It was an ordinary day at work. The list of patients to care for was long, and each individual was extremely sick. This was not unusual for our intensive care unit... it seemed to be just another ordinary day.
A respiratory therapist named Karen was assigned to assist with end-of-life care for a 92 yr old man who made a conscious decision to discontinue all life saving measures. When Karen entered the room she began the technical work to fulfill the patient’s stated desires. More than that, she realized that this was not just “another thing to do”, but that compassionate whole person care would need to be at its peak in this particular case.
As God would have it, Karen paused, looked the elderly gentleman in his eyes and asked, “Are you ready to move forward with this (meaning cessation of life sustaining care)?” The patient was sure that he wanted to move ahead and the conversation became spiritual in nature. The elderly man expressed his disbelief in God but admitted that he had a prior church experience that dated back to his military days. They then began to talk about Jesus. Although the patient had prefaced his thoughts with spiritual doubt, he continued with the dialogue.
At some timely point in the discussion the therapist placed her hand over his and simply said, “God loves you so much.” She explained the simplicity of having eternal life by faith in the Son of God, and described how easy it really is to be forgiven for past sins. She then asked if the patient would like to speak further with a hospital chaplain. He was noncommittal, but the employee had a strong sense that something very deep had transpired within the patient’s spirit. The discussion had indeed made a difference in his life.
After leaving the patient alone for a brief period of time he summoned her to return to his room by waving at her from his bed. When she responded to his call he said, “I think I will see the chaplain after all…please be sure to tell the nurse also.” The response was immediate from both the respiratory therapist and the RN in charge of his care.
When Chaplain Les arrived at the bedside, he too could sense that something significant was happening at a very deep spiritual level. The patient was clear in his request to continue the prior spiritual discussion. Les was able to clarify what the patient had just learned about grace, and then read Romans 8:38 & 39 for him. The chaplain went on to extend the invitation once again to have his sins forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of eternal life. The patient verbalized his belief and a prayer was said to confirm that decision. A personal friend was also at the bedside as witness to this event and was asked by the chaplain to read other scripture passages to the patient.
As per the patient’s decision, all life supporting medical care was discontinued, and within the hour this 92- year old man’s life was ended. All who were involved in the last chapter of the patient’s life expressed amazement at the level of peace he had in his final moments.