The Need to Connect

I was visiting a patient who was close to dying from liver cancer. Sandy did not look comfortable or peaceful. She was breathing hard and thrashing around in her bed, though she had been unable to swallow and speak for days. I was tempted to suggest more morphine or Ativan, which is what we do too easily sometimes, but I thought what she needed was beyond drugs. Her daughter, Diane, was stationed on a military base back in Maryland, and I knew that she meant more to Sandy than anything, and that they had been through a lot of ups and downs in their relationship. They talked frequently on the phone, but this had not been possible for the last 5 days or so. I picked up Sandy’s cell phone, found Diane’s number in the contacts, and texted her to call her mother. She called immediately. I explained to her that her mother was close to death and I felt Sandy needed to connect with her one more time. I said, “ Just talk to her and tell her things you need to say. She won’t be able to talk back, but she will hear you.” I then put the phone up to Sandy’s ear, and Diane started to speak. What happened next was amazing and something I will never forget. Sandy’s eyes flew open and her breathing immediately quieted down so much that it was barely audible. After about a minute, she closed her eyes and died. I took the phone from her ear and told Diane that her mother just passed on as she was talking to her. I learned that the need for connection at the end of life is something we can all help the people we are caring for with. Sometimes a short visit or a few words on the phone can make a huge difference.