Thursday, October 23, 2014
Another Set of Ears
When I went to see this young man I arrived at his mother’s hospital floor before him. We connected through a mutual friend who thought I might be of some comfort or helpful. It was almost 10:00 AM and I was running late. Respectfully, I waited outside his mother’s room until he arrived. I have learned to stand in one spot, barely moving when I am visiting someone in the hospital. Being respectful and aware are the two most important things to me. My phone vibrated and he was calling from the lobby. Visiting hours start at 11:00 AM. I looked at the hospitals website before my visit. He said he was downstairs waiting for 11:00.
“Visiting hours” I told him, “are for other people. It’s not for you. Hold your head up high and walk past the sign. Act like you are a man in charge.” Minutes later the elevator door opened and a tall handsome young man walked out already in a sad place and now feeling even more vulnerable. My job was to help him feel empowered while not taking any more of his power away.
He introduced me to his mother who was unresponsive and at the end stages of cancer. The mask on her face, when removed to offer her sips of a drink, caused her saturations to drop frighteningly low. He did not want his mother to have the discomfort of this mask on her but the other masks weren’t working. We immediately started writing down the things he wanted to talk to the doctor about. The mask, her diet, her medications. As he thought out loud, I wrote his thoughts and questions in a notebook I brought for him to keep. He pulled out a notebook and started writing too.
When the doctors came, along with the young students in tow, the conversation turned to hospice and palliative care. It was 10:30 in the morning and before visiting hours. I now realized why the family never had a conversation with the doctors in charge of her care. By 11:00, they would be long past this room and on to other patients.
The attending physician told us that the palliative care team would be in to talk to him about his mother’s care sometime today. I asked the overwhelmed son if I may ask a question. “Sure” he said. “Does this mean he cannot use the bathroom, have lunch or leave the room because he may miss the team?” I asked pointing at the young man standing over me? “He has been waiting 5 days already.” The doctor went into his jacket pocket, pulled out a phone and called for the team to come up. Minutes later the doctor came with the students again following.
The kind and gentle physician who oversaw this department explained that to make her comfortable they would give her medication so she can rest comfortably and take the mask off. The conversation lasted less than 10 minutes. The physician asked what the son wanted to do and we requested the doctor’s contact information so he can decide. I asked if I can ask a question and when the son said “yes”, I asked the doctor so the patient’s son could hear clearly, “Are you saying that if you removed the oxygen and gave her medication to rest comfortably, she will die?” The doctor looked at me, at the son and back at me again and said. “Yes”.
Now, he can make an informed decision. Family was called, arrangements were made and she passed peacefully the next day. Her children hopefully, can live with no regrets. Rest in Peace