I’m sitting in intensive care with my husband at his brother’s bedside. Lynn, 60, has been on a ventilator and feeding tube since Tuesday, with periodic small injections of morphine and a sedative to keep him as comfortable as possible. A lifelong smoker, he has been fighting an ever-spreading cancer that has hit his brain, lungs, and stomach. Perhaps more that they don’t know about. His life has been harder than the rest of the siblings for some reason; he always seemed to draw the shorter straw in life. And now, at this young age, he is fighting for his life surrounded by family and beeping machines.
At this point, they are just trying to see if there is any chance that his lung capacity will improve enough that they can wean him off of the ventilator. Apparently one of his lungs is virtually useless, and the other has pneumonia in the bottom and emphysema in the top, causing significant decrease in function. They’re not really sure he will ever recover, or at least not to the point where he has any quality of life. But his vitals are stable and reasonably good, given the circumstances, so they want to give his body time to indicate the next course of action. The doctor said his condition on Monday will dictate what should be done, and Lynn’s kids are comfortable with the doctor’s recommendations. It is still quite possible that he will pass on his own sometime over the weekend, which may be a blessing for his children, but he appears stable right now. He is mostly unresponsive when people talk to him or hold his hand, though sometimes he does seem to stir slightly when moved or when I put lotion on his hands.
As you can imagine, it has been a difficult week, starting with the need to put Lynn in intensive care and progressing through various respiratory treatments before resorting to the respirator. Lynn’s two kids have been dealing with it as best as one can, showing great strength and courage. My mother-in-law, who has already buried one child and two husbands, is holding up just barely. My husband’s other brother and sister-in-law have been here from Denver since Monday. They have return tickets for this coming Monday, but they’re going to try to get the return leg refunded so that they can stay until the funeral, whenever that might be held.
I was scheduled to leave tomorrow on a mission trip to Honduras, but I have canceled my trip. I was fortunate to be eligible for a full refund with a letter from Lynn’s doctor describing the critical nature of the family illness, so I’m grateful for that (thank you American). I’ve heard from the other mission team members, and they certainly understand my decision and are sending prayers our way. It was to be my second trip to the little village of Delicias del Norte, not too far from San Pedro Sula, and we were going to continue building pilas, stoves, latrines, and even a water treatment plant in this poor little mountain village. Another time for me, perhaps.
How do you wrap your mind around the decision to turn off the life-sustaining machines of a loved one? Have we reached a new high in medical science in that we can maintain a life at this stage, or a new low? The care that Lynn has received has been stellar, and his medical team has been diligent about trying different approaches to his condition. Despite their efforts, it seems that Lynn’s body is telling him it’s time to move on, to reunite with his 36-year-old sister and 65-year-old father. Still, our hearts yearn for a miracle and our heads question if all bases have been covered, all avenues tried.
I watched my elderly parents die a slow, failing death, and I would not wish that on my worst enemy. Not only would we not want Lynn to suffer such an end, we wouldn’t want his children to endure it. We can only hope that God, in his grace and mercy, will soon bring a clear vision of the best choices for Lynn’s situation, no matter what those choices may be.
March 10, 2010: The decision was made to remove Lynn from life support Monday morning, and he passed away peacefully around 3am today. God speed, Lynn.