Bioethics Discussion Blog: “A Wasted Illness” And The Request To Jump From The Train

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

“A Wasted Illness” And The Request To Jump From The Train

“Inside every patient, there’s a poet trying to get out. My ideal doctor would ‘read’ my poetry, my literature.”-Anatole Broyard

So I read the poem of Thomas Masterson Hardy (2 June 1840 - 11 January 1928) a novelist and poet, generally regarded as one of the greatest figures in English literature. The poem titled “A Wasted Illness” awakened in me a new issue regarding what goes on in the patient's mind after we, as physicians, treat and cure them of serious illnesses or provide them with what we call a remission. I really never thought about this particular patient concern but, you know, I wouldn’t doubt that it really exists. Here is how Hardy puts it:

Thomas Hardy - A Wasted Illness

Through vaults of pain,
Enribbed and wrought with groins of ghastliness,
I passed, and garish spectres moved my brain
To dire distress.

And hammerings,
And quakes, and shoots, and stifling hotness, blent
With webby waxing things and waning things
As on I went.

"Where lies the end
To this foul way?" I asked with weakening breath.
Thereon ahead I saw a door extend -
The door to death.

It loomed more clear:
"At last!" I cried. "The all-delivering door!"
And then, I knew not how, it grew less near
Than theretofore.

And back slid I
Along the galleries by which I came,
And tediously the day returned, and sky,
And life--the same.

And all was well:
Old circumstance resumed its former show,
And on my head the dews of comfort fell
As ere my woe.

I roam anew,
Scarce conscious of my late distress . . . And yet
Those backward steps through pain I cannot view
Without regret.

For that dire train
Of waxing shapes and waning, passed before,
And those grim aisles, must be traversed again
To reach that door.


Do you think that there are patients who have made that train ride with the burden of suffering and recover (for example, a cancer remission) and then are faced with the possibility of that ride again finally “to reach that door”, look to physician-assisted suicide as an escape to jump from that moving train? Just a thought...Maurice.

2 Comments:

At Monday, May 22, 2006 6:02:00 PM, Anonymous Moof said...

That's a question I hadn't considered before either, Dr. Bernstein.

I know a few people who have been snatched from the jaws of death, and who lament that they're afraid to face the agony of dying again ... and a few who have faced death, and now no longer fear it.

I don't know anyone who's faced it, and now wants "assisted suicide" to avoid the next downward slide.

You know, I would think that having been snatched back to wholeness would perhaps give someone enough hope for a recurrence to persevere until the end?

 
At Monday, May 22, 2006 7:11:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

On the other hand I can imagine a patient who now aware of the suffering involved in the illness as the patient's condition fail and then who recovers but when faced with another decline with the same illness might not want to experience the suffering again. ..Maurice

 

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