Today I had my 16th chemo visit for the year. This time it was a sobering experience.
It started well with a ‘chat’ with the parking inspectors about my last visit to the hospital! There were a few comments about my Mo for Movember. I asked the three girls beside me, who were visiting a patient, if they were doing Movember too! And they were! One had already raised over $1100. No they didn’t have facial hair on their upper lip – they each had cute mo-shaped earings. 🙂 I chatted with the nurses about a letter for the parking inspectors, about my first ever mouth ulcers, and about how I planned to have a treatment in Sydney in January. I got hooked up to the drugs and tried to connect my iPad to the new WiFi.
Then I began to notice some upsetting things happening around me. There was a patient who seemed to be quietly sobbing as a nurse consoled her. I thought I heard someone speak about what was happening with her dog. There was a young woman, who didn’t seem much older than 20, confidently having her treatment. Why so young?
But it was the conversation that I couldn’t help overhearing from the other side of the room, that disturbed me most. The man was very frail, in his late 70s I’d guess. His wife sat beside him. The nurses discussed the need to work out a treatment strategy with the doctors. It seemed he had a serious infection – one that he’d had before – and they were working out the treatment strategy. This was decision time for the man.
The conversation went something like this…
“Is there light at the end of the tunnel?” the patient asked.
“Not for the cancer.” replied a nurse. “But there is for the _____itis. We can treat that. We can improve your quality of life.”
“What life?” he said. “This isn’t living. It’s just agony. I can’t do anything. I don’t want to have more treatment.”
“And you don’t have to.” said the nurse. “It’s up to you. It’s your decision. We respect whatever decision you make.”
“I don’t want to have any more treatment!” he protested. “I’m just prolonging the inevitable.”
“It’s your decision. You have the right to choose.” said the nurse.
His wife seemed anxious, “But think of all we’ve been through. Now’s not the time to make the decision. Why don’t we treat the infection and then you can decide.”
The nurse agreed that it wasn’t the time to make such huge decisions, but the patient seemed to have made up his mind. “There’s no point.” he said. “I want to go home.”
“And you can go home,” said the nurse. “But don’t think that just because you told us today that you didn’t want to do anything, that you can’t change your mind tomorrow. You can change your mind any time. And when you get home ring palliative care right away. Right away, okay!”
“We will.” said his wife.
And they left.
This really was a life and death experience, I was witnessing. It was so hard for him. So hard for his wife. I found it hard. I wanted to go to him and talk about life and death and hope and God. But they were gone and I was hooked up in my chair. My heart was heavy. I prayed for them. Then I turned on Eva and closed my eyes.
As I reflect on this again, these words come to mind:
11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
What prospects, that I should be patient?
12 Do I have the strength of stone?
Is my flesh bronze?
13 Do I have any power to help myself,
now that success has been driven from me? (Job 6:11-13)
6 “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
and they come to an end without hope.
7 Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
8 The eye that now sees me will see me no longer;
you will look for me, but I will be no more.
9 As a cloud vanishes and is gone,
so one who goes down to the grave does not return.
10 He will never come to his house again;
his place will know him no more. (Job 7:6-10)
Job, too, despaired of his life. I hope that he, and the man and wife in the chemo ward today, know these words of comfort and hope. They’re true for all who will turn to God and trust him. He’s the God who raised Jesus Christ as Lord:
4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
(2 Corinthians 4:18-5:5)