Letting Go

courtesy of Asli Kutluay at aslikutluay.com

Florence Nightingale. Courtesy of Asli Kutluay at aslikutluay.com

As a critical care nurse I have had the unfortunate experience of taking care of what I tend to call ‘living corpses’.  Simply put, this is a human being, who if not for a ventilator, an intra-aortic balloon pump, a dialysis machine, at least three IV drips to maintain a blood pressure, and no hope for recovery, would not be alive.  Time and again I’m amazed at the ability of family to keep their loved one alive despite the obvious fact that the person they love and care for is nothing more than a shell of who they were.

I’m sure this sounds cruel to people who don’t work in the medical field, and familiar to those that do.  When a patient is deemed terminal the family is often the last to accept it.  (The 5 stages of grief.)  Most families eventually come around and do what’s best for their loved one, but there are those families that will never let go, and I find this disturbing.

It’s these families that would rather keep their loved ones dependent on artificial life support until the very end whether it be out of ignorance or religious belief.  I’m fascinated by the idea of people who quote religion for not removing life support as if they’re going against Gods will; however, isn’t trying to cheat death doing just that?  The term ‘artificial life’ gives rise to its unnatural state of being.

I thought my father might be one of those people, who for religious reasons, had trouble with the idea of removing life support from the terminally ill.  He seemed steadfast in his position, but lacked any clinical observations to support his opinions.  When my father was faced with his own mortality three years ago, it was I who sat down with him as his stage IV lung cancer was rapidly ravaging his body and explained to him his options.  Sadly there were only two: 1.) End up on a ventilator and die anyway, or 2.) Make himself a D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate) and die a more peaceful death.

My dad was a very intelligent man, and still had his faculties enough to know he did not want to die with a tube shoved down his throat, connected to a machine, devoid of dignity and privacy in his final moments.

He chose option 2.

My relief was palpable, and after twelve harrowing weeks, when it came time for my father to take his final breath he did so on his own terms, surrounded by his family, comforted by a morphine drip; and as he let go of this world and slipped into the next, I felt peace.

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