Losing Life to Listen

This morning I read an article in the New York Times about the treatment of a patient who was not going to recover. The medical team spoke with the patient’s sibling who responded “He’s a fighter. Do everything you can to keep him alive.” The story continues:

The next day I told the social worker what the patient’s sister had said. “What about the wife?” the social worker asked.

That was the first I’d heard of a wife. A spouse is the official next of kin. No decision should ever be made without the spouse. (JESSICA NUTIK ZITTER)

The patient’s wife was contacted and the decision to release him to hospice care at home followed.

Dr. Zitter writes about her check list for complex medical cases to ensure she provides the best and appropriate care. She continues:

But despite my checks and balances, I had almost allowed the wrong person to make crucial decisions for this vulnerable patient. And I had nearly excluded a wife from her rightful place on her husband’s team. Missing this crucial piece of information would have caused far more suffering and damage than any miscalibration of a ventilator.

I realized then that I needed another checklist, one that puts patients, and not just their organs, in the center. It would account for the human needs that we weren’t always taught to prioritize, ones that didn’t seem fatal if overlooked — clearly identifying the patient’s next of kin, communicating with the family and identifying the goals of care, asking about symptoms like pain, delirium, shortness of breath. My critical oversight would not have happened had I sought out the social worker on the first day to confirm the true next of kin. He thought I knew. I thought I knew. We both were wrong. (JESSICA NUTIK ZITTER)

 Frist, I am draw to this week’s story from Genesis and God listening to the voice of the Ishmael and Hagar driven into the wilderness to die. I am reminded that in all decisions we are called to list for the voices of the other, especially the marginalized, and as Dr. Zitter experienced the ones we may not even be aware of.

As I scrolled through the PDF of this week lectionary the reading from Matthew’s Gospel account appeared first. The divine muse gifted me with the thought that here is another bit of life to lose. I.E. in our technology drive, profit motivated world we are called to give up their priority, placing God, and God’s listen ear first in our lives, so others may be heard and seen as God sees and hears all people.




JESSICA NUTIK ZITTER, M.D. “Who Can Speak for the Patient?” NewYork Times 20 June 2014. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/who-can-speak-for-the-patient/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.




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