On Lingering

It seemed like my father lingered.

When the monitors holding testament to the continued attachment of his body to its spark of life finally displayed flat lines, his chest rose and fell, propelled by the machine that forced oxygen into his lungs. Too ravaged to breathe on his own in those last days, he breathed via its plastic stem down his windpipe.

It was unnerving to see his emaciated body wracked by the force of the machine breathing for him after his heart stopped. An old tale of his remembered: an early school trip to a local hospital to see this new wonder called the iron lung (my father was born before WW2). The hospital staff had asked for a volunteer to step inside the metal drum to experience it for a little while. No one else wanted to, so Dad, being a cocky young’un, stepped up.

“It was scary, like my chest kena crushed and stretched over and over again,” he said. “When they stopped it, quickly I chabot.”

The apparition of a reedy, underfed young Dad bolting from the iron lung, was too close to the bony image in the hospital bed breathing artificially. Stop breathing! You’re not supposed to be breathing anymore!

When a nurse came to turn the ventilator off, the resulting stillness was crushing.