The Saddest Switch: From Searching for a Cure to Providing Comfort


The Saddest Switch: From Searching for a Cure to Providing Comfort

sunset-174276_640My sister's father-in-law suffered a mild heart attack on Super Bowl Sunday. He's in intensive care undergoing tests to uncover the cause. They've already determined his kidney function is compromised and that the chemo he underwent this month for his colon cancer caused damage to his heart.

A very tough time approaches for the family. How do they know when to pursue more treatments? When does the priority become comfort rather than a cure?

It's so hard to know when to flip the switch.

I think of a family caregiver I knew a few years ago who left no stone unturned in trying to cure her mother's urinary tract infections. The family caregiver saw any doctor and specialist she could to help her 94-year-old mom. She repeatedly bundled up her bed-bound mom,  transferred her into and out of the car so they could sit in doctors' offices waiting for the cure that could not come. No cure existed for her mom's UTIs only comfort measures. Even worse, no doctor she encountered explained that. A few months after her mom's death, the family caregiver told me how much she regretted missing those opportunities she had to simply be with her mom. The business of searching for a non-existent cure took away her finite time with her mom.

I have a colleague who still searches for a cure for his caree. With each attempt to cure, his caree becomes worse as adjusting the meds and dosages changes his behavior. More appointments, more attempts, more frustration. My colleague has doctors and specialists who continue to offer "solutions" because my colleague is hellbent on finding a cure. The obsession with the cure, though, sacrifices the potential peace of the day, the opportunity to enjoy each other's presence. The gift of the moment gets lost in our tunnel vision.

In that dark tunnel, we decide to battle when the war no longer wages. When we keep swinging the sword, we can't see that we're really battling our ego rather than a disease process. Our ego lies to us, telling us we can beat death, we can over-rule mortality. The battle which never ends is really our own battle with our own fears.

It is soooo hard to know when to flip the switch. It's such a challenge to find doctors who will honestly tell us when our obsession with chances means we lose our choices. It's so hard to feel so vulnerable to our fears and to acknowledge the truth that we just hate--that life is limited, regardless of our best, tireless efforts.

And, yet, it's the only way we really gain time. When time feels limited, switching from the hunt for the cure to the desire to keep our caree comfortable gains us time. We're no longer wasting time with procedures, doctors and strangers. Instead, we're making time with those we love.

So, how do we know when to make the switch? We can only know when we dare to ask the most difficult questions and have the courage to listen to the most heartbreaking answers.

There's such great honor in ensuring our family members receive the best comfort possible during their life's end. It's how we win.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts and worries in our comments section, below.

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:) big Star Wars fan obviously! It's been my online handle forever! She's doing great physically, shocking hospice staff but mentally not-so-much. I do agonise over the decision but at this time there is no better solution.


We've made that transition for my sister in law recently, and now have her in hospice where she's doing increably well actually. Through the months of nov and dec she spent the majority of the time in the hospital and in and out of the ER. In the months preceding it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to see her myriad of specialists constantly and she was beginning to suffer psycosis while in the hospital. I was searching for a cure for day she told me, \"can't you see, they are looking at you like you're beating a dead horse?\" Blunt but true, she doesn't want to do it anymore because nothing can really be done. Invasive procedures were no longer a help. It's still a struggle to no longer seek treatment yet she's doing better right now. I know this is only the calm before the storm but for her, this was the best alternative.


Beautifully expressed and a welcome reminder, Denise.


This happened to my Grandfather, He suffered a brain bleed 5 years ago after being on dialysis for 5 years. He had surgery & went to rehab for 3 weeks. After 3 weeks he developed MRSA & Staph where they had done his surgery. He ended up back in the hospital & everything the doctors could do they did. He had a very close relationship with his kidney doctor who wouldn't give up on him & knew that he could fight he was 91 at the time he passed away. Finally he told the doctor that he was done fighting & was ready to go. The doctor & him had such a close a relationship that it was hard for the doctor to let go. He stopped dialysis & days later he passed away very peacefully & all of his friends & family were able to visit him.


Hugs to you. This post had me in tears. I understand the struggle as it is what we are going through right now. Mom is no longer able to make dr's appts. It is just too much for her anymore. And that will mean eventually that the dr will refuse to refill her meds. Which means things won't go well. Tonight I was laying in bed with Mom, playing some soft music. She teared up and said, if she dies, those are the songs she wants played at her funeral. We are talking more and more about if she doesn't pull through. It is hard to know when to say enough, and just do our best to keep her comfortable. I am praying for you and your family.

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