Archive for Dying

How Long Have You Been Playing?

At the net

A man and a woman were several courts over… [Photo Credit: Getty IMages/Tim Clayton]

In hospice, time rules.

A hospital’s old-fashioned wall clock’s blood-red second hand seems to circle faster than a Daytona racecar. Or in the dark of the darkest night at home, a blue, glowing digital number blinks from one second to another with an agonizing sluggishness. Time roars by. Time grinds to a halt. Time marches on. Time freezes. Time is our friend. Time is our adversary. Time never stops. It’s never the right time.

  • How long will it take for her to die? I don’t want Grammy to suffer anymore.
  • The doctor said Daddy has six months or less to live. Is that true?
  • This grief is horrible, and I can’t sleep or eat. How long before I’m “normal” again?
  • Some friends don’t like to spend time with me because I still want to talk about my spouse. And it’s only been a year since the death.
  • My boss gave me two weeks off for bereavement, but will I ever be ready to return to my desk?
  • Who can grieve with so much work to do? (And if I keep working all of the time, I can avoid my feelings.)

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Many years ago, I headed to the public tennis courts to play a few sets with a buddy. Though early in the morning, we weren’t the only ones there. A man and woman were several courts over, already deep into a match. As my friend and I warmed up, we heard the other players announce the score after each winning shot, saw them protect the net or drift back for lobs. It looked like an equal contest and I wouldn’t want to bet against the woman or the man. I was impressed, more than a little awed by their skill and energy. Both were obviously in their seventies. Read More →

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Do You Want to Die?

From HBO’s Band of Brothers

In the opening moments of our weekly hospice team meetings we report on recent patient deaths. How is the family doing? Who was with the person when she died? Was the mortuary and physician informed of his death? If a patient fell during her hospice stay, was the coroner contacted (even the most benign of stumbles requires legal notification)? Did she have a peaceful death? The final words on the medical chart summarizing patients’ deaths are intentionally brief and accurate, not much longer than this paragraph.

As we finished the report on a patient, a nurse spontaneously added, “She died quickly, which is what she wanted because she didn’t want a long, drawn-out death.”

The nurse’s final comment wasn’t necessary for the sparse report. I recollect the patient died comfortably, with family at the bedside. All went as well as possible. But I caught myself wondering: Don’t we all hope to die quickly?

Would anyone want to have a “long, drawn-out death?”

Indeed, who wants to die? I don’t. Read More →

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Is This Pill Gonna Kill Me?

Blue pill? Red pill? Choose…

 

“Is this pill gonna kill me?”

That was a question an elderly patient asked his grandson, according to the hospice nurse who witnessed the moment.

The grandson was one of several family members caring for their dying patriarch. As with every hospice patient, several doctors agreed the grandfather had a terminal illness. A long life neared its end. The man’s family sought to ensure he was comfortable and that his death would be peaceful. There were no guarantees, but they’d try . . . with help from hospice.

Like many patients, the elderly gentleman distrusted pills. They were too darn expensive. There were way too many pills to swallow. Even though he was told the medicine would help him feel better, some seemed to do nothing. He believed others made him feel worse. Or they did cause him to feel better, but he wouldn’t admit it. Or maybe they had nothing to do with him feeling better or worse, but those over-priced, twice-a-day, after-a-meal, on-an-empty-stomach endless bottles of pills sure were convenient to blame. Read More →

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