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