Dying Slowly and Finding "What a most delicious piece of fruit"
A monk was being chased by a panther when he found himself on the edge of an embankment. His eyes rapidly scanned the bank. He saw a rope which he believed would serve as his escape route. He quickly began his descent, but looking down he saw a second panther waiting below. He looked up again, this time to see a mouse gnawing on the rope. He stopped. In front of him and within arm's reach he saw a ripe strawberry. He picked and carefully placed it in his mouth. 'What a most delicious piece of fruit,' he said.
Wayne Holst starts his book review of "What Dying People Want: Practical Wisdom for the End of Life", by David Kuhl in Western Catholic Reporter October 2002 with that Zen Buddhist lesson. Continuing, Holst writes:
'The moment someone is told that their illness will likely result in death, time changes,' writes David Kuhl. It is an occasion unlike any other.
Kuhl, a Soros Faculty Scholar for the Project on Death, specializes in helping people better understand the experience of dying and bereavement. He is committed to influencing change in the way our culture treats death.
The author, a Vancouver-based physician, believes that - dreaded as it is - the realization of impending demise can actually transform the experience of dying into a special time.
Read the entire review. You may also wish to read the book itself. I think to better support the patient, each physician caring for a slowly dying patient needs to have some understanding of how the patient is emotionally and spiritually handling the remaining lifetime. This may be difficult because of the physician's schedule but probably there is more to this difficulty than time. There may be a tendency for a physician to begin to draw away from the dying patient because of associated personal feelings of inadequacy or failure. And this would be terribly unfortunate for the patient because of the patient's need at this time for comfort support both physical and emotional. This period in the patient's illness can represent one of the most challenging times for the patient but also challenging for the patient's doctor. The physician's response to the patient's needs at this time will separate those who are simply Dr.Technician from those who are Dr.Marcus Welby,M.D. ..Maurice.
p.s.- To complement this subject you may also want to read the posting about "Telling Bad News". Scroll down to July 18, 2004 for that piece.