Saturday, October 11, 2008

First do no harm

It was Hippocrates, a wise physician from ancient times, who said in providing medical care, the physician is first to do no harm. I have thought about that this week as my sisters and I have wrestled with how best to care for my dad at the end of his life. We returned late last night from our visit with him many miles away. Because he can no longer swallow even water at this point without inhaling it into his lungs, the skilled nursing center where he is now living recommended a feeding tube in hopes he will be stronger if he can eat and drink and participate in therapy.

The catch of course is that he did not want a feeding tube to simply prolong his life. After much discussion, my sisters and I, with the advice of my physician husband, reluctantly agreed to allow the tube to be placed with the understanding that the feeding can be stopped in the future if it is truly at that point merely prolonging his suffering. I am still ambivalent about this decision as it's hard to foresee what the future holds, and I'm afraid we may have just begun to do that which he did not want done. My dad has said he is ready to die. He's blind and his body and his mind are failing him. He has also missed my mother more with each passing year in the 15 years since her death. It's not a pretty picture all around. I am praying for God to watch over him and to guide us as we discern what is best for him.

My husband does not think he will be around for much longer in any case. When we visited him in the hospital before leaving to return home, I held his hand and read to him from the Psalms. My husband and I prayed with him before we left, with a heavy heart on my part as I don't expect to see him again in this life. I'm glad to know he is in God's good hands whatever happens.

This past week also included a funeral for a friend from church, a graveside service for my husband's mother, and news that the wife of one of his cousins had died. We will not make that funeral tomorrow. I am weighed down with sorrow at the moment. I've learned that some times in life are simply more full of sadness than others. At such times I'm especially grateful for the love of family and friends and for God's presence when I with me. I would not be able to stand at all in such times without God's help. I have no doubt this time of sorrow, like the ones that have come before, will pass. For everything there is a season, and now is another season of sorrow. Even at such times, however, God's love sustains me. Thanks be to God!

Grace and peace,
Donna Sue

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