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Time out!

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We are deeply thankful for these heroes who work with courage on the front lines to heal patients, at risk to themselves. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MCRI

It’s not new news that our lives are being adversely impacted by the COVID-19 virus. Healthcare professionals, aptly labeled Heroes of COVID-19, were going above and beyond the call of duty for patients — even as some of them were experiencing some form of loss, including a patient, family members or friends taken by the virus. Some have lost a role at work or their family has suffered a loss of income. We are deeply thankful for these heroes who work with courage on the front lines to heal patients, at risk to themselves. The impact of all this has been difficult to comprehend, but it is we need to help our people work through their grieving process and find ways to come to terms with our new reality.

I’ve been listening to stories of those who have lost a loved one, and am concerned about how sick patients are not able to be present with even one family member at the end of their lives. I’ve been asking myself: is this the best quality care we can offer for patients and families? I could not bear the thought of being in those shoes.

For example, a close friend of my mother’s recently contracted the virus, with her husband. They are in their early 90s, and devoted partners, in every sense of the word. They were a few weeks shy of their 69th wedding anniversary, had raised a beautiful family and also endured the heartbreak of losing a beloved daughter. Her husband became very ill, and they had to make a decision about his going to the local hospital for care.

It was decided that he’d go, and she’d receive updates back at their home, while improving. She talked with him on the phone as often as she could. During the second week following his admission, he died, attended to by caring clinicians.

I’ve experienced the power of those last precious moments of life, as have many others. We know how much it helps to be together.

Patients and families suffer great pain from not being together when they die.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/UNITED NATIONS COVID-19 RESPONSE

I’m writing now, with respect, to ask, despite how careful we work to be in health care, could we look at this more closely from a humanistic perspective, and possibly offer a better ending, moving forward, for another couple? Or, for any family that has suffered with not physically being present with their loved one before they passed?

In the need for utmost safety, families are not offered a choice. Patients and families suffer great pain from not being together when they die. The truth is, there is no “utmost safety” with this virus. At least, not until a successful vaccine is approved.

I just wonder, while seeing such situations up close, or when listening to the stories, if patients and families are asked about their wishes if things turn for the worse. They are also on the “front lines” of this pandemic, along with the clinicians, who feel pain, too, when caring for patients who are dying alone.

Time out! Could we look at this more closely… and possibly offer a better ending? If families aren’t being asked, can we make an improvement, in light of what many want at the end of life — a loved one’s presence, on top of quality clinical care? Understandably, at this time of the pandemic, there are thousands of families who haven’t been given that choice. Does it even make sense if we could put some of our best thinking caps for creative help that can keep families together one last time?

I wonder if my mother’s close friend could have been given a choice to “suit up” in personal protective equipment, as the clinicians do. She could’ve held her husband’s hand, and spoken with him, even if through a clear plastic shield. The power of their mutual presence would’ve been enough.

For this remarkable couple, a lifetime together sorely missed the important opportunity for an ending that would’ve been so well-deserved. What would he have wanted? To ensure that his wife was safe, but also to have had her near.

I believe my mother’s dear friend and her husband would have valued it.

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