Ryan Brown, M.D., a Critical Care doctor at Vanderbilt Medical Center, offers some excellent advice for caregivers. First, he says having an explicit plan beforehand takes away a lot of stress when the patient is in the Intensive Care Unit. When that plan isn’t in place, he sees a lot of dissent between family members, as well as guilt if they don’t do everything possible. The goal is to be the patient’s voice if they can’t tell you what they want. He also recommends that for elderly patients, a gerontologist should be a part of the discussion beforehand since they can be very helpful and can take a lot of stress off of the caregiver.
Dr. Brown says, “Caregivers need to think about what should we do versus what can we do. Do you want to prolong life if the patient is truly suffering or do we want to make them comfortable and let nature take its course? Death is part of life, and the beauty of death is that God is calling them home.”
Dr. Brown says there is no need to fear death, and his hope is that the caregiver doesn’t feel guilty when the patient does die. Also, he emphasizes that there is so much doctors can do to make the patient comfortable now, and Hospice is a huge help in allowing the patient to die at home versus the hospital. He believes that God doesn’t want us to suffer at the end of life when there are ways to help. Dr. Brown has watched many people die comfortably.
He says caregiving is a difficult job with a lot of burnout. It is very important for the caregiver to take care of their own health. These days since most people live longer and die of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, the caregiver’s role can go on for a long time. Dr. Brown typically sees caregivers at the end of their patient’s lives, but the gerontologist sees them throughout the process. He says it’s also very important for caregivers to establish a trusting relationship with the patient’s doctors to fully utilize their experience.
- Have a plan of action while the patient is still lucid and share the plan with all family members.
- Talk with your gerontologist about different scenarios.
- Trust your doctors.
- Do not fear death.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Lord, bless these special healers who are doing Your work here on earth. Give them strength and faith to take the best care possible of their patients. Help them to be an aid to the caregivers as they face difficult end of life decisions. Help us to remember that God calls all of us home as death is a part of life. Death is not to be feared, especially since our stories will end well.