May 28, 2024
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May 28, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

From this tale of two patients, one can learn about many more …

Without knowing any details, I enter the room. He tells me he is an 82-year-old widower who lives an independent life. He is an active member of his Reform temple. He has family and many friends and has hobbies. He tells me he has an advanced stage of cancer and has been pursuing chemotherapy which has been making him quite ill. At this time, the chemotherapy is no longer helpful. He was told he has a few months to live.

He starts to cry.

He says he is suffering and it is not fair.

He wants to live and feels that he has so much to live for.

I stay with him and listen as he speaks about what brings his life meaning and what he still needs to accomplish in this world with his “gift of time.” Upon exiting the room, he thanks me profusely for listening to him.

Minutes later, I receive a call from a nurse about another patient requesting to speak with the Jewish chaplain.

Without knowing any details, I enter the room. He tells me he is an 80-year-old widower who lives an independent life. He is an active member of his Reform temple. He has family and many friends and has hobbies. He tells me he has an advanced stage of cancer and was told he has a few months to live. Chemotherapy is no longer helpful for him.

I think to myself, I know where this is headed…I just heard this exact story moments before!

He starts to cry.

He says he is suffering and it is not fair.

I am confident I know his next words, but I stay silent.

He wants to die. He is ready. The doctor is telling him that he most likely has a few more months to live, but he is ready now! He feels that he has lived a long and productive life and “has earned the right to die.” He is angry at his doctor for not hastening his death. He is upset, confused and frustrated at God for causing him to suffer. He says it is not fair. He is furious at his family who do not seem to understand him.

This was not what I expected to hear.

I stay with him as he discusses his pain, his hopes and his current relationship with God.

Upon exiting the room, I realize how God just sent me a gentle reminder. Two people. Seemingly the same illness, similar religious and family backgrounds. However, completely different reactions.

Many people in their professions are trained to examine the similarities or generalities between groups of people. This is crucial. However, when understanding illness, it must involve understanding the differences between people as well. Any kind of illness is extremely personal and subjective. It involves not only the physical body but the whole person. No two people or circumstances are exactly alike, as closely similar as they might seem. Every person has their own unique background, story and experiences that have helped shape them into being who they are. This all contributes to assigning meaning to their present circumstances.

This concept has countless applications to other situations in life. Don’t think you fully know or completely understand any situation in life merely because you have seen it or heard it many times before. Don’t predict. Take the time to listen and try to understand. We are all different.

By Debby Pfeiffer

Debby Pfeiffer is a board-certified chaplain working at Morristown Medical Center through its affiliation with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest, NJ. She resides in Bergenfield, NJ with her husband and five children. She can be reached at [email protected].

 

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