Tuesday, August 23, 2011

...and the Impact of the Dying

The title of the article is quite melodramatic, but this article from the CNA last week reminds me of another topic near and dear to my heart.

Let me start us off with a true story:
I have been a nursing assistant for 6 years. As a nursing assistant, my job can and does include caring for the basic needs of people who are dying. One particular death I’d like to share with you.
This is one of the more recent deaths I've seen. This lady, we’ll call her Joan, was somewhere in her eighties. I’m not sure of all of the details of her condition. Between her and her family it had been decided that she would not get a feeding tube. As of this night, that I will never forget, she had been living off of lemonade for over a month. She refused all other forms of nourishment (except for sometimes she’d let her daughter give her some root beer).
She was skin and bones. As soon as you entered the room where she was, you could hear her struggling to breathe, but we couldn’t suck out the gunk out of her lungs because it would have done more harm than good. Every time an aide had to do something for her, clean her up, change her clothes, anything like that, she would look at us, completely terrified. She was paranoid about falling out of bed when we rolled her. Kind of crazy given that she had been a small woman to begin with and she was just getting smaller.
That last night, I was the aide that gave her her last drink of lemonade 20 minutes before she died. She took the drink willingly, it was through a straw, and I had the head of her bed all the way up, but she coughed every other sip like the liquid was going into her lungs not her stomach. And she looked at me with eyes I will never forget: She was hurting, she was scared, and she just wanted me to do something, anything, to take it all away. To this day, when I think of desperation, when I think of despair, all I have to do is think of those eyes. Thank God, she died 20 minutes after that moment. As I told everyone at the nursing home, “She arrived just in time for a huge dinner with Jesus.”
I think that the handicapped have much to offer us. The dying have even more. Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors and I respect him. But if the time comes and he does commit assisted suicide, he is robbing the world of an immense gift of caring for him and standing witness. He would only be contributing to a mindset that "People are only worth what they can physically contribute to society."

My work with the dying has taught me a lot about living. It has taught me to appreciate the time I have on this earth. It has taught me to look at everything through the eyes of eternity, not through the eyes of the here and now. It has taught me the importance of love and relationships, as those are really the only things that we can "take with us." Love and relationships are really the only things that matter in the end. All 25 of the deaths I have witnessed have left their mark on my soul and I wouldn't trade them for the world.

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