Archive for Visiting the Dying

Madge Used 5 Words

Still alive?

“Why am I still alive?”

Madge repeated those five words, again and again.

Back then, as a twenty-something clergy and newly appointed associate pastor, visiting Madge and nearly everything else I did was a new experience. I fumbled through communion. I over-prepared for sermons. I felt like the youth group kids knew more than I did, and definitely outnumbered me.

The senior pastor, with decades of church work behind him, was a kind man and excellent mentor. He took me on visits, introduced me to the congregation. I entered homes, apartments, emergency rooms, hospitals, job sites, lunched at restaurants with church members, and . . . went to convalescent facilities.

The last was the worst. Well, maybe I should say toughest. No, both. The foul smells clashing with the stark odor of disinfectants, the rattle of wheelchairs and gurneys, the bored looks of underpaid, overworked staff, and the endless hallways paved with shiny linoleum.

And there was Madge. (Not her real name.)

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In the Room Overlooking the Bougainvillea

With a window overlooking the bougainvillea

The patient was restless . . . to the extreme.

An ambulance transported her to our hospice’s inpatient facility—a renovated suburban house in a neighborhood close to the main office—for pain management. The only local family for the dying eighty-something woman was a granddaughter, overwhelmed by raising her own kids while serving as her Gram’s sole caregiver. The patient’s siblings had already died. The patient’s daughter was, again, in rehab in Florida. Her son was an Army officer stationed in Germany, scrambling to organize a plane flight to be with his mother before she died.

[For disclaimer, click here.]

Right now, in the hospice home, in a room with a window overlooking the bougainvillea adorning a fence, the restless patient, a nurse, the doctor, and the chaplain were gathered. One bed was empty. But the second bed by the window, where the patient lay, shifted with her unsettled body, with her soft random moaning, with her eyes opening and closing.

The doctor had tried several medications that she thought might calm the patient. To a certain extent, the dosages worked. Her agitation had lessened. Barely.

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Hey, Am I in Heaven?


Vintage photo, Navy nurses with patient around 1960.

In the early morning, before the hospice team meeting began and the patient care reports became formal, two nurses discussed a new 23-year-old patient.

When admitted into our hospice, this young patient had a Palliative Performance Scale (PPS) score of 60%. Her PPS* percentage meant she could easily get around her home and required minimal assistance for most daily activities. Compared to many patients, she was remarkably independent.

Less than two days later, she was in crisis.

Pain had suddenly wracked her body, and it took hours of intensive work for nurses to get her comfortable. She was in her twenties. She was strong. Her cancer was terrifying, but if—the nurses hoped—she could settle down, have her pain reduced, and get some sleep, then maybe . . .

She died.

How could someone active, and able to talk and share and wonder what the next meal or who the next visitor might be, die so quickly? The family and hospice staff that cared for the vibrant young woman was crushed. Read More →Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather