My patient arrived in 1970s New Zealand (NZ) a refugee. One of the millions of innocent victims of a proxy war. She and her husband had worked hard, and raised their family well. Their children had grown up and had made good lives for themselves and their own families. She was the proud grandmother of six, with ages ranging between 2 to 18 years old. She was admitted for end of life care and had been comfortable. Her family attributed this to her Buddhist beliefs. She had always been the calm one in their family. “Dad was the fiery one, and he had died about seven years ago.” She had carried on with life, taking even the death of her partner with calm. She her family that she would see him in the next life. She wasn’t sure in what form he would be reincarnated, but she was sure they would meet him again.
She had lived a calm life and her family were not surprised that her dying process was also calm. She didn’t need much in the way of medications as she was mostly comfortable. She lost consciousness and we warned the family that death was likely imminent, that she would be dying soon. Two weeks passed and she was still alive. She remained comatose and non-responsive. She had not been alert enough to have any oral intake. The family made sure her mouth was kept moist.
Her family asked us how long she had left to live. We explained that from our experience that other patients in similar situation likely would have died two weeks ago. Our science could not explain why she was still alive. We asked if she had any unfinished business, was there anyone that she had not seen yet? The family gave us a puzzled look, she had seen everyone that she needed to see. Or so they thought. As clinicians we all wondered, what she was waiting for?
We found our answer a few days later. As I was heading upstairs for lunch, three men walked into the hospice. One of them walked ahead, followed by two others. The two men wore green uniforms and looked as if they could handle themselves. The man in front was a short, Asian man in his forties. His hands were cuffed together. He was led to his mother’s room and spent some time saying goodbye to her. He cried as he had not seen her for two years he had served in prison.
She may have been comatose and thought to be insensate, but she knew her son had come to say goodbye.
She died two hours after her son’s visit.