Bubbles

Suffering at the End of Life

Marianne Matzo, PhD, FAAN – Podcast Host

I was watching my husband fish while I scrolled through Facebook and came across the ten-minute video of George Floyd laying on the ground with a police officer’s knee on his neck. As I watch I found myself getting sick to my stomach, wishing someone could do something to make it stop. I heard the bystanders advocating for Mr. Floyd and knew that any action they would take to intervene could put themselves in a dangerous situation. I wondered what I would do if I was there.

As a former hospice nurse and advanced practice palliative care nurse practitioner I know what I would do if someone I was caring for were crying and saying they could not breathe. Not being able to take a breath is one of the most distressful symptoms to have and one of the hardest symptoms to watch. We have medications that help alleviate those symptoms. I am a Reiki Master and use healing energy to help calm people until the medications take effect. I can say I have never left anyone who had difficulty breathing until their breathing was managed and they were comfortable.

So, watching Mr. Floyd was distressful to me on many levels. It was a horrible feeling to watch him suffer and have no one able to help him. When he called for his mom, my heart sank. I have been with many people at the end of their lives and have heard them call for their mother. I have never heard anyone call for their dad (which is not to say they do not, only that I have not heard it). Hearing him call for his mom while he was unable to move or breathe, and bleeding from his nose was a heart wrenching experience.

Our work at every1dies.org is focused on education about our mortality. We believe knowledge is power, and with that power we can make informed choices about our lives and end of life. Mr. Floyd, in that last hour of his life, sounded to me like he was suffering. Not being able to breathe is suffering. We have it in our power as a humane society that people not suffer. Yes, everyone dies, but we can ensure people are not suffering while doing so.

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Further reading

S2E39: Everything You Need to Know about an Autopsy

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S2E36: What You Need to Know About the Stages of Dying

How do you know when someone is in the final stages of dying, and how can you help? In this episode Dr. Matzo shares what to expect in the final stages before death so you can be prepared and also know how to provide comfort to the very end.

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