Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Thursday, April 22, 2021

     The Dying Patient

    They don't tell you what it's like to be with someone who's dying. As in, being there all the time, day in and day out. Sometimes I wonder if even the hospice doctors and staff know. It isn't that they are not kind. But the nurse, who currently is coming twice per week, checks vitals and asks about bowel movements - "Do you have any questions?" and then she is out the door within 15 minutes. I do not say this to criticize, as I have done my share of such visits. But after a while it is hard to know what to do or say, how to pass the time when not focused on such minutia. 

    My aunt is suffering. Not to say that she is in pain, but she is a very social person and has always been someone who likes to stay active and do things. At holiday dinners, rather than sitting around with a cup of coffee she was always the one cleaning the kitchen or getting the meat off the turkey carcass. Now she is too weak to walk and too confused to focus. She cannot get much enjoyment from reading; cannot remember which of her friends has called her from hour to hour. Her sole consolation is conversation and I am not the best source of that. I have tried to think of entertaining topics but have long since run dry. My father is too demented to talk to her and my mother is too hard of hearing; plus my aunt has suffered vocal cord paralysis due to the tumor and can barely make herself heard.

    Two days ago she told me she wanted to pursue assisted suicide (I think the preferred term is "assisted euthanasia" these days). Her first discussion with the hospice doctor is scheduled for tomorrow. I don't see how she could not qualify, I just don't know whether she will be able to last the next two-plus weeks until all the criteria are met. We should perhaps have discussed this sooner, and I feel badly about that now. I told her that once again she was a groundbreaker, as she has been so often in her life. 

    She was raised in a small Southern town and went on to teach as a career - not much else was open to women in those days. Her first marriage, the product of elopement, failed shortly after she moved to Alaska (her husband was transferred there). She went on to marry again, and eventually left her second husband for a female partner. That relationship lasted 25 years. She successfully fought cancer once and then developed lung cancer more than ten years later. She has traveled, volunteered, has made many friends and excelled at entertaining them. 

    Religion is not a consolation for her, she puts her trust in friends and enjoying life. She has outlived her prognosis by nearly three weeks, but I don't know how much longer this is going to go on. All I can do is to be here, and it is humbling. 

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