Dying: It’s Hard Work

What can you do for me? Jeez – I would really like to get back on the tennis courts.

Roy knows that he is never going to be on the courts again. He is also painfully aware that he is not going to pickup his golf clubs, either.

Three weeks ago, Roy returned home after 2 months in short-term rehabilitation. One would hope that that someone who spent the better of part of 8 weeks attending therapy services twice daily would look better than Roy, but years of abusing his body (and age) have finally caught up with this once-proud elderly man. He has lost more than a quarter of his body weight in the last year and for the rest of his life he expects to be attached to tubes: the one at his nose helps him breathe comfortably while the other in his bladder keeps him from soiling himself.

You know, Keith. I just don’t want to die in a nursing home. Can you help me with that?

I have visited Roy twice weekly for the last 3 weeks. He has been working as hard as he can with a conservative program designed with compliance and energy conservation in mind. Before, he couldn’t get out of his chair without assistance; now he can. He still has some issues with safely maneuvering throughout his small apartment without becoming entangled in his oxygen tubing, but with a little more practice (and a lot more vigilance) he should be safe – at least until his next pulmonary embolism. His ultra-supportive daughter (who visitsdaily) is feeling more comfortable with the idea of him living alone at home with reduced support. It looks like he will be staying home after all.

While one patient’s objective may be to improve their quality of life, I spent time this morning watching Roy work to improve the quality of his death.

In the end, each goal may ultimately be the same, but somehow they feel very different.


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