A man is transported to the ER (Emergency Room) that I work at via Advanced Care Life Support. He is over 80 years old. He suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and he is in renal failure. He has just come from dialysis and his blood pressure is dangerously low. He is feeling weak and short of breath.
The man is done.
I understand that there are elements of this situation, and of this nature, that are truly not for me to speak about. But what I can recognize is someone in severe physical distress. Not the kind of distress that grasps for life, but the kind that desires to relax and let go. The kind of life that releases its grip and embraces “What dreams may come…”
The man has proclaimed himself in his paperwork that he wishes to be recognized as a DNR (DO NOT RESUSCITATE). In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions: If life becomes a burden that surpasses death, opt for death. That is to say, it is a simplified self-euthanasia. It is a post-death suicide that allows a body to proclaim itself as a reasonable entity from beyond the grave.
This man has obviously endured quite a bit. Probably much more than I will ever know. His heart stops, he codes right in front of us all. I watch this man die and I do nothing because that is what he has requested.
As myself and the rest of the staff that are procuring this man’s final moments witness in quiet silence his movement from what we here entitle as ‘life’ back into the reality of Life As Such…his family arrives.
They are good people. They care for him. They want the best for him. Although they do not know he is gone, they already miss him. It is apparent on each of their faces.
I recognize that look. I have seen it many times.
The ER doctor explains to the family that there is nothing more we are allowed to do. The man is a DNR and we now must watch him go. The family exclaims that they do not want him to be a DNR. They want us to try. They want us to try and “get him back.” They want us to “do all we can.”
The ER doctor makes a decision and tells me, with a familiar look of indignation, to start CPR. Regardless of paperwork, legality, and the explicit consent of the Other, we—the staff of this emergency room—begin invasive procedures. I begin compressions. They push medications.
This poor man comes back.
The family is elated. I understand this. It is—truly—an occasion to be joyous about. A loved one, a being for which we are a devotee, has ‘returned’ to dwell here for a bit more. We love this essence with an understanding that others may never possibly comprehend.
I see this. I step aside for this. This is deeper than me at this moment in time.
But, what I cannot ignore is the man himself.
He had a request and expected us to honor it.
DNR. DO NOT RESUSCITATE. Those—if anyone can admit—are bold words. Not in the sense that they posture some sort of radicalism, rather, that they stand up in the face of situated life and proclaim, “I am done. I refuse to press on.”
We get a pulse back.
The family was happy. The staff was happy. The doctor was happy. We had saved a life. Hell, that’s what we do here in the emergency room. Save lives, right?
I cried over that man.
I could not help but think that I had taken something from him. I could not help but think that I had robbed him from something, that I had deviated a course that I had no business altering.
This poor man had only asked to die when the situation presented itself, and I had contributed in the effort to deter that situation. I had participated in actions that went directly against his wishes. I could see no other way against it. The man was suffering, relieved of that suffering—only to be ‘brought back’ INTO that very same suffering.
And we have the audacity to speak of Hell? To not only witness a body in the midst of terrible crisis, but also willingly bring that body back into said crisis for the sake of some compartmentalized morality?
The man died again shortly after in the ICU. I can only hope that it was more of a revelation than the first.