One day I was called to the ICU to help mediate a difficult situation. A woman, “Maggie” wanted to be taken off the ventilator. She had suffered a heart attack the week before, but her prognosis was not dire. The cardiologist was certain she could be treated with medicine following the heart catheterization that had opened a blocked artery. It was during that procedure that Maggie was put on the vent – standard for any surgeries – but for some reason when the medical staff tried to remove the vent, Maggie was not able to breathe on her own.
Maggie was lucid and clear about her intentions. She did not want to be kept alive on a vent, not even for another week to see if the medicine would start working. Her husband, a second husband and not the father of her children, was willing to abide by her wishes. One daughter was also willing to do whatever Maggie wanted.
The rest of the family, however, was desperate to keep mother alive, and that desperation was bolstered by the doctor’s opinion that it was too soon to remove the vent and “give up.”
This was a very dysfunctional family with a history of addictions and lots of unresolved issues. They all appealed to me to “talk some sense into my mother,” and I had to gently tell them that wasn’t my job. My job was to determine if Maggie fully understood her decision and then be her advocate.
On the tablet provided for her, Maggie wrote that she did understand she would die when the vent was removed and she was ready. She asked me to pray with her and for her, and continue to pray for her children after she was gone.
We held a brief prayer service and the vent was removed. I stayed with the family for about an hour, but somehow Maggie managed to hang on. I was called to another situation that took a couple of hours to resolve, and when I checked back, Maggie was still breathing.
It was the same by the end of the day, and the next day Maggie was awake, alert, and very much out of danger. The doctor was amazed. The family was amazed, and even Maggie was amazed.
More about Maggie next time.