28/01 2017

Gift of Time part 2

How often have I heard myself say “I wish I had more time” or “I’m just too busy”

While I’m on the subject of a “gift of time” I was recently given one. I was flying between Reykjavik and LA on the return leg from the UK having visited my Dad for his 80th birthday. I found out that there was no inflight entertainment (what!), that I could rent a movie player but that my credit card wasn’t accepted on the plane. Oh, that includes all other purchases including food and drink. Also i’m not sure I can charge my devices, as well as no wifi! (Instagram or Facebook!) So I’ve just been given the gift of 9 hours, but for some reason it doesn’t feel like much of a gift!!

I am smiling writing this as I have been looking at the way I’m living some of my life right now. My iPhone is a powerful tool, as are the internet and social media; on certain days though, I’m not sure quite who is driving who. A gift of time is only that if we acknowledge it and accept it.

I remember at the beginning of my journey into Palliative Medicine I attended a conference put on by Victoria Hospice in BC. During that time in 2008, which was a seminal time for me, I remember a speaker asking us to draw a line on a piece of paper that represented our life time and to mark on it where we felt we were. I was 45 at the time so of course as I was definitely going to be living to age 90 I put a mark in the middle. The second question was, now write down the things that are important to you and your goals for the next part of life. The second part of the process was, “now you just found out you only have 6 months to live”, what is important to you and what are your goals? Kinda different from the 1st list.

Talking about prognosis is something that in some form I do almost every working day. One of the ultimate questions of life is “How much time do I have left?” The answer is that I (we) honestly don’t know with any degree of accuracy. The studies tell us that as Dr’s and medical staff our best estimates will be at least 50% wrong, either longer or shorter. For those with advanced life limiting illness we may know a little more but still not with any degree of accuracy.

I have wondered a lot about why this is. I have concluded, so far, that maybe it’s in part because we’re not meant to know, really!! It is not science that guides the day we die or the number of days we live. I have seen people who tell me they are going to die today and have done so when we didn’t expect it. I have seen people who have not apparently been able to communicate for may days wait until a loved one comes in from the East Coast. I have seen a bed side vigil take place for a long time only for the person to pass away while they are left alone for a bathroom break. On further exploration they were a private person who had apparently waited till they were alone to go. Well of course they would, wouldn’t they?

I don’t have answers or complete theology for this and many other observations I make standing as I do on the threshold of life and death (and life after life as my beliefs would have). I do know that there is a profound mystery in all of this. When I say mystery, I mean not the absence of something, but more going on than I can understand and explain or maybe need to. It appears that this may just still be God’s realm after all. Naturalism is the term for this misconception, that all we see can be explained in natural terms (Science) without the need for the spiritual or supernatural. Not incidentally a new problem.

We don’t really like things we don’t understand and can’t control. The end of life is one of those things. There are profound spiritual experiences I believe happening in the days and hours as we approach the end of out physical lives. We “see in part and understand in part” we “see as through a glass darkly” I know it’s not a popular point of view in these days of “Medical assisted dying”, but I just don’t think we understand enough of what life and death are about to end someone’s life for them. In my opinion only our human pride and now the rules of our society tells us we do. This incidentally is also not a new thing, simply the latest version of an older concept.



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