Monday, November 9, 2009

Hard decisions

Stormy here in NW Washington.  Our long, hot summer has finally ended, giving way to the rains and winds and winter of our discontent.  Yes, I am discontented as we approach this winter. I'm still at loose ends writing-wise, just as we're at loose ends about the life ending in that hospital in Seattle.  These end of life issues are easy to speak of in the abstract.  We all think we know what we want, and what we'd do should our spouse or child be in that situation.  But after the last several days, I can tell you none of it's as simple as we imagine when we're talking theoretically.

I'm not talking about assisted suicide, which I am against.  I'm talking about the measures taken to keep a person living who would not live without those measures.  I'm talking about the extra-ordinary things doctors can do to keep someone breathing, even if it takes a machine to do it. Doctors, we heard nurses and others say over the weekend, tend to do whatever it takes to save someone.  They look at patients through the myopic lenses of their own specialties and say, "I can fix that--that breathing problem, that blood problem, that kidney problem," but somehow miss the larger picture of the person lying in the bed, the person who bears little resemblance to their true self.  Comas do that.  They freeze a body so that the real person is trapped.  Neither here, nor going home to heaven.  Ventilators do that, as well.  Though those machines are brillant at keep a chest moving, breath inhaling and exhaling, ventilators do nothing for the missing self, if that makes sense. 

And as much as I might say from here--from my comfortable living room where I can see the sun set through the clouds, where I can watch the fire in our fireplace and feel my fingers clatter against the keys of this computer, where I sip peppermint hot chocolate, and where I think, especially where I think--yes, as much as I might say from here that I do not wish to be kept alive by such machines, it's very hard to tell until one gets there.  Or perhaps I should say, as much as Beve doesn't wish to be kept alive, what I would do should he be the person lying straining to breathe is very hard to tell.  Knowing how I feel about him, knowing how the prospect of life beyond him does not appeal (in fact, is so far from appealing I can't even see it from there), even though I do know, believe, trust that I will see him again, I think it's just possible, maybe probable, that I would say, "Do whatever it takes to keep him alive."  I think maybe it takes a tremendous amount of strength to let go of one we love, if we have the choice not to.  Even if all we really have of that person is a body breathing in a bed. 

So far be it from me to judge a husband who isn't ready to let go.  Far be it for me to think my timeline, my view of things, even my sense of what she might have wanted before this ever became an issue is right or even applicable.  I'd like to think others would have that kind of grace with me, should the decision be mine.  And I'd like to think that God, who has our times in His hands, will make it abundantly clear to all of us, if we ever are the ones to face such a hard thing.  That's what I'm praying now for this spouse.  And I hope, that should it ever be me--in the bed, or at the end of it watching--that others will be praying for Beve and me as well.

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