Monday, May 05, 2008

frank discussions

One of the realities of doing the kind of work I do is that people die. There are some folks that beat the odds and survive their illness, but the unfortunate truth is that I work with many who never had great hope even in the beginning of their journey.

These past 2 weeks I have picked up the phone 3 times to be informed of a patient's death, and 3 others through voice-mail messages. Even though the emotion conveyed through a phone is far removed from the emotion, physical demands, and reality of caring for the dying, it is still there. It is still felt.

And sometimes I have very frank discussions with wives, husbands, siblings very shortly before someone's death...and in some cases, afterwards. Awkward as this may seem, it actually isn't really all that awkward for me anymore. The things that people need out of our conversation are simple. For most, being able to tell their story while not feeling like they are burdening someone is more than enough.

What continually amazes me is the strength and love that people draw on to meet the needs of the dying. I have never had a conversation with someone who expressed regret at bringing their loved ones home to die--despite the logistical challenges (not to mention emotional challenges!) faced. I have known petite women who soldiered on to provide care to a much larger, bed-bound spouse; ex-spouses who put aside their differences to care for a dying spouse, a daughter with a severely disabled child of her own somehow finding the reserve of time and strength to attend to her father... Times like this show that our capacity for compassion, strength, forgiveness are truly unbounded.

On the lighter side, I was sharing with Andrew on the way home how I felt about a conversation I had with a patient's partner after their death...somehow this digressed into Andrew and I talking about whether or not we would do CPR on each-other given certain hypothetical situations. You know, we were just having regular, everyday hubbie-n-wifey talk.

Somehow one of the scenarios we discussed was choking on a hot dog (one of the most commonly choked on foods for young children, steak is the primary culprits for adults). Apparently my wifely duty is not only to successfully perform the Heimlich and resuscitate if needed, but also to save the hot dog. Because if it was good enough to choke on, it's still good enough to eat.

Yup, just another everyday peek into our lives....

To help initiate more serious discussions with your loved ones, try this great resource: Five Wishes


running wildly said...

Great post. Very interesting, thought provoking words. My husband and I have already talked about CPR and ventilating etc. I think more people should do it! It's not morbid, it's reality.
I can imagine how every one of your patient's death affects you. I totally get that. Blessings on you as you continue your journey.

Jaime said...

This is a great entry. As 'morbid' as some people find discussing death I think as you get older you have to. In my case, having children, we need a plan in place 'just in case'.

I've also spoken with my husband about my wishes and his own in the event something happened. It's the responsible thing to do. Even if not the most comfortable.

Jen said...

When I was an oncology nurse, I saw so many people die and saw so many of the benefits of comfort care, I told Joe that, frankly, I wasn't sure if I wanted to be coded if I were in that position. Joe took that to mean I would just let him die, no matter what, and requested we tattoo "CODE ME" on his chest for some nice EMT to find, should the occasion arise. :)

A thought about the hot dog: Good luck getting it back up! I definitely don't have the upper body strength to successfully perform the Heimlich on my husband, so I told him to chew his food carefully, or the EMTs will be having to use the CODE ME tattoo in real life.