Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The living dead

Reading this which was inspired by this made me write this post.

Enough confusion.

Years ago, when I was doing my mandatory civil service (Germany still has conscription, and instead of going to the army I opted for the cushy way) I was a simple disabled taxi driver: driving taxis for the disabled mind you, not being disabled myself or driving a taxi that was disabled (although some of the vans were on there best way to scrap metal heaven).

Happily cruising through my day the next job was a simple home pick up to take an elderly gentleman to his dialysis appointment. He didn't look happy. In fact, he looked a bit like a bulldog - no facial hair, saggy cheeks, rounded head. Wheelchair bound, he looked at me with hollowed eyes, grumpy, sad.

Of course I walked in with a cheery "How are you going this morning?!", which was met by a nonchalant grunt (told you, bulldog). In the lift down to the ground floor, I tried to make conversation, blah, blah, but it ended abruptly when he answered my question of what is going on.

"I just want to die."

"Hmm" I thought to myself. No response came to mind. No response would ever come to my mind. How do you deal with someone who has no family around, who is stuck to a chair on wheels, who lives a confined life in a crumbling shell (body), but who's senses (mind) are still sharp, if somewhat depressed?

He was the first of a few patients, both then and in my current job that I have come across that have expressed their will to die. Many others I assume would have expressed this wish to me as well, if they had not been in a situation of severe dementia, unable to speak, doubly incontinent and bed ridden.

For the first group, I recently met up with our ambulance chaplain, and brought up just that point, and how I always feel so helpless and speechless. He did acknowledge the difficulty of talking about such an issue, and recommend I should try using a little reverse engineering: Get them to share memories of their 'good old days', when they had friends & family a plenty around them. This should hopefully cheer them up if done properly, plus it may breathe new life in to trying to establish new relationships and overall enjoy life a little.

As for the second group, I reckon a little reverse engineering would be appropriate to: Instead of life saving interventions, some life ending interventions would be the most humane thing society could do for these poor souls.