Thoughts on Being Alive and Living
It was incredibly difficult to watch Grandma’s condition deteriorate before our eyes. The tubes and medical equipment can be disconcerting, but I’ve seen that all before. I’ve watched people who were connected to all the same equipment in their final hours and it doesn’t always happen this way. The doctors and nurses did everything they should have and could have, don’t get me wrong. It’s the entire machine that I wonder about.
As I witnessed what happened, here’s what I saw.
Grandma’s CO2 levels dropped dangerously low so the nursing home rushed her to the hospital where the doctors started her on a breathing treatment. They were unsure it would actually work, but it was the only thing that might work and at that point if they didn’t do it she would have died that night.
Like I’ve mentioned it was a long, hard, tiresome night left with little hope this side of God’s eternal presence, but as I sat and watched her struggle with the breathing mask I just couldn’t shake the thought that she was alive, but she sure wasn’t living. By the next morning, her CO2 levels were back up (actually they were too high) so they took her off of the treatment. After the morning came, the doctors decided to move her to a room where she and the rest of the family could be comfortable while we waited for the inevitable.
And thus began the long march of atrophy and pain killers. As her body labored to do the things we take for granted every day, to breathe and pump blood throughout her body, the thought returned to my mind, “Why did they fight so hard to keep her alive for this?” It seemed like the cycle of emergency procedures kept her from dying only so that the entire process could be stretched over the following two days.
Again, I do not fault the doctors for the decisions they made, it’s systemic in our culture’s fear of death and belief that medical intervention is always best. Even while I watched it unfold, though, I felt the fear rise up in myself as I thought about filling out the necessary documents to keep certain life-saving measures at bay. Would I be brave enough to say, “When my time comes, let me go.” or would I hang on to everything I could to stay alive, even at the cost of living.
I am thankful for one thing. The morning they ended her breathing treatment, Grandma came to and was her able-minded, clear-thinking self for a short period of time. In that time she was able to make that decision. She asked the doctor, with no hesitation, “Why are you keeping me alive?” and when he was sure that she understood the situation at hand she was able to say, “If it comes to it again, let me go.” It was a powerful moment, a moment of courage and bravery, a moment where she did not fear death, nor longed for this world, but rather turned her gaze to know fully what she had only ever known in part, and to move from merely being alive, to fully living in the presence of her Lord.