Fotoeins Fotografie

questions of place & home

Posts tagged ‘Palliative Care Unit’

The place where I died

With these pictures, I explored the perspective of witnessing a parent’s unstoppable decline to the end. I didn’t include pictures of my father in this set, but I gave voice to growing distress at his final journey in orbit around a downward spiral. My gaze drifted externally to the space and form of the hospital and to the surroundings outside.

On 19 July 2014, Dad was taken to Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital after he had a minor fall down the stairs at home. No bones were broken, which was remarkable considering his worsening health in the final stages of cancer. He would never return to the house in which he and Mum had bought and lived since 1976.

By the 2nd week, he had been moved from to the Palliative Care Unit (PCU) on the 10th floor. The wonderful hospital staff took great care of him and other patients in the unit. Dad charmed the PCU staff by chatting with them in broken English; it was his way of exerting some measure of control. I also witnessed the inevitable “shuffle”. One day, a patient slept quietly in one of the other beds, surrounded by members of his family. The following day, the bed was cleared, cleaned, and prepared for a new patient.

Into week 3, his mind and spirit departed, and he became completely unresponsive to external prompts. Over the following days, his body remained, accompanied by sounds of breathing, often shallow and laboured. He was at peace, and thanks to the meds, in diminished pain. I’d been with Dad a part of every day for 21 consecutive days. Friday came and went, and so did the passing of the sun. As I’d done every evening, I leaned down and whispered: “good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.” The following morning, I awoke to a phone call. The nurse’s voice was calm and gentle. Somewhere in the universe, I heard faint echoes of the death rattle. I said to the nurse: “thank you for your phone call. We’ll be at the hospital in a few hours.”

I ended the call and looked down at my watch: 613am. The date was August 9. He had celebrated his 82nd birthday only a few weeks earlier.

Northern summers, especially July and August, mean something entirely different.

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Thurlow, between Comox and Pendrell: from St. Paul's Hospital - 31 Jul 2014, fotoeins.com

Fotoeins Friday: pointing to the spot

Almost 52 weeks to the day of this very post.

A full year since Dad slipped away into the morning light.

Out of agony comes moments of serendipity and inner splendour, where all the pieces fit together in a single moment’s notice.

On the top floor of St. Paul’s Hospital the view of Vancouver’s downtown peninsula stretches over multiple towers and beyond to forested hills and mountains of the North Shore. Looking down anticipates a convergence at the right time of day, where ideal geometry and illumination conditions unite into a moment of fortune, humour, and beauty.

I made the photo in Vancouver, BC, Canada on 31 July 2014 with the Canon EOS6D, EF 24-105 f/4L zoom-lens, and the following settings: 1/320s, f/16, ISO400, and 92mm focal length. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-5ud.

Palliative Care Unit, St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

Fotoeins Friday: “Dear Dad, can you see me now?”

This is my favourite photo of 2014.

It is a picture of a dying man: this man is my father.

He looks terrible as cancer has consumed all the good things in his body on the road to destruction. The ugly bruise over his left eye is from a fall which has led him here to the hospital. He’ll stay for 3 weeks and eventually wind up top-side in the Palliative Care unit. He will never return to the house of 38 years he and Mum bought for us, or to the neighbourhood of over 40 years. He will never see home again.

I remember telling mum at the beginning of 2014 he won’t survive the year, and as weeks progress into months, I also sense that slow creep, that sensation of something big about to happen. That awareness hovers for months, but I guess I’ve been preparing for his death for almost a full year.

The best part of this picture is his smile, and I can clearly see the recognition in his eyes, that I’m his son. This picture will likely always have the power to make me weep.

The day after I make this picture he slips into a waking coma; his spirit departs but his body remains behind.

Days later, I photograph the light of dusk over Vancouver; how was I to know it’d be his last?

Next morning, the phone rings. The call is short and the woman on the other end of the line is gentle but to the point: he’s taken his last breath. I remember saying “thank you for all you’ve done” and “goodbye”. I finish the call. I close my eyes. I’m tired. I hear the rising tide of white noise, steadily increasing in volume. I open my eyes. The noise stops. It’s a little after 615am, well into the light of an August summer morning. Time to begin the remaining time without Dad.

Father’s Day this year is Sunday, which coincidentally is also the summer solstice. Had he survived this far, Dad would have celebrated his 83rd birthday on Tuesday.


I made the photo above on 2 August 2014 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. I posted a version of this photo on Instagram. The title is from “Release”, written by Gossard, Ament, Krusen, McCready, & Vedder; the final blurb-quote is mine. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-6UT.

Sunset over the Salish Sea (English Bay), from St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, BC, Canada - 8 Aug 2014, fotoeins.com

His final sunset over the Salish Sea

Every day felt like a bonus, a sweet taste of daily magic.

Over the time he spent in the hospital, Dad charmed the staff by chatting with them in broken English; it was a way for him to express some measure of control. As expected with decreasing hemoglobin levels, his body continued the downward slide. His mind and spirit departed at the beginning of the third week; he had become unresponsive. Over the next five days, his body remained, the breathing steady, though shallow and sometimes laboured. He was calm, at peace, and thanks to the meds, without pain.

From the top of St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, Canada, I photographed this post-sunset scene on 8 August 2014, with fading light peeking up and over the cirrus, high over the Salish Sea (English Bay) and the downtown peninsula. I’m sure he sensed the daily change in light, even though he could no longer see by the end.

Hours later the following morning, Dad breathed his last and slipped away for good. He marked his 82nd birthday six weeks earlier.

The long road for him has ended; another chapter and another journey begins.


Warmest thanks to the staff at St. Paul’s Hospital, and particularly, the men and women who work enthusiastically and gracefully in the hospital’s Palliative Care Unit. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-5vy.

Vancouver: the forgotten’s fireworks from St. Paul’s

2 August 2014.

I’m in one of the city’s hospitals, visiting my father who’s in very bad shape.

I’ve helped feed him dinner of roast pork, peas, and gravy, a direct sensory reminder of his past as ‘line cook’ in a downtown diner nearby. He eats with great enthusiasm, the most I’ve seen him eat in weeks. Dinner’s done, and he’s worn out. I suggest we go “around the corner” with him in a wheelchair to watch the evening’s fireworks, but he gently declines. A twinge reflects the growing reality of him never seeing fireworks again, but the feeling is moderated by resolved acceptance and mild resignation.

I go out into the corridor where people have already gathered by the windows next to the elevators. From the heights of the hospital, there are spectacular views of the downtown peninsula, towards Burrard Inlet, English Bay, and the waters of the Salish Sea. What sacred spirits have come and gone, then and the now.

Waiting patiently to catch a brief glimpse of fireworks are other hospital patients, their family, and various hospital staff taking breaks in their work schedule. It’s a four-day holiday weekend here in the province of British Columbia, and early August weather is summertime hot under the dome of clear blue skies.

Judging by the look in some people’s eyes, I empathize with feelings which must remain unspoken: “I’d rather be outside, laughing and having a good time, surrounded by family and friends.”

I thought about making a few photographs of the fireworks through the large windows, but something pulls me back, and I decide not to image the fireworks directly.

My thinking about this situation quickly clarifies. What I’ll do is record people watching the fireworks through the windows of the hospital’s upper floors.

They are not forgotten. It’s my promise to capture with a camera’s all-seeing eye an elemental and universal desire for something beyond the ephemeral and temporal, something that approaches a kind of eternity.

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