Letting Go Requires Love

August 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

Today I read Theresa Brown’s “A Dying Patient Is Not A Battle Field” on CNN.Com.  Theresa is an oncology nurse in Pennsylvania. She is a leading contributor to The New York Times’ blog Well and the author of “Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between.”

In this particular piece Theresa discusses the end of life of a cancer patient who encouraged by family and doctors decides to continue a losing battle with his illness.  The end result was a more brutal death than if the patient had chosen to go home and live what was left of his life the best way possible.  Theresa writes if the patient had been given clear information of the consequences of continuing chemotherapy he would have chosen to go home.  Most people knowing there is almost no chance for survival would move forward with chemotherapy especially when their bodies are already so weak and fragile.

Nurse Brown, you are so right and wise.

In the last couple of months of my husband’s life it had become clear to me that the end was coming.  In the last couple of weeks it was clear the end had arrived.

Ten days before my husband passed, while he was in the hospital, I asked to speak to his oncologist.  I asked the doctor to tell me point blank what he thought was the prognosis for my husband.  First he gave me a non-answer answer than prodded by his chief nurse – who was ready to tell me the truth if he didn’t – he said he thought there wasn’t much else to be done.  I thanked the doctor and told him the most important to me was to keep Chris from any additional unnecessary suffering.   We all agreed Chris should go home as soon as possible. Before the doctor walked away, I asked him to speak to Chris’ family.  I wanted them to be part of every decision.  I was very aware they were losing a son and a brother.

An appointment was made for the following day.  When we all sat around the table and I repeated the conversation we had the previous day, something strange happened.  Without the support of his nurse the doctor couldn’t bring himself to repeat what he had said; there was nothing else to be done.  Picking up on the hesitation, Chris’ family started to explore another round of chemotherapy.  I thought my head was going to explode; how could we put Chris through something like that?  Of course I understood his family need to hold onto hope but I knew chemotherapy would kill him and it would be brutal and devastating.   I had taken care of Chris for two and a half years and I knew what was happening to him even before any tests were done.  I knew the time had come and I wanted him home.  I wanted us in bed together watching films and eating popcorn.  I wanted to caress him and hold him in my arms till the very end.  I was clear I did not want him vomiting with every cell in his body exploding from all the chemo.

Chris came home and before we could finish discussing another round of chemo he passed away.  The night before we watched TV and Chris fell asleep in my arms.

People say that sometimes letting go takes strength but I believe letting go takes love.  When we love someone we want the best for them regardless of what that means to us.

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