For several years I was the social worker for the Westlake Cancer Center in Thousand Oaks, CA. We had a patient being treated for acute lymphocytic leukemia who kept being admitted for massive transfusions after bleed outs. He was a Marine who had flown helicopters in Vietnam and was most animated when telling me about going in to lift the wounded out and being responsible for getting them to medical care. He clearly did not want to die in bed -- either a hospital one or at home. He said he would die an honorable death as a Marine. His fantasy, or wish, that he retold many times was to get in a plane or copter and fly off to his death, alone. He was physically strong and as long as he kept getting transfusions was not going to die for awhile. We kept him going for over a year but eventually the disease began to weaken him and was winning. I knew how much he was fighting the bed death and decided to try to let him know how much his service had meant to his country and to acknowledge his pride as a Marine.
I called the Naval Air Station at Point Magu close by, explained the
situation and asked if a color guard in dress blues could come by the
hospital to visit, present the colors and let him talk of his pride in the
corps. They came in two busloads, all dress blues, marched into the
hospital in formation to present the flag to him. Each one gave a brief
personal history of their service and then asked him to do the same.
He had not been in the presence of other Marines in uniform for years and felt like the Corps had wrapped their arms around him again.
No more transfusions and a comfortable, peaceful death in bed at home with his wife and children beside him.
Carolyn Aller Russell