Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I spend many hours alone thinking about death. I know it's inevitable, unpredictable and certain. I accept that. It may be sooner for me because of the COPD, and most likely will be. But I could also be hit by a truck tomorrow. You just don't know. But I think about it while I breathe in my oxygen and pant after everything I do.

Some days I wish it would be soon because I am so tired of fighting to breathe and so frustrated with wanting to do so much and not having the energy and the air to do it. At those times I mostly worry about how I will die. Will it be gasping for air, in pain or extreme anxiety or will someone know to make sure I get good meds. I'm in the process of making a living will but I worry that my wishes won't be carried out. I know how hard it is for families of dying patients to let go. Most days I just carry on, trying to make it better. There's good in every day, I just have to look for it.

One of the best parts of nursing was working with dying patients and their families. I felt honored and humbled to be allowed to share their most important life event. I always felt that I got more in return than I ever gave. What a gift it was to care for them.

I started nursing on an oncology/hematology unit in the 70's. Cancers were much less curable than they are now. It wasn't uncommon to see a woman in her 50's dying of lung cancer that had metastasized to her bones and brain. Leukemia killed most of the young people who came in to our unit with it. 18 year old boys were dying of testicular cancer.

It was during that time that I attended my first Kubler-Ross seminar. She awed me and I was hooked for life. I saw her two more times and met her personally. Her work inspired me. I was left with a life long desire to make a difference for dying patients. In the 80's I attended an international seminar on death and dying in Montreal and met many of the pioneers of that era. I spent years learning all that I could about death and dying and how to control symptoms and how to connect with dying patients and their families. I learned how to be quiet and really listen to what was being said. I just cannot express how much of a gift it has been.

So now that I contemplate my own death, it's not so scary for me - really just the nuts and bolts of it. We've learned so much in the last 40 years, but damn, there are still hold-outs who can't even say the word death and cannot fathom pain and symptom management. Hell, I think I've worked with most of them, and I hope that I've educated a few of them.

For now, I just feel good to be alive. I work hard to accept the limitations I have had imposed on my life and to be grateful that I am so much better than some others.

But I still think about death.