Working as a doctor, I have seen first hand what happens when we don’t face up to our mortality.

The sad truths about hospital that no one tells you

One night when I was on duty a 95 year old gentleman came into our hospital with severe flu and pneumonia. He caught the flu from visiting his wife who lived in a dementia care facility – He visited her every single day. He was brought by ambulance to the hospital (his children had called an ambulance because they wanted him taken to hospital). He spent about one week on intravenous antibiotics, then finally was discharged home.

The problem

Sounds like a fairly routine situation, that is until we uncover the sad truth. This gentleman had decided along with his GP to cease all his medications and prepare to die. He wanted to live out his days with only pain relief when needed.

But as he did not say that to his children nor to the doctors in the hospital, they didn’t know what he wanted. His General Practitioner could not tell the children his wishes because of confidentiality. During that week in hospital he was only visited by his busy family once or twice. Worst of all, he couldn’t visit his wife . Who knows how she felt?

He went home weakened, after a very difficult week of disturbed sleep, communal toilets, needles most mornings, canulas in his arm, catheter in his penis, bland hospital food and with a prescription for antibiotics that he didn’t want to take, and may well give him diarrhoea. When he went home he said he would not take the antibiotics anyway.

A better option

If his children knew about his choices, they could have followed those wishes and would’ve been with him while he died at home from the flu. He would have probably died naturally and on his own terms.

So – communication is necessary, and documented is better than verbal. Earlier is always better. Talk to your family about what you want. Make it clear you want to tell them. Ask your parents what they want. Make it clear you want to know. If it’s hard to know where to start, start doing an Advance Care Plan together. It’s a great way to start conversations, to make decisions and to share decisions with those who may need to put them into effect for you.

Having early discussions with loved ones will make space in your life to say goodbye, ‘thank you’, please forgive me’ or “I forgive you’ when the time comes.