Archive for Questions

The Evil Twins that Stalk Hospice

Shining Twins

The twins from 1980’s The Shining

Like evil twins in a horror movie, fear and ignorance stalk those in hospice care.

This happened: [Disclaimer]

A hospice nurse described one of her patients—let’s say this was a mother of several adult children and also a wife of four plus decades—who lay dying in a rented hospital bed in the living room. Most of the family had gathered at the home. Most talked with their loved one or did chores like cleaning the bathroom or preparing meals. But one family member—let’s say it was the oldest daughter—arrived, but never entered the living room. Never offered to help. This daughter surveyed the activity around the metal-framed bed from the entryway, and then hurried down a hallway, away from her family, away from her mother.

Was she afraid of death? Read More →

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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.)

*          *          *

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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