. He would be round in twenty minutes. We contacted the ambulance dispatcher and said we’d be delayed on scene until the nephew got there. We weren’t leaving until someone else was there to stay with him. When I got off the phone, he asked me if he could go and sit with her? As if anyone could deny him that after 46 years.
We both went back into the bedroom and I was pleased to see the other guys had taken all our gear out and tucked her in to bed. I walked back out to wait for the nephew. The old fella deserved a few moments.