The End of Life

Simi Valley, California, America.

Happy Yi, the hospice aide, watches as Geneva Thornton, the nurse, flips back the old man’s blanket and pronounces that the patient has entered the stage known as active dying. Observe the color of the feet, she instructs. See how they are cyanotic in appearance. Check the nailbeds. Look at the earlobes. See how they’re curling under and up. She palpates the bulb at the base of the thumb and then applies three fingers right below the wrist joint. Happy comes forward with the stethoscope, making her lose her count.

“Bother!” she says. “Can’t you see what I’m trying to do here?”

She lays her fingers on the green cord of the radial artery and counts, “One-yep, two-yep, three-yep,” until she has reached fifteen. She presses on the chin to open the mouth. She slides a moistened swab along the gums.

“Sorry,” says Happy. “My bad.”

“Sorry never helped anyone,” says Geneva. “If you’d just use this,” tapping her temple, “you wouldn’t have anything to be sorry for.”

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