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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The many faces of death

I have been doing this long enough to know what death looks like.  I have seen death more often than the average person, and I have seen every kind of death.  I know how people die.  I am, shall I say, a default expert on dying.

How many different ways are there to die?  I cannot say.  I had one elderly man die while I was talking to him.  He said, "I don't feel good."  He became suddenly anxious and walked to the recliner, where he simply stopped breathing.  I had been having a nice discussion with him just prior to this.

There was this other elderly man with a heart function of less than 10 percent.  He was a happy man, and he said to me, "I'm not afraid of dying at all.  I am ready.  I have said good bye to my family and friends.  Whenever God wants to take me, I'm ready."

He was one of the neatest old men I ever met.  A nurse and I were sitting at the nurses station watching the telemetry units, when we saw his rhythm change.  We both got up to look at him, and saw that he was sleeping sound with what appeared to be a smile on his face.

We saw his heart stop.  The way he went out, in his sleep that way was therapy for us in a way, because, by the line of our work, we too often see people die among a burst of pain and agony, and then we call a code and make un-Godly attempts to reverse God's call.

It is never pretty when this happens, and we never succeed.  And then we feel bad because things usually do not go as planned.  Sometimes we feel guilty, thinking we could have done more.  Yet after seeing a few of these events, a healthcare worker generally grows numb to death.

I don't think growing numb to death is such an odd thing, though.  I think in today's day and age where medicine keep people alive so long, we tend to see death seldom.  This was not the case prior to the 20th century, when death was a common occurrence.

How many people died just because they got appendicitis, something that is now treated with a simple surgery?  How many people died due to their their throat swelling up because they contacted a disease that is not exterminated by modern science?

There was a time when 50 percent of infants died in birth, and many died in childhood due to one disease or another.  Most kids never got to see their grandparents because most people did not live past 40.

Death is not common anymore, so we fear it.  Yet this is not the case if you work in healthcare, particularly as a physician, nurse, or respiratory therapist.  You will see death for what it really is.  You will accept death as just another part of life.

But this is good, I think.  As the Bible says, we never know when our time will come.  We never know when God will call for us.  And for this reason we should heed the words of Mark 13:33:  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come."

I think that people who believe in God tend to go out with grace and dignity.  And healthcare givers who believe in God do a better job of dealing with it.  For we know that death is not the end but the beginning.

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