That night in the hospital I walked in and out of the hospice ward ten or twenty times, and my eyes and hands moved through the necessary tasks. Well into the night and deeper in my brain, it came to me that as hospital workers, we were being paid to trail along behind Death as he escorted frail, wasted bodies over difficult miles, dragging their loved ones along with him. My job was to meet the traveling party at its designated way stations and faithfully provide fresh supplies for the journey. When the weary group disappeared over the horizon, we turned back, knowing that another agonized family would be arriving soon.
The doctors, nurses, and I didn’t cry because the bewildered husbands and stricken daughters were crying enough for all of us. Helpless and impotent against the awesome power of Death, we nonetheless bowed our heads in the pharmacy, injected twenty milliliters of salvation into a bag of tears, blessed it again and again, and then carried it like a baby to the hospice and offered it up. The drug would flow into a passive vein, the family would draw close, and a cup of fluid might be temporarily removed from their ocean of pain.