~by: C J Goh~
A long time friend of mine who much earlier in life was diagnosed to be diabetic, and then years later diagnosed with colon cancer (it is now in remission), is now admitted in the hospital again for multiple complications (including water retention in his lungs, cardiac complications and bleeding when he moves his bowels).
He is in his late 60s a technical person, with basic to intermediate IT literacy. He is a bubbly and optimistic person, and is in the middle-income group.
His wife who is perhaps of similar age as my friend, is fortunately employed (even though she has medical conditions of her own). His only daughter suffers from a rare form of autoimmune nerve disorder which causes notable muscle atrophy.
For the last ten years, my friend has not been able to hold down a proper job because of his medical conditions.
I recently visited him in hospital and he said that he has been well cared for by doctors and nurses there. The facilities available in the hospital are good, and so is the treatment offered for his various medical conditions. But my friend wishes to not be treated.
He simply wants to let go. Yes, to die.
His reasons being economics and sheer pragmatism. All the efforts to treat his conditions are just efforts to delay his death, he believes.
“I want to just let go… just let me go.” he told me.
“The doctors and nurses here are very nice to me; they have been very helpful and have made me feel as comfortable as is possible. But I don’t want any treatment…it is pointless”, he emphasised.
“How long can dialysis prolong or extend my life?” he questioned, “One week? Two weeks? A month? Several months? One year?”
“To treat my problems I have to dig a huge hole in my pocket”, he continues. “Then when there is no more left in my pocket to dig, I have to dig my family member’s pockets and in the end I still die. What is the point?”
My friend did not want me to feel sorry for him. ” I am ready and I am happy to go. There is no benefit or purpose in getting my loved ones worried over me when they themselves have to get by day-by-day hand to mouth.”
He comforts me “Don’t worry about me my friend. I know that it is time to go.” He told me all this with a smile on his face. And I had nothing to say to him – I didn’t know what to say. I took his right hand in both my hands, squeezed it and shook it.
That was when he broke into tears, still holding on stubbornly to that smile on his face. I held on to his hand waiting for the right time to let go of it, without breaking into a childlike bawl.
The day I visited this friend in hospital, I felt the hard cold reality of life here in Singapore. If this is how a person from the middle-income group feels when he falls sick – very sick, I wonder what happens to someone from the lower-income group.
My friend’s wish is not indicative of his lack of ‘fighting-spirit’; it is about his degree of pragmatism in the face of death. My friend is a man who ‘walks the talk’. He really wants all the treatment to stop and to die, so that all around him shall not be encumbered emotionally or financially.