Sixteen months of Storms, Part 13

Jon Altman

Olctob5uiet98r 2po2,c3ns8agcrc 2018  · Shared with Public


As I said, the research nurse at MD Anderson had said that Lynette needed to be back at her November 13 “baseline” of self-care and mobility in order to participate in the clinical trial. Lynette was receiving daily Physical and Occupational Therapy. Her speech difficulties had (mostly) resolved, i.e. she could make sentences and communicate, but the reality was that she was NOT getting better at mobility and self-care. She was now pretty much bedfast and not able to do what Occupational Therapists call “Activities of Daily Living.” For the first time since her diagnosis about fourteen months earlier, I began to ask myself if it was time to “stop” efforts to slow the cancer’s progression down. I was aware that another Mississippi United Methodist clergy with cancer, Jim Biedenharn, was by then on hospice service. I contacted his wife, Clare Richardson Biedenharn, also a Mississippi Conference clergy and healthcare chaplain, to ask how they had come to make the decision to “stop” curative treatment. Clare basically went through a brief history of their clinical journey. I actually don’t remember that she even said what was the final trigger. It just was clear that she “knew” when it was time to stop. At this particular point (Tuesday, December 5) I didn’t “know.” Most of Lynette’s care at St. Dominic’s was under the direction of the St. Dominic’s hospitalists. It was somewhat odd that they were treating a cancer patient, but her oncologists (who had staff privileges at UMMC, but not at St. Dominic’s) were not readily available. Eventually, Jackson Oncology WAS consulted. I spoke with THOSE doctors about where things stood and gave them the names of her UMMC oncologists. One thing that was clear was that we needed updated scans to see where things stood with Lynette’s cancer progression. Her last UMMC scans had been in mid-September and her last MD Anderson scans had been in late October/early November. Friday morning, December 8 dawned with an inch, plus of snow on the ground in central Mississippi. Though this likely seems inconsequential to people from Northern climes, it’s a crisis in central Mississippi. The “snow removal plan” is “wait for it to melt.” I couldn’t do that, though. I needed to get from Harrisville to St. Dominic’s, a distance of some 15, plus, miles. I got there and didn’t slide. Lynette was scheduled for her scans that morning.I saw her off, and waited. About noon, she returned from the scan. As she was being transferred back to the bed, her oxygen saturation levels (“sats”) dropped into the 70s. She was quite distressed, in air hunger. As the nurses went through their protocol to try to help bring her “sats” back up, they asked me “If this does not work, do you want us to put her on a ventilator?” It was the “final exam” question for which I’d been studying for more than twenty years, without knowing it. All I could do was shake my head “No” and sob. I knew the answer. I knew what Lynette would want. I knew that “life” on a ventilator is no “life” at all.

About jaltman81

United Methodist Clergy
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