Time becomes wisdoms fount,
We’re given an unknown amount
But for family and friend,
When we’re close to the end,
We try to make each minute count.
I won’t say when and where these events happened.
On a Monday I attended a hospital patient with a very bad malignancy. A gratuitous cancer with a notoriously bad reputation had flung metastases to the bone, liver, lung, and brain. Yet doctor after doctor hadn’t penetrated a wall of denial. My job description has never included taking away a patient’s hope. After my usual questions, exam and update, I sat and listened and didn’t contradict.
In the subsequent week, a drama played out over Facebook. A young couple (not my patients) had found out at the 18 week ultrasound their baby had a problem incompatible with life and decided to carry to term. The child survived a few hours. (Not the first time nor only time such irony has appeared on Facebook, I hope that such regrettable circumstances bring learning and insight to the readers.)
The next time I talked with my hospital patient, acceptance had swallowed denial, and Hospice arrangements occupied most of the visit.
At visit’s end, the patient revealed the importance to her of a close family relationship to two teenaged grandchildren. They had not yet received news of the poor prognosis, and the patient didn’t know whether to tell them or not.
I related the story of the people on Facebook.
In the final analysis, I said, none of us know how much time we have with our loved ones. Though we tend to squander precious hours, when we know the time has a definite limit, we make the minutes a priority. If those who cherish you know that the end is approaching inexorably, they will prioritize spending time with you, and they’ll treasure the moments. Thus they need to know.
And without telling the patient, I remembered the last three days I spent with my mother after she had decided to die.