If I could turn to [my dying self], as he remembers this day, what would he say to me? What would he say?
-WuDe, The Zen of WuDe
Last week at work, I had the pleasure of participating in a “Goals of Care” discussion. This is the discussion medical caregivers have with patients and their families when we realize that a sick person may be nearing a turning point medically. Generally, this is an event or change that will significantly impact their quality of life. Often (though not always), this occurs when we can see that the person is nearing the end of their life.
Pleasure might seem like the wrong emotion to experience with regard to a discussion like this. A more accurate description might be that I feel incredible gratitude about being able to provide this level of support to a family in crisis. I get to help guide someone through what is perhaps the most difficult and frightening time in their life, and hopefully facilitate choice and dignity in that process. I treasure each chance to hone this skill, because it is delicate and challenging and real. It is a gift.
The way I have learned to frame these discussions is to think about the ill person and try to understand what is most important to them. Perhaps what they loved the most was spending time with their family, or eating a really great meal, or advocating for a personal passion. Maybe they cherished their independence and never wanted to be a burden to anyone. We ask their family to identify the person’s most basic source of happiness and fulfillment. And then we ask ourselves if medicine can continue to provide this thing.
These discussions are important. They allow me to treat a fellow human with utmost respect. But now I keep thinking, these conversations are not only meant for the dying. They are things we should be asking ourselves every day.
What feeds me and fills me? What gives my life meaning and value? And when those questions have been answered; How can I live my life in a way that allows me to cherish and honor those things?
If I could turn to my dying self, what would she say?