The last three days have been some of the most emotional of my life.
How do you want to die? How to you want your family to say goodbye? Do we have a choice?
On Sunday, a family we were staying with at a ski resort had their 14 year old go missing from 10am until after sundown. He was found. On Monday, my mother-in-law suffered an enormous heart attack on the other side of the world, and is fighting for her life. Today, I gave CPR to a man unknown to me, in a cafe in a tiny town in rural France, who had choked on his lunch. He was surrounded by friends and acquaintances, but no one could help him. It’s three days til Christmas.
I think as I am writing this I am both numbed and seeing clarity through the emotional roller coaster. A whirlwind of booking flights back home, listening to overheard progress updates, making arrangements for children, offering emotional support to new acquaintances, desperately trying to revive a man who wasn’t planning on dying today.
As a doctor, we are all too often on the other side of this human tragedy. Empathy steeled through experience; intellectualised grief. But personal tragedy and the raw immediacy of having a dramatic health event unfold in front of view rapidly changes perspective.
When did you last tell those most precious to you that you love them? When did you last discuss your end of life plans?
I don’t know what the next few weeks will hold for us. However, I now know for certain the answer to a question that I have often been asked: “Should I fly back and see my loved one who is suddenly unwell?”. Yes. Have those difficult conversations before it’s too late. Talk about what choices you want if your life hangs in the balance. Decide to donate your organs. Discuss when its time to let go and when it is time to fight.
Overall, don’t forget to let the people you love know it. You never know when it’s too late.