A friend has faced a gut-wrenching week. She has watched a lifelong friend on her deathbed, but the end hasn't yet come, in peace or otherwise.
A friend has faced a gut-wrenching week. She has watched a lifelong friend on her deathbed, but the end hasn’t yet come, in peace or otherwise.
The ill friend has myriad problems and has had for many years. A decade ago, serious illness appeared on the verge of taking her life. She wasn’t ready to go then, and medical staff brought to bear every effort to save her. They did.
But her condition grew worse over the years, and now, the time seems to be at hand.
When the time came to power down the machines keeping her alive, her next of kin, her son, saw in her the will to continue the fight, and so the machines kept pumping air and blood and nutrients into her failing body.
As of this writing, her brain isn’t functioning; she can’t live without the beeping and flashing machines; and her quality of life is beyond nothing.
Yet, technically she is alive. For how long remains unknown.
At some point, her organs will ultimately fail or the decision will come to end the awful darkness that is more than likely her “life” now.
No doubt, some of you reading this have had to make just that decision. You have had to sign a piece of paper with a borrowed pen that in reality sentences someone to “death,” even though the loved one had already died and lived only in memory.
Fortunately, that moment has not come my way, and I don’t know what I would do. Most of my grandparents died fairly suddenly. Only one suffered for a long time. Cancer. And, oh, how cancer can wring the life and mind of its victims. Grandpa died from it, and though Dad and other family members watched him slowly die, Grandpa wouldn’t let me see him in that condition. He told Mom and Dad to keep me away. The last time I saw him was months before his death, and he was still in pretty good health. I was a kid at the time, and I started to hug him goodbye.
“Men don’t hug when they are leaving. Men shake hands.”
That was the last time I saw him alive. I’m glad, actually.
Likely, I won’t ever make the decision on my own to end the artificial life. Surely, others — Mom, Dad and/or my sisters — will help decide what to do. I don’t know if I could tell someone to turn off the machines pulsing artificial life into my Mom or Dad. Even if they couldn’t talk, couldn’t think for themselves, couldn’t eat or drink, I don’t know that I could give up the hope that maybe one day … And what happens if those of us in the room don’t agree?
That’s why we need to have these conversations with our loved ones now, while they’re healthy and cognizant. Difficult, yes. Uncomfortable, of course. Necessary, obviously.
Bedside in an intensive care unit isn’t the place to debate what a parent or spouse might want or expect.
Another important aspect of that conversation should be organ donation. Religious beliefs and practices aside, if my eyes could help someone else see, I want that person to have that opportunity. Same goes for a kidney or a lung or a heart. There are far too many names on waiting lists for desperately needed organs. However we can shorten the list, we should. To me, it seems selfish not to do so.
And so, today, a woman lies in a hospital bed, alive but not really. She will die soon, and that will be a sad day for everyone who knows her. A funeral will follow, and her family and friends will celebrate her life. That’s what funerals are for.
There shouldn’t be lingering doubts about what could have been done or should have been done.
Those decisions should have been made long go.
• • •
Rick Fahr is publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.