Archive for Terminal Agitation

Is Your Purse Empty?

two handsThe patient was about to die.

The hospice nurse said it would be soon.

The social worker, though not a medical expert, had visited dying patients on many occasions and agreed with the nurse’s assessment.

The adult children who’d traveled back home and the patient’s sleep-deprived husband were sad, but understood. The family didn’t—like some do—fight about their wife and mother making one more trip to the clinic for one more treatment to battle the illness. They didn’t argue about “forcing” her to eat and drink more. The hospice team caring for this beloved wife and mother had become an important part of the family’s exhausted, already grieving lives. When these professionals said there might be her final hours, there was no reason to doubt or debate.


And then she woke up. The patient, who hadn’t spoken for days and hadn’t eaten for even longer, made a request that didn’t surprise any of her hovering, hurting family.

“Bring my purse,” she said. Read More →

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Pre-mortem Surge

The final breaths seem near.

But then, she awoke! But then, he spoke!

Was it a miracle, terminal agitation, or a . . . pre-mortem surge?

The myth of the Phoenix. (Bettman/Corbis photo)

The myth of the Phoenix. (Bettman/Corbis photo)

No one wants a loved one to die. Ever. But when a parent or spouse or best friend has entered hospice care, we (mostly) resign ourselves to death’s inevitability. We hear oncologists mutter that our mother has six months or less to live. Or we’re speechless when the surgeon declared, “There’s nothing more we can do for your husband.” If you’re told you only have a 1% chance of the new drug giving another month or year of life, some expect to be included in the smidgen of percentage of survivors. Others resign themselves to the harsh reality of living and dying among the 99%. But whatever you or a loved one was told (and believed or disbelieved), there comes a time when all percentages narrow to zero. The months of life once predicted by the medical experts dwindle down to hours.

Past the prayers, past the optimistic guesses, past the clutching-the-straw hopes, we sit vigil beside the one whose life wanes like a setting sun in winter.

Our loved one’s breath may slow.

Now we can’t remember when she or he ate a meal, a real meal.

We grasp their hands, we stay up late or get up early or both. We don’t want to leave their side.

And then, amazingly, our father or favorite uncle, our wife or our sister-in-law, seems to stir. Read More →

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