Sometimes humor creeps in when the situation least appears funny.
I suggested to Jean that the rest of the family suffered along with her, and she told me to go away, get the hell out, and said a number of other unrepeatable comments to all of us. Jean’s loved ones had been up all night, worried she would fall from the edge of the bed where she had parked herself, legs too swollen and weak to hold her upright. I had thought we could appeal to the universal worry of every patient, i.e., being a burden to loved ones.
I was wrong. She let me know-quite clearly- that she didn’t care about any of them, she wanted everyone to leave. I thought of my old cat. He had always been standoffish, and as he died he spent his last days scratching and biting at whatever was within reach.
“People die the way they have lived”: We’ve all heard it said. In my experience, this is true. The people who have spent less time on their relationships, with many of them strained or estranged, have not suddenly developed some sensitive, communicative style at the end of their days. So it was with Jean. She had been in charge, been “a control freak”, and pushed people away all her adult years. It was painful to be an observer as she struck out at everyone in her last days. Nothing seemed to help her ease into dying.
Medical marijuana requires a number of hoops to jump through in Oregon (unlike my patients in Washington, who had been able to take a prescription to a legal store to buy what they wanted). For Jean, the paperwork would take too long and be too cumbersome; at one visit she let me know there was a neighbor who would supply it. We laughed at the time, her daughter and I, and said that we didn’t need any more information.
We had to call for “back up”, with a plan to treat Jean’s terminal agitation at the local hospital. Her daughter took me aside, as Jean was being transported by the medics, smothering a chortle while she told me that Jean said under her breath, “Someone must have reported me”, (having smoked a joint earlier in the week): thinking that was the reason for the burly men who arrived in uniforms to take her away. We didn’t correct her misconception.
The EMT in charge was a muscular, darkly handsome man who told Jean that his name was Mac and he would like to relieve her pain with some medicine. I was amazed, all of us having tried for hours, unsuccessfully, to help Jean in any way, when she allowed an IV to be placed, and the medicine she received began to smooth her pained face, and relax her muscles. As she went out on the gurney, her granddaughter made the comment, “I was going to tell Mac I felt faint, too”…..and we looked at each other, convulsed in laughter, even in the face of so much sadness and hurt.
Life had given us a comic relief moment, and I was thankful for that.