Sometimes it’s better not knowing.
I stumbled across an article in the paper today. What caught my eye was the picture of the 20ish person. “I know that face” I thought. As I began to skim, reading about the youthful adventures and work life of this person my brain began to make the connection.
A few months prior I’d taken care of a lovely 50ish woman with pancreatic cancer. She’d come to us with intractable vomiting, thought to be partly of an emotional nature. The trend is all to common; someone young , often a parent, who just isn’t ready to die is vomiting uncontrollably. Instead of processing through the reality, the struggle can become symptomatic. In other words, the emotional pain manifests itself in pain or vomiting.
My patient had reason for emotional struggle. A mother of 2, one of her kids was killed right before her diagnosis. The loss of her child in addition to the loss of her health became overwhelming.
While I took care of her I worked with medications to help, but I always felt the fear and resistance to dying. The remaining child was doting, caring and supportive and the bond between the two was extremely close.
I moved on to other places to work, and wasn’t around for the mother’s death, in fact had forgotten about this young family until I saw the picture in the paper.
What I was reading was an obituary. An obituary of this young person, the child of my patient. The paper said the cause of death was unknown. But isn’t it known? This poor young one had already had too much loss. Perhaps the prospect of life alone seemed too overwhelming.
I’m shocked still as I write this. I’m used to the process of a body shutting down, through disease or old age. The sudden snuffing out of life, in the midst of health and potential is depressing. Couldn’t something have been done?