This is part two of a series about Michael who was sixty years old when he enrolled in hospice services with end stage cirrhosis of the liver. In part one, we learned about how “…dying puts things in perspective” and about the importance of telling others how we feel, “In the Living Years”, before it’s too late.
Michael and I discovered that we knew many of the same people. I played high school football with and against several guys that Michael knew and worked with. Michael was a West “Sider”, an archrival of my alma mater, New Boston, back in the day. Michael and I enjoyed talking about “The Glory Days”, and we drew close as we talked about the glory to come (Psalm 73: 23-26); but life on this earth didn’t appear very glorious for Michael at that time.
When Michael enrolled in hospice he wanted to be a “full code”. If his heart stopped beating or he stopped breathing he wanted to be resuscitated. He told me, “I’m not giving up; I’m still going to fight this.” In my many years as a hospice Social Worker I’ve realized that there’s a fine line between “giving up” and “wearing out”; and Michael’s body was wearing out.
Michael’s abdomen filled with fluid because of his liver failure, a condition called ascites. It made it difficult for Michael to breathe, eat and move; therefore Michael’s abdomen was tapped, a surgical procedure called a paracentesis. The fluid was drained off to make him more comfortable but it didn’t remedy the problem. And unfortunately with most procedures there can be harmful side-effects. It can leave you weaker and can trigger more rapid re-buildup of fluid in the abdomen, which for Michael, it did.
As Michael’s body continued to wear out, his abdomen refilled with fluid and Michael found himself “between a rock and a hard place”; should he have his stomach tapped again; should he have a “Denver Shunt” implanted to divert the fluid into his blood stream? Michael was paralyzed by indecision; therefore Michael was admitted to the Hospice Inpatient Center and a family meeting called. Michael, a brother, a sister and the assigned hospice team members were present as Chelsey, Michael’s attending physician, informed Michael of his options. She explained, “Tapping your stomach again or inserting the Denver Shunt are both procedures and the surgery itself might make you even weaker than you are now. And you might not even live through it.” I’ll never forget what Chelsey told Michael next. Chelsey hesitated for a moment and then compassionately explained, “Michael, I don’t mean to squash your hope, but you need to find a different kind of hope. You need to refocus.” Something clicked in Michael’s heart and mind. He looked up at me and asked, “Brother, will you come back over and help me fill out a living will?”
I called Chelsey to ask her permission to quote her in this story, and we reflected back on that “moment of truth”. Chelsey explained, “Michael was looking death in the face and was trying to choose life; but life wasn’t an option. The choice that was before him was how he wanted to die. And I wanted to give him some control over that. If he chose to have the procedures the quantity of life it would have given him, if any, would have been small. And it would have been at the sacrifice of quality.”
Oswald Chambers wrote, “Facing facts as they are produces despair…There are things in life that are irreparable. There is no road back to yesterday. A man up against things as they are feels he has lost God, while in reality he has come face to face with Him. When a man has been hit hard and realizes his own hopelessness he finds it is not a cowardly thing to turn to Jesus Christ… he is in the right attitude to receive from God that which he cannot gain for himself.” (Our Ultimate Refuge”, previously titled, “Baffled to Fight Better”).
“When I am overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” (Psalm 61: 2).
Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-356-2525 or at [email protected]. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths” at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.