Friday, May 24, 2019

A sobering reminder of an eternal reality

Daniel Greenberg, who blogs at Sultan Knish, is going through the slow, but inevitable loss of a loved one.  He's written about it, very personally and very movingly.

Our lives are defined by numbers. Our deaths are defined by them too.

Somewhere out of sight, in the world or in our bodies, a clock ticks insistently away. Most of the time we are fortunate enough to be deaf to the relentless clockwork march of time.

Until we begin to hear. And are unable to stop.

There are many clocks in the hospital room where she lies dying beneath a plastic blanket inflated and deflated by one of a dozen machines in the room.

There is an old fashioned clock ticking inaudibly on the wall, there are digital clocks and timers embedded in everything. And there is the insistent count of heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen. The numbers keep going down.

The beeping is constant. One alarm, for the heart rate or the oxygen or the IV follows another. The alarms are a count. The numbers they measure are ultimately the only numbers that matter. They are the numbers of life.

I had often heard the term deathwatch, but standing on the plastic pine floor while the nurses come and go, I understand it. I am waiting for a death that I have been told is inevitable. I am waiting and dreading it all at once.

The Rabbi has come and gone. He has said his prayers and words of comfort. And I have said them with him. All the prayers in the end form one greater prayer. A fervent hope that our lives are defined by more than these numbers.

There's more at the link.  Very highly recommended reading.

I've sat the deathwatch with people - friends, parishioners, strangers - many times.  It's never the same . . . and yet, it's always the same.  Sooner or later, the change comes.  We all must leave this life behind, and go on to whatever lies on the other side of death.  What that may be is a mystery we can only solve in one way.

I'll be praying with and for Mr. Greenberg, and for his dying relative, and for his family.  I don't share his faith, but we share the same God, and I pray that his loved one, and he, and I, and my loved ones, may all receive the same mercy in the end.  I hope those of you who are similarly inclined will join us in our prayers.


1 comment:

Aesop said...

When I started out in my career, I was blissfully unfamiliar with this process.
Now, 25 years in, I'm far too experienced in it, and because of it, they keep giving me these patients.
We compartmentalize death, and that unfamiliarity breeds needless fear.
If people of all ages weren't so infantilized and separated from the process, they probably wouldn't come in at the very end, and then out of guilt, prolong the agony of their loved ones' passage on that last journey.

Stay with them, certainly. Tell them you love them all along, rather than trying to save it until the end, and think you can make up for decades of neglect and indifference by suddenly demanding that every life-prolonging medical abuse and insult be performed.

That latter merely tortures your relative, and frankly pisses off the staff tasked with performing the torture, mainly to assuage your guilt.

If grandma, grandpa, mom or dad hasn't recovered in 72 hours, they're probably not going to, ever. Fill out the necessary paperwork, get them shifted to hospice care, not the ICU, and let them go in peace in their own bed at home, not at 3AM in some cold room with nurses too busy to sit with you, or with you long gone and home asleep.

Take your relatives home to die.
Better for them, better for you, better for everyone.

And it also won't make their last gift to you a $300K hospital bill for futile services trying to cling to that one shred of life they still have.
A shroud kit, by contrast, goes for about $20, and subjects your relatives to no medical insult whatsoever.

People die.
Get used to it.
It should be in familiar surroundings, in their own beds, surrounded by their loved ones, not a bunch of scrub-clad strangers in an antiseptic hall in the lonely hours, trying to do the impossible.

And if you're past the biblical "threescore and ten", you've had a full run. Everything after that is cream. Live every moment, but recognize when the party is over.

So do your family a favor, and fill out the paperwork of a living will, and designate durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions, so your last days and minutes are not having tubes shoved into all orifices, and having your ribs broken as some strapping young lads preform vigorous but futile cardiac massage during CPR, from which you stand a less than 10% chance of recovery from anyways, especially after the initial round.

Going through that once, I can understand.
But afterwards, the rule should be to have the family do the CPR.
That would nip this nonsense in the bud.

Everyone has an hourglass.
I have no wild idea when yours will run out.
I'm going to do everything I can to prolong yours, if so tasked.

But it's probably better if you have some vague idea of how that works, and maybe just recognize that when it's time, it's time, and an extra few hours in a coma isn't going to get you anything worth having with that relative.

If you really love them, tell them when they're alive to hear it, so you don't spend their last minutes on earth punishing them for your guilt, or inability to let them go.