Thursday, July 27, 2006

I was telling one of my patients that the doctor wanted to keep him in hospital for a few more days. They had discovered he had an abnormal heart rhythm and was at risk for a stroke if he did not take blood thinners. This widower is in his late eighties. He has had some recent medical problems and has had to give up his home, but still wants to get out on the golf course this season. He is cheerful and pleasant.

His response to me was…. "So what is so bad about having a stroke?"

The first thoughts in my mind were to explain to him that a stroke doesn’t always kill you, but can leave you alive and disabled.

But I kept quiet, because I knew what he was saying.

We try hard to keep a timely death at bay. It is hard to talk about death, or accept that it is inevitable. My one daughter is a nurse and she cannot understand why coronary artery bypasses are done on some elderly people with dementia. The families of these people push for medical interventions that are no longer important to quality of life.

I heard on the news yesterday that Ariel Sharon had been taken to the intensive care unit for dialysis. Why? The Russians have kept Lenin’s dead body in state for decades. Do the Israelis want to keep Sharon in a vegetative state for the same length of time?

So I told my patient, "I understand what you are saying. But let us get on with this one day and live it the best way we know how."

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

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