December 10, 2017
Today at church, I opened my Bible to find an old offering envelope with these scribbled words from March 2011. I share with you as an encouragement for finding love even in the sad times.
The 82 year old woman, requiring 10 liters of supplemental oxygen well above her usual 2 L O2, was lying in bed, propped up to about 35-40 degrees. After obtaining her history and performing a perfunctory physical, I sat down to talk more to the patient and her family. Soon after, I noticed her husband had edged up to the side of her bed. They quit talking to me and began nuzzling each other and making goo-goo eyes.
I was trying to answer her daughter's questions when I became so distracted, I just had to comment, "This is so sweet." Then the elderly man looked up with a veil of tears in his eyes. "She has been my sweetheart for 63 years," he explained. The daughter piped in, "They have been this way my whole life," said with fake eye roll.
He looked at me and asked that we help her get better so she could go home because she did not like to be away from home. The next day, I walked into the room to find her enjoying a visit from her great-grandchildren. The middle child (the only great-granddaughter) had given my patient a folder of pictures she had drawn. It clearly showed this woman was a well-loved great-grandmother! She looked at me and said, "I want to go home. I miss these kids and they miss me." Moved by such loving family dynamics, I suggested a trial of a new therapy overnight then plan to complete IV (infusion- intravenous) antibiotics at home. The 3 small children understood my plan and began to jump and clap and hugged their special one!
Sadly, she did not improve enough for me to comfortably release her to home. With sad eyes, she voiced understanding. She knew it was not just infection in her lungs but also her failing heart and kidneys that were working against her. The next day, she made the decision with her husband at her side to go home and enjoy her final days in her own home with her precious children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren there to hold her hand and to build a few more memories to hold in their heart.
It is still a hard decision to say, "no more aggressive therapy" when futility is apparent because there are so many "things" we can do to and for patients. Yet, once that decision is made, it brings about a relief that no one is "giving up," but accepting that "There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven-- A time to give birth, and a time to die....."Ecclesiastes 3:1-2