End of life care, Part I

.The tragedy and beauty in death

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Last week a paramedic dropped off a patient. She was ravenously hungry and as our chef, Dylan was just about to dish up, I offered her a quick meal of homemade chicken pie. She basically inhaled it, but between mouthfuls shook her head and said, “ I don’t know how you do this.” I was about to give her the pie recipe when I realised that she was referring to the care, rather than the food we offer. She was talking about end of life care.

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I was stunned., Here was one of the bravest humans in the world, thinking that end-of-life-care is hard. Personally, I think trying to save someone’s life by pounding CPR compressions on their chests while there is a stream of blood spewing from an artery, while simultaneously trying to not be run over on the highway by a hurtling truck, or being squashed to death by an imploding building or some other imminent threat is just slightly harder!

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I suppose we all do have a different purpose in life.

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To me, end-of-life care is one of the most rewarding places in which to serve. There is a strange and pure beauty when the hopeful anxiety of finding a cure, a miracle, an amazing doctor, is replaced by a peaceful acceptance. Everything suddenly becomes very simple, very focused, achingly clear. In this space, we as the ‘onlookers’ see a full spectrum of emotions, from horrendous sibling rivalry, to denial, to incredible anger and sorrow. We see wills being drawn up and a patient trying to sign it between weak breaths. We see accusations and fights, years of wounds being ripped wide open as family members are forced back into their old roles. There is a huge amount of regret, seldom from the patient, almost always from the loved ones. There are certainly hard and painful things… ugly things,,, but it is also in these rooms where people laugh with total abandon, cry through entire boxes of tissues and somehow show you their vulnerable humanity while saying goodbye to a person they love. In these moments people realise that it is a rare gift to have this time to say, “Goodbye”, “I love you”, “I forgive you” and “Please, forgive me”.

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I have had the privilege of sitting in on a few end of life consultations. The narrative changes from the need for healing to the need for comfort, existential peace, spirituality, to be unburdened and to unburden your loved ones, and to once more, experience a sense of beauty or wonderment; a desire to have your breath taken away, before your breath is taken away.

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End of life is painful and tragic, but it can also be beautiful.

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