Death is such a taboo word in the world of health care. Heck, it’s a taboo word everywhere. Somewhere along the way we began viewing death as that ‘one thing’ we need to avoid at all costs. That ‘one thing’ we need to dodge and prolong its arrival as long as possible and at all costs. That ‘one thing’ that causes us to be selfishly ignorant to those that really matter.
I’m talking about letting go. I’m talking about letting nature take it’s course. I’m talking about abiding by the wishes of the ill and soon to be fallen.
As a nurse we deal with death often. Death comes in many forms and arrives when you least expect it sometimes. We spend the majority of our lives understanding and knowing that death is inevitable, but when her presence is near you or anyone you love we somehow become shell-shocked and petrified with our actions and decisions.
Words and anagrams like ‘Do Not Resuscitate’, ‘DNR’, ‘Comfort Measures Only’, and ‘No Code’ seem heartless and cold when you hear them at your loved one’s bedside. It gives the in-congruent message of not caring, or simply giving up – when it means the exact opposite.
I believe in doing everything you can for someone. If doing everything you can is going to improve their situation. If what is being done will extend the quality of their life.
On the other hand – If ‘everything’ being done just extends their life an extra week, month, or months while their brain function is not their normal or they will be permanently on a breathing machine then I don’t believe it should be done (This list is endless). Extending one’s life is not the same as improving. There IS a difference between living and just existing.
I do not believe in prolonging life simply to say you didn’t give up. “Doing everything” just to be able to say you fought the good fight in the name of your conscious is not how you show and perform your love and support for those fighting the battle of their lives.
Letting nature take it’s course is not a bad thing. It’s not something we should view as tragic. I believe nature has always had a good and heartfelt plan for all of us. The only difference is we have been ‘convinced’ in to thinking the longer we live the better – when it really comes down to the quality of the life you would be allowing for them. What would your loved one want? What are their wishes?
Letting go and saying goodbye is not easy – far from it. I truly think it is the most courageous and most difficult action we make as human beings. We need support and understanding from our family and those who are in charge of our loved one’s care. We need reassurance and clarification that what we are doing IS the right thing. And above all we know in our hearts this is what our loved one wants.
Having the courage to respect one’s final wishes and the courage to follow through with them is the greatest gift you can give those you love. While it sure doesn’t feel like it, it can mean the difference between pleasantly passing and painfully dying. It’s the most noble and sacred gift you can give the one you love. The gift of honor and respect. Loving them enough to have the courage to let go.
For more Career Advice for Nurses pick up the latest issue of Scrubs magazine, available at a retail store near you!