Yesterday, I found out that one of my ex patients had passed away this weekend past. A dear old man who had lived with Muscular Dystrophy for 60+ years had finally finished the race. As I sat and soaked in this new realisation that he was indeed gone…tears started rolling…He was not family, he was not even a close friend but the tears kept rolling. As I began to remember all the conversations we had, all the Monday,Wednesday and Fridays at 9am we had spent together for over a year I couldn’t help but feel a rush of emotions. I felt sad, but happy….happy that he was finally out of suffering, I felt honoured, to have known such an amazing man and I felt blessed, blessed to have played a part in his life and to have had him play a part in mine.
He knew about my family, my friends, he listened intently to all my stories and always asked questions. He gave me advice about everything under the sun, drawing from his vast life experiences. When I began my internship he was one of my first patients, I felt so intimidated, so scared of doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing. He would continually make me feel at ease and when I was away or could not see him and someone else saw him, he’d always tell me that he had missed me, those words held me together on some of my toughest days. I knew about his whole family, even never having met them, I knew their names and about their lives.
The most difficult yet most amazing conversation I ever had with him was the day he told me what the Doctor had said after his regular check up. I had been off from work for 3 days after my grandfather had passed away and was still feeling pretty fragile when I returned to work. But none the less I put a smile on my face as 9am came and this dear old man came smiling around the corner, using all his energy to walk, I noticed that he seemed weaker than usual, he was more out of breath and walking seemed more of an effort. We began our session and after asking him how he was and what had I missed, he then said this,
“I went to the specialist last week and the report isn’t good. My lung function has decreased considerably in the last 6 months and the Doctor said quite frankly, that there’s nothing more they can do for me. The Muscular Dystrophy is taking its course and my breathing muscles are just not working as well as they should anymore. He said it’s only a matter of time. Alison, I don’t know what to do now, what to think, how do I carry on? How do I live if I know its only a matter of time? What’s the point?”
There I’m standing, a fragile 25 year old who has just lost her last grandparent and is still reeling from that new reality, and I get faced with these deep questions. I stood silent for a few seconds which felt like hours, my mind racing, what do I say to this? I can’t say nothing, I have to answer him but how? What do I know? I took a deep breath, asked God to guide my tongue and then I said this,
“We are all only here for a specific amount of time, some for many many years, others not so much. We are all running out of time, you aren’t the only one, you’re just one of the lucky few who got given a ‘heads up’. One of my friends passed away last year at the age of 31 after supposedly having the flu, he wasn’t meant to die. People in their thirties should not be dying from a perceived flu, it wasn’t expected,not by him nor his family, it came out of no where. He didn’t have time to do everything he wanted to do in life, he didn’t have time to get married and have kids, he didn’t have time for so many things. But you do. You have time to go have all those breakfast dates at Kirstenbosch with your wife and friends that you love so much, you have time to tell your sons everything you want to, you have time to enjoy your retirement, you have time to do everything that you still want to do. So you don’t worry about when it will be over, all you do is you focus on today, just today, you can worry about tomorrow, when you get there, live for today, enjoy today and let God carry you to every tomorrow that you have left.”
My answer seemed to have helped if even a little bit, he nodded and we continued with his session, at 10am we said goodbye and off he went. I walked straight to the nearest bathroom and cried my eyes out in the cubicle, I could not believe what this poor man was dealing with. I cried for him, I cried for myself, I cried for his grandchildren who would never know him, I just cried. That was the 14th of October 2013, from then on I looked forward to seeing him every second day and when he started getting too weak to come in so often, i would call him just to hear how he was doing. My last day at the practice was in the 23rd December 2013, I remember saying, “I know today is the last time I’m ever going to see him. I just know it. And today is going to suck.”. 9am came….I spent that final biokinetics session with him, he asked about all my plans and wished me well with everything, he told me to go have breakfast at Kirstenbosch and maybe he would see me there sometime, he thanked me for the year, I thanked him even more and we said our goodbyes.
Today, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have ever shared a conversation with him, I am grateful for his life, for his lessons and for the way he helped make me a better person. He taught me about taxes, budgeting, car repairs and the most affordable options of just about anything. I’ll definitely be going for breakfast at Kirstenbosch soon for him:) Today I honour the life of Keith Osterloh, living with Muscular Dystrophy is one of the hardest things to do and yet he did it with a smile even when everything became harder for him to do. His resilience is one to be admired. May you rest in peace Keith, finally able to breathe easily and move around freely.
My Condolences To his family, Jenni Osterloh, David Osterloh and Richard Osterloh.