This morning, I read a post from a hospice nurse. She had stuck a copy of her legal medical directive on the fridge, and told her family that if she became ill with Coronavirus, under no circumstances should she be put on a ventilator. She couldn’t bear the thought of being attached to such a machine and dying, alone. She was, no matter what, to remain at home.
She then asked her fellow nurse friends, if they heard she was ill, to be generous with the morphine and the ativan.
She is continuing to go to work. She assumes she’s probably already been unknowingly exposed to the virus, or will be soon. But she also believes deeply that her patients deserve a peaceful and dignified end-of-life, even though they happen to be transitioning in the middle of a pandemic. She knows she’s not going to be saving lives. But she’s certainly going to be making a difference in lives.
As jarring as it is to see an otherwise young and healthy mom refer so frankly to her medical directive, it drives home two points. One, the seriousness of this epidemic. At this point we have to assume the virus has spread everywhere, and do what we can to stop the spread. It is horrible that people are dying, and dying alone, but it will get worse if we don’t do our part.
Two, the only reason she has the luxury of being that direct is because she took the time, at some point in the past, of creating that directive and having it legally put in force. Without it, medical professionals are required to treat her, despite any verbal objections from those who may know her real wishes.
She probably had no idea when she made that directive that she would be referring to it so soon, and in a situation as unusual as the one we find ourselves in. And that’s the point- none of us know when our time will come, or when we’ll need things like advance directives.
But one thing is for certain- if we wait, one day it will be too late.