In the past several months we have had two friends in that ultimate life or death situation. A situation that none of us would ever want to be in, on either side.
Two people experienced catastrophic medical events which resulted in irreparable brain injury. Their bodies still functioned, but brain activity was minimal. Their loved ones had to make a choice; the most difficult choice any one could make.
Medical science has progressed in so many ways, and continues to do so on a daily basis. Today people are being saved from any number of horrible accidents and diseases that even five years ago would have been fatal. They may have life altering injuries which require months of rehabilitation to enable them to return to an active, although sometimes changed, lifestyle, but they are able to continue their life with their family and friends.
Unfortunately medical science cannot repair damaged brain cells. It cannot rejuvenate them, or replace them. When the brain is denied oxygen during a major medical crisis, brain cells begin to die. And although doctors can do amazing things to pull people through these horrific episodes, sometimes they just cannot.
Their brains are still functioning enough to operate most of their organs, with help of advanced medical equipment, but the essence of who they are, who they were, cannot be restored. They cannot breathe on their own. They cannot “eat” without a feeding tube. They cannot see what’s around them, because their eyes can no longer open, or if they do, we have no idea if they are seeing, and if what they do see even registers on any conscious level of their minds.
Yet their bodies function, and the minimal brain activity tells us they’re still living; still with us. Our minds tell us they can get better, because we desperately want them to. We want them to be who they were before that catastrophic event that changed everything.
But sometimes it just cannot happen. And we are forced to make decisions that no one should have to make.
There are two sides to this issue, and I can understand both of them. There are many people who say that under no circumstances should their loved ones be shut off from any chance of life; that there can always be a miracle, and that person can wake up and be him or herself again. I appreciate their faith, and I understand it. I totally get it. In that circumstance I’d probably feel the same way, at least in the beginning.
Unfortunately in such severe cases as I’m describing, there is no miracle on the horizon. Yes, it always could happen, and I don’t dispute that.
But let’s talk about the person in the hospital bed who is the one hooked up to life supporting equipment; the person who cannot function at all without that equipment. If he or she could talk to us, what would that conversation be like?
What would you want to tell your loved ones if you were in that situation? Trapped in a body that would never work properly again? And your mind, the essence of you, if any part were still functioning to understand what was happening, what would you say?
Would you want to be trapped in a body that you have absolutely no control over? Would you want to exist not being able to speak, to move, to see, to do any of the things you used to enjoy? Would you want to exist in this new world in which you found yourself, with no chance of ever leaving this new world because of medical science? Confined to this one small space?
Or would you want to go home to the Lord, finally free of the suffering, finally and beautifully restored with a new body and a whole intact mind?
That’s the choice we have to consider. Because when our loved ones cannot decide any more, we are forced to make that decision. And it’s a gut wrenching, grievous, and irreversible decision. One that we can wrestle with for days, sometimes weeks, before deciding.
While our loved ones remain trapped in that twilight world we cannot imagine. And we have no idea what, if anything, they consciously know. We know we don’t want to make a final irreversible decision; but sometimes we have no choice.
We pray. We cry. We talk to the doctors. We pray more. We ask others for guidance. But in the end, we are forced to make that ultimate decision. And it’s far from easy; far from simple. And it’s a decision that must be lived with the rest of our lives.
It’s extremely hard to do the right thing, and no matter what decision is made, it will be questioned many times over. Because we’re human and we will always have those moments of self doubt.
In these two situations, neither person had an advanced medical directive. They had talked about it, but like so many of us, they just “didn’t have time” to get it done. They thought they had all the time in the world. Until their world irreparably changed, and they could no longer make that choice. One person passed away on their own, before the choice had to be made. The other, well, loved ones had to make the choice.
My heart cries for all of those involved, not just in these cases, but in the countless others every day. And I cannot judge anyone’s decisions in these situations.
I know what I would want done, and both my husband and I have advanced directives which clearly spell out our wishes.
It wouldn’t make such decisions easier, but it would make it better for our loved ones. I pray they will never need to be used.
Think about it before you judge or criticize. Put yourself in their places.
May the Lord bless each and every person who has or is going through this situation. May you be comforted with the hope and assurance that one day you will all be reunited. And know that the decisions that were made were the right ones.