by Jeffrey S. Bell
“Not to worry Jeff, your team can still come back and win. It’s not over.” Though Paddy was very sick, his eyes still had that mischievious twinkle, and he still was the eternal optimist – always finding the positive in the situations and people around him.
It was January 8. He had invited me up to watch Ohio State, my alma mater, play Florida in the college football championship game. The Buckeyes were getting stomped badly. Paddy had been back up on the fifth floor for about a week now which meant he once again had a private room with a television. Since I was his palliative care volunteer, I had gotten special permission to stay up in his room past the normal 8:30 recall time.
In the past week, we had readjusted our evening routine. On the fourth floor, we had settled into a pleasant nightly ritual. After dinner each night, I’d head up to visit Paddy. He’d be waiting in the wide hall of his quad, sitting there with an empty chair for me and a table covered with newspapers, coffee, food and his writing tablet. We’d make some coffee, and usually Paddy would have a snack for us; burritos being his favorite. There was food always, Paddy was a gracious host. “God Paddy, you’re worse than my mom! Eat, eat, eat!”
We were sitting in the hall because Paddy’s roomie didn’t like to have visitors in their room. Paddy, being more tolerant than I would have been, came up with the solution of us meeting in the hall.
So there we’d sit, eating and talking while other inmates and staff walked by. It must’ve been similar to when Paddy held court at the Belle Claire Hotel in Ottawa, though he had a much bigger table then and more people around him. But still, the guys walking by would stop and say hi, Paddy would ask how they were doing. Sometimes someone needed a scoop of coffee or perhaps a soup – he’d always help them out.
Eventually, we’d get around to talking about writing. “So, did you write today?” he’d ask. Paddy loved to write; he wrote like he spoke, very directly and from the heart. I’d let him read what I’d written and he’d comment and offer suggestions. But, mostly he’d encourage me – he really got me into the habit of writing regularly, and to pursue getting something published.
I’d stay for an hour usually cause I had another patient to visit. But, that hour was my most enjoyable hour of the day, as it was for Paddy.
Now he was back on the fifth floor. They had moved him when his health took a turn for the worse. Paddy had breezed through two rounds of chemo with no adverse affects. In fact, on the days he had a treatment, he’d walk a few laps around the track in the evening. During a recent checkup though, it was determined that the cancer that had moved into this lymph nodes was still spreading – they wanted to try a stronger drug for a couple rounds.
The new chemo drug was difficult for Paddy. After the first treatment, he felt fine for a day, was up and around walking the stairs. But, the second day after his treatment, it hit him hard. He was in bed most of the day, experiencing quite a bit of pain and he had no energy. This lasted two days, then he improved and was ready for the next treatment. “I think it’s helping,” he said.
The next round hit him harder. He had more pain and had trouble with his memory. He began sleeping more, but couldn’t shake his fatigue. Finally, they moved him up to the fifth floor where he’d have 24 hour medical care.
Almy O’Neal, Paddy’s friend from Leavenworth, helped him move, packing up Paddy’s property and lugging it up to the fifth floor. We adjusted quickly. Now, we’d have our coffee and watch the world news, then Jeopardy. Paddy was a whiz at Jeopardy. While my expertise centered around sports, music and TV, Paddy’s knowledge extended to a broad array of categories. And, though sick, he was amazingly quick on the buzzer.
Well, the Buckeyes lost the game that Monday night. Paddy fell asleep before I had to leave at 11:00. I quietly turned off the TV and shut the door.
He still didn’t feel well and was experiencing more problems with his memory and putting thoughts together. I truly think that by this time Paddy knew he would die soon. A few days earlier, as we were talking, he suddenly said, “I’m dying Jeff. It feels different this time. I’m not gonna beat it this time.” We talked about his dying – he was spiritually ready, had accepted the inevitable months before. And after Paddy died, Almy told me that as they loaded up his stuff to move upstairs, Paddy had said, “I’m only gonna be up there a couple of weeks before I die.”
I visited Paddy both Tuesday and Thursday evenings. He was too weak to get out of bed. I made him coffee and we talked and watched Jeopardy of course. He was still a bit confused mentally, but talked about getting well enough to try another round of chemo, though I think he knew it wouldn’t happen.
Friday evening when I went up, Paddy was much weaker and in more pain. He asked for some coffee, but didn’t drink any. We just talked. He had received a letter from his friend Jimmy Allen, so I read that to him. He always enjoyed hearing from Jimmy. Then Almy and another friend, Ron Fishman, stopped in to see how he was doing. Paddy tried to tell us about his ordeal that day when they had attempted to put a ‘pic line’ in for further chemo treatments. The procedure took most of the day because the vein kept collapsing. Paddy had difficulty relating the story though, often having to start over because he’d forget what he was saying.
At 8:30, I had to leave for recall. I asked him if he needed anything before I left. He wanted to sit and eat a banana, so I helped him get up. “I’ll be up in the morning to see you Paddy,” I said. He smiled and said, “Okay Jeff, see you then.”
The next morning, Saturday, I was on my way to yoga class when my roomie, another Jeff, came running up behind me. Jeff works as an ICP, Inmate Companion Program. ICPs are similar to nurse’s aides, they do amazing work for 40 cents an hour. Jeff said that when he checked on Paddy, he found him on oxygen and a morphine pump. He asked the nurse about Paddy’s condition. “He’s dying,” had been her response.
Jeff and I both knew from our experience of working on the fifth floor that when patients go on oxygen and a morphine pump they are close to death. I went right up to Paddy’s room, and I stayed there until the next morning.
Paddy was unconscious, his breathing very irregular. “Hi Paddy. I’m here with you okay.” I know, though unconscious, patients can hear you at these times. He looked peaceful and wasn’t in any pain it appeared.
Throughout the day, the nurses would check on him regularly, take his vitals and make sure he was comfortable. Inmates here always talk bad about the staff, but my experience has been that for the most part, they do a remarkable job under the conditions.
As word spread through the facility that Paddy was dying, people started stopping in to see him. All day long, a succession of inmates, staff, nurses and doctors came around to see Paddy. He was so liked by everyone. At one point that evening, there were five of Paddy’s friends in the room sharing stories about him. There was lots of laughter and good memories. I know Paddy could hear us, and I know he was pleased that his friends were remembering him with laughter.
Almy spent as much time as he could with Paddy that evening. At one point, Almy prayed over Paddy, then leaned over to whisper in his ear, “Jesus loves you Paddy.” Paddy’s face twitched slightly – the only movement he made those last hours.
I sat with Paddy throughout the night. I’d talk to him often so he’d know I was still there with him. His breathing gradually diminished until he stopped breathing around 8:30 Sunday morning. He died very peacefully.
I asked Paddy once why, after robbing all of those banks and after all of these years, were people interested in his story and how he was doing. Paddy just looked at me with a perplexed look and shook his head, “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
I think those of us who have in some way been touched by Paddy know the answer. Paddy was kind, generous, caring, funny and gracious. And he loved life – so completely. Paddy had that quality that few have – charisma.
His son Kevin, talking of his father’s death, called him complex. Paddy was complex, that’s so true. He was the epitome of complex! Yeah, he was kind, compassionate, generous, caring…and he was a world-class bank robber. You just accepted that duality if you were his friend; he made it very easy.
Maybe what I admired most about Paddy Mitchell was how comfortable he was in his skin. He was a bank robber through and through. He didn’t try to deny it, didn’t try to be anything else. So often, we’d be talking about some subject – politics, psychology, medicine, etc. – and he’d make a statement, then quickly add, “But, what do I know. I’m just a bank robber.” Yeah, Paddy, just a bank robber. One of the best, and so much more.
The night of his death, as I sat down to write in my journal about the day’s events, it struck me: Paddy had done it again. He had escaped from the clutches of the law. While they dilly dallied around, trying to decide whether or not to transfer him back to Canada, Paddy quietly escaped over the fences once again.
He was finally free. Good-bye Paddy. God Bless.