People’s bodies at end of life do amazing things. Bones break. Organs fail. Even our neural receptors, our pain receptors, are hypersensitive, so we may have apparently little reason for pain but yet feel it and experience it. And often we see at end of life no amount of pain relief can relieve that, and people will ask the question.
They ask you to help them end it, to finish it, to kill them. They will use all sorts of language but there is no mistake about it. People know when they’ve had enough. It can be very difficult for the nursing staff to, I guess, experience that imploring and begging to assist them to end their suffering when it happens.
I would go the pan room and cry for 10 minutes because I didn’t know what to do or say. There was nothing I could do about it. Saying that to a patient who is begging you to die doesn’t help. It doesn’t change their view to tell them that it’s against the law and that there is nothing you can do. They don’t see anything other than their own distress and their own suffering.
Sometimes you just had to sit there and hold the hand of the person dying so that they could squeeze it and ease their own pain. Many of the deaths I’ve seen are extremely undignified. I can assure you starving to death or dying of dehydration is not dignified. It’s just not.
And the levels of pain — people can scream for the last hours of their death in agony despite very high doses of opiates, morphine and other forms of relief. It’s less than dignified I think when you’re in a public place surrounded by people that you may not know very well, when other people can hear you, hear your trauma, hear your suffering, and you’re generally in a strange environment. To me that’s not dignified.
- Nurse Coral Levett, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
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