Know Your Wishes
Stories to Inspire A Peaceful Passing
As a doctor reaching the end of a 24-hour shift in the intensive care unit it’s usually easy to fall asleep. The exhaustion hits you like a rock and it doesn’t matter that the morning sun is pouring into your bedroom. After 24 long hours of fighting for life and pushing back against death, you finally hit your bed, close your eyes and, in an instant, the next day has arrived. Except for that one day when I couldn’t sleep no matter what I tried. Saddened from seeing the same turmoil time and time again as my patients’ family members were caught unprepared, confused and distraught amidst an unexpected medical disaster, I tossed and turned in bed with an idea. I would write the stories of my patients so others might learn from their victories, struggles and even their failures. That night, I determined to write Last Wish to encourage you to consider in advance what your wishes, or those of your loved ones, might be if faced with an unexpected tragedy. I didn’t sleep at all that day, despite my overwhelming fatigue, because the stories in my head kept me awake, begging to be written.
In the ICU, I find myself talking with people every day about devastating illness, the fragility of our bodies, and our mortality. Options are presented: should we pursue aggressive, possibly painful interventions or perhaps shift our focus and allow a natural and peaceful passing? There are lots of questions, and at the end, it usually comes down to them asking me just one more: “What should we do?” It’s an impossible question, and I have to give an impossible answer. It’s up to you.
So I wrote Last Wish intending to plant a seed in your mind about some of the medical situations you or your loved ones probably will face one day. Maybe it will provide some insight for you and your family. At the very least, I hope it sparks discussion and helps you to consider planning for the inevitable mortality we all face.
Here, just as with my patients, I’m not advocating for any particular decision, but instead that you consider the issues. The decisions are yours and yours alone. No one can make them for you.
In this book, you’ll read other people’s experiences along with my own struggles with how to best treat the patient and support the family, and not always getting it right the first time. It’s all told through my eyes and filled out with what I’ve learned from talking with those involved– real people with important stories to share: stories of life, death and somewhere in-between . - Lauren Van Scoy, MD
No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. ~Euripides