Friday, December 28, 2007

A Time to Die

During my years of working in the hospital, I found it odd that some people seemed to be able choose the day they were going to die, and it happened, while others kept choosing to no avail. It made me wonder why people desperate to leave the misery of their illnesses often hung on for months, sometimes even years, unlike a few who seemed able to bypass the waiting by sheer determination.

Such was the case of one woman who was diagnosed with liver cancer. Her cancer was stage three – certainly worth a bit of a fight for some people – but she opted not to have treatment.

Her family was distressed at this decision, and I was called in during one particularly emotional moment when her son was begging her to reconsider. I have to admit that I didn’t agree with the woman’s decision. She was only in her early 70’s, healthy, and had a large, loving family. Given her circumstances, and the prognosis of several more good years, I thought she should give it a shot.

But that wasn’t my call. Nor was it her son’s. It was hers. So I had to help the family accept the decision.

Once they came to terms with that, she threw them another curve ball. She did not want to go home to die. She didn’t want to put them through the experience of having to care for her 24/7.

Again, I didn’t agree with that decision. Some beautiful things happen in families when they share a death journey, and I thought she was being thoughtless in denying her children something they obviously wanted. Besides all that, her cancer was not that far advanced. The oncologist thought she could live 6 months to a year.

But again, this was not my call. It was her decision, and as long as her insurance would pay for long-term care in our nursing home facility, she could go there. Our medical social worker arranged for her transfer, but indicated the woman only had coverage for 60 days.

Over the next two months, I visited the woman two or three times a week, and she continued to pray for a swift death. As the end of those 60 days drew near, she seemed unconcerned about possibly having to go home and finally told me that she was confident God would take her before that. The fact that medically she was no where near that moment didn’t deter her from that belief.

On the 61st day we had our discharge rounds in the Oncology Department and were informed that the woman had died shortly before midnight the night before.

We were shocked. No way should that woman have died. But once we recovered from the initial surprise, we realized it would be fruitless to try to figure out how that could have happened. We had all simply experienced too many mysteries to worry about one more.

And obviously she had some kind of pull somewhere.

2 comments:

Pam in Colorado said...

This is something we often pondered while I worked with Hospice. Families would never leave the bedside of the person actively dying and then they would go for a bathroom break or a bite to eat and the person would die while they were gone.

Others who didn't seem to be anywhere near death, would simply stop breathing and their life be gone, for no reason we could understand.

I especially was amazed at those who determined they would die before or after a major holiday or family event. They either did not want to die before, thus leaving an emotional memory to mar the event, or would want to die before, so that others would be free to do whatever was being planned, vs. being "tied" to them. It still amazes me that such timing happens, over and over again.

I've also watched people, who should have been dead if you were going by body function capabilities and the effects of a disease that had spread,live days, weeks or months beyond all medical explaination because they had determined to live to see someone marry, a baby born or a new year arrive.

We can not always explain the miraculous or the strength of the human spirit, but it exists never the less.

Maryann Miller said...

Obviously, we have had similar experiences, Pam, and I appreciate you sharing yours.