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Not all the patients in the home had dementia. Some of them were sharp and fully aware of the situation. But even from them I heard the same sentence: I don't want any more. Help me. They would say it more quietly than did the others, more tired, their gaze averted. They were relatively healthy women. There was hardly anything their bodies lacked, and still their lives were utterly deficient. I didn't mind putting my hand on theirs, telling them about the summer, about its warmth, about the colours and the sunlight. Sometimes we would walk together, she who was tired of life and me. Sometimes, a walk would be out of the question. They were all in their beds, the women breathing through tubes, the men convulsed with pain. I don't want any more. Help me. Today, I believe that during my time at this home I was never truly confronted with a sincere wish to die. My patients were lonely, I think, they were desperate, and some of them were ill. But they didn't want to depart this life, even if they never tired of telling me they did.

At the time, however, I had a different view. We didn't have any cases that were medically precarious. We didn't have anyone with stomach-tubes, we didn't have any terminal patients. No one was committed against their will. Still, even our less serious cases had a right to choose their own death, or so I thought at the time. When they asked me for death, when they needed help with it, I didn't have a ready argument against it, not even a theoretical one. In practice, I was most reluctant to accept the idea of helping a human being to fulfil their own last wish. Today, I am a bit ashamed to admit I felt this way, even when surrounded by such visions of misery.

A human being doesn't want to live any more, a human being is self-determined, a human being needs help with their own departure. Why don't you help him? No, this was simple thinking, only thinking. But more on this later.

When my service was over, I felt relief - and shame. I was ashamed that I had never got used to the odour that wafted along the corridors and through the floors of the ward, or to the sight of skin covered with bedsores, or to the eyes filled with loneliness. I was ashamed that I hadn't given my patients much of the warmth or intimacy they deserved - and which I had wanted to give them. I couldn't give them what they deserved because there was always some inhibition, and sometimes fear. It isn't human to deny your own feelings in favour of a pure picture of kindness, acting only out of deference to an ideal of humanity, an ideal which doesn't exist. It is human to be honest, even if this honesty includes admitting to feeling disgust. What a harsh expression that is: feeling disgusted by another human being. I had intended to free myself of inhibitions. I had wanted to get my hands dirty, true. All I can say is that my plan did not work out as I imagined.

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