Hope or letting go: The final goodbye
July 6th, 2011
07:55 AM ET

Hope or letting go: The final goodbye

Anthony Youn, M.D., is a plastic surgeon in Metro Detroit. He is the author of “In Stitches,” a humorous memoir about growing up Asian American and becoming a doctor.

Ten years ago, as part of a Burn Unit team, I faced a moral dilemma.

Should a doctor give a patient’s loved ones hope no matter the situation? Or should he allow them to say goodbye when a situation seems hopeless?

The decision we made haunts me to this day.

I am a junior surgery resident.

I stand with my attending surgeon, Dr. M., a physician who has spent more than 25 years in the Burn Unit. We’re gowned, gloved, and waiting in silence with the rest of the team for our patient to arrive. The double doors fly open, and the EMTs wheel in our patient - Jerry, in his mid-30s, the victim of an industrial explosion.

Severe burns cover over 90% of Jerry’s body. I can see that Jerry is awake and able to speak through a large plastic mask blowing oxygen into his face. I help the EMTs and nurses sweep him from the stretcher to the table.

I look at Dr. M. I’ve been in the Burn Unit only a few days, but anyone could read the concern on his face. Jerry is fighting for his life.

The nurses spring into action. They cut off the remainder of Jerry’s charred clothing, place another IV and insert a catheter into his bladder. As Dr. M assesses the extent of the burns, Jerry thrashes in agony. The Burn Unit secretary pulls me aside. “His family is here. His wife and young daughter are in the waiting room.”

I look at Jerry. His breathing becomes more labored.

“We need to intubate,” Dr. M says.

The anesthesiologist, the respiratory therapist and Dr. M ready the ventilator.

I know what this means. A patient who has suffered severe burns over 90% of his body faces approximately a 15% chance of survival. If Dr. M puts Jerry to sleep on the ventilator, chances are he will never wake up.

I’m new on the Burn Unit and we are working against the clock, but I am part of the team and the moral dilemma hits me head on. I have to ask.

“Before you intubate him, do you think we should have his wife and daughter come in to say goodbye?”

Dr. M stops. He considers my question.

“No, Tony,” he says. “They don’t want to hear that. He’s in terrible shape and can barely speak. We need to give them hope.”

I look at the head nurse. She nods.

Dr. M and the anesthesiologist sedate Jerry, insert a breathing tube and attach it to the ventilator. Dr. M walks out to the waiting room to speak to his wife and daughter.

In a few minutes, he returns with Jerry’s wife. They walk to Jerry’s bedside where Dr. M pulls a chair over for her. She sits heavily, looks at her peacefully sleeping husband and holds his bandaged hand. When I leave a few minutes later to prepare physician orders, Jerry’s wife is still sitting by his side.

He dies less than 24 hours later.

I have no doubt that Dr. M believed he was doing the right thing. He’s an experienced, compassionate physician who’s saved thousands of lives.

Would it have been preferable for Jerry’s wife to see him sedated, peaceful and for her to cling to the slight hope that he might survive? Or would it have eased her loss to have had the opportunity to say goodbye, even if it meant seeing him in grave pain?

Ten years later, I still wonder.

Editor's note: The patient's name and other identifying details have been changed to protect his privacy.

soundoff (405 Responses)
  1. Anon

    Another example of how doctors' lives are affected by their patients. Decisions made are dwelled upon for decades, wondering if the right ones were made. Another reason to respect doctors and what they do for us. I'm calling mine today to say thank you- one day I might be the patient or the wife in the story.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Friend

      When you call, be sure to ask your doctor to withhold information from you if you are a family member, or intubate you without giving you the choice to say goodbye, as was done to the patient. Also, rather than spending time taking (or ducking) your phone call, odds are your doctor would rather squeeze in another patient he or she can send a bill to.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:06 | Report abuse |
    • midogs2

      That's pretty cold, Friend.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse |
    • rufus

      hmm... Sounds like Friend has some "issues" with doctors. What's the matter? Not smart enough to get into medical school? Too lazy to even try?

      July 6, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
    • Tsmith

      I have had several family members die over the past few years from terminal illness. Doctors have NO CLUE about the proper way to interact with family, and how to let patient's die with dignity and in relative comfort. They are not taught to let the process proceed, and they instill false hope in relatives and friends of the dying. Death and dying should be a major part of all doctor's training but it is not. "Letting go" in doctor speak is a euphemism for "failure."

      July 6, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Wow, Friend. As a current medical student, it really saddens me to think that some patients view their doctors as such. Rest assured that I'm not going to go through years of training and accrue hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt just so I can liberally bill my patients later on. If my career choice was based on how much money I can make, believe me, there were many other better routes that I could have taken.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
  2. PyroF

    I am haunted by this same decision everyday. My wife died 11 days after being diagnosed with H1N1. In this hospital she was immediately heavily sedated so that she would not fight the breathing tubes. The treatment had a better chance of working I was told I learned later that the staff pretty much knew from the beginning she would not recover. If I had know that I could have talked to her one last time while she was lucid instead of just mumbling "you will be ok" just before she went under. I know the doctors were desparately trying to save her live and I am thankful to them for their efforts. However, please doctors, be honest with us. False hope is the seed of the regrets and nightmares loved ones fight for the rest of our lives.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Jaycee

    I truly believe that if that burn victim had been someone I loved, I would want more than anything – and I mean ANYTHING – that their pain be alleviated. And I don't think I could bear seeing someone I love go through that agony knowing that something could be done to take that pain away.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Julyfly

    The wife didn't have to say "Goodbye". She just needed to tell him that she loved him and was there for him.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • makuka

      In a situation like this, that is actually a good bye.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse |
    • Roxy

      I would have wanted to say I love you before they put the tube in him. If I were a Dr. that's what I would have done and would do today.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
    • scott

      Saying good-bye is best thing you can do for the person holding on to a life that is quickly drifting away. I think you can simply say, have a safe journey and know always you were loved! The healing process is quicker and less painful.

      July 6, 2011 at 14:43 | Report abuse |
  5. G.Clare

    Yup, Unless we ask you to feed our denial please give us the facts.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Chuck

    How about looking at it from the patient's point of view? He probably knew his situation was dire. Perhaps he wanted his final memory to be of his loved ones.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rufus

      Do you realize how silly "final memory" is? After he's dead is he going to have memories?

      July 6, 2011 at 13:21 | Report abuse |
  7. aubrie

    They could have administered the medication immediately after she arrived... She had the chance to say what needed to be said, that she' loved him, (and he needed to hear that as much as she needed to say it) and then given the peace of watching him be releived of his pain.

    July 6, 2011 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ken

    The day my mother died was an early spring morning her favorite time and season. I did get a chance to say goodbye and my mother said as usual " no, I'll see you later". She went to sleep and never woke again.
    I will see her later.

    Please give anyone's loved ones a chance to talk to them one last time.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ZingizBack

      That was very touching Ken. Thank you.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse |
  9. Pa-Pa

    Grafic impressions are part of death. Focus on the dear one doing the dieing, pray for courage, be blessed.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Robert W.

    It sounds like she knew her husbands chances of survuval were very low. A 15 percent chance is better then a 0 percent chance. At least her last memories of him were not of him in agony. Burns are said to be so painful. I can only express my opinion as a husband. I think the doctor made the right call.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • carolyn

      I agree with you, Robert W. Besides, someone in that much pain is not really able to consciously say "goodbye" or really even be aware of who is around him. That kind of pain is so overwhelming that he just needs to be relieved of it. I would not want to see my loved ones in that kind of pain, knowing they are not really "tracking" anything and not really able to say goodbye in a meaningful way.
      That said, in a situation where the patient is lucid and relatively pain free and has no chance of surviving, it is best to be honest with the family and not give them false hope.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
  11. LINDA

    It is a hard decision, I understand. But it was handled appropriately. The woman would have lived with the sight and thoughts of his pain forever. Further, no person should be allowed to suffer for a minute if it can be relieved.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kim

      I agree with you, Linda. No person should be left to suffer such pain if it can be avoided. I, personally, would not want the last image of a loved one to be of them screaming in pain. Nor would I want them left in that situation just so I could say goodbye.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:13 | Report abuse |
  12. Louise

    I think excruiating pain is something neither the patient nor the families should have to view. However, doctor's often give patients hope when there is none. My husband had stage 4 colon cancer and went through operation after operation, radiiation & chemo hoping for a cure. I realized from the beginning he didn't have much time. We never really said goodbye because neither I nor the doctors told him there wasn't much time left. THAT has haunted me for 10 years.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Susan

    Personally, if it had been my husband, I'd want that last chance. For him, for me, AND even for my kids...who are 11 (any younger and I'd probably not include them). Even if he couldn't talk, I'd want to be able to kiss him goodbye while still conscious. I can't imagine a harder decision for the doctors. Some would fare better, and some much worse. In the seconds they have, its a gut decision they have to make.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Liz

    I agree that they could have brought his wife in to tell him she loved him. If I ever lose someone so close to me it would give me comfort to know that the last thing I said was "I love you". And I would also want to know that my loved one wasn't surrounded by strangers (albeit good peopole trying to save his life) when he last lost consciousness.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. renkin-ray

    Was with my father at his death from lung CA. He came back from a desperation tracheostomy awake and aware and essentially choked to death in front of me over a period of an hour or so. The horror lingers in my mind like a permanently stamped Munch "Scream." Almost an out of body experience for me and not a proper "good-bye." My sister missed this experience by a couple of hours and feels guilty that she was not there for him. I think she was lucky. It has taken years to gain perspective and remember the man he was all of his life before that horrid death. I would not wish that on anyone. I'm with Dr. M.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RChampagne

      I remember my dad withered up at the nursing home at 70 years old. He was only there for a couple weeks then was rushed to the hospital. I remember my dad's face in the nursing home begging me to get him out of there. Then at the hosptial they had to put that tube down his throat. I walked in by accident. He was thrashing around like crazy. I'll never get that out of my memory. We ended up taking it out because his quality of life would have been very bad. He died within 48 hours of that. I did get to say I love you and I was by his side before they put the tube in. I am glad that he knew I loved him and that I was there also.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:07 | Report abuse |
    • laurie

      I completely agree, watching my mother (60) die was not a pleasent site – knowing that she struggled for her last breaths of air are a lasting memory one i will not forget. and it's been over 10 years.. I would have felt better seeing her just pass quietly and not in pain or sufferering...In either case we make the best decisions we can at that moment...Seeing him, smelling burnt skin would have stayed in their mind forever...that's something i personally wouldn't want my family to witness.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
  16. Harsha

    A bitter truth is any day better than a sweet lie.Keeping the hope alive is good when the probability is higher. In the above case, with 90% burns, a patient would rarely survive. There was no point at all in encouraging hope. The loving wife and the little daughter missed an opportunity to say a 'goodbye' and the husband could never again see the family when still conscious. Can anyone rewind this moment ever? In such a situation, I would love to hear the doctor say he would wait for a miracle (15%) than preaching hope. Dr. Youn, I am happy to hear that atleast 1 doctor in the world thinks rational, looks at patients as people, and understands the value of a family. I 'Hope' you will not give a false hope to a family ever, when you know the 'truth'.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sara

    I would give anything to say good-bye with my loved one awake. That would be my wish. I wish they could have asked the family what they wanted...

    July 6, 2011 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • rufus

      Why is it important to say goodbye in a situation like that? Is it important for him (while he is writhing in pain and will soon be dead and not "remember" that you said goodbye)? Or, is the goodbye for your benefit? If the latter, how do you feel knowing that you were selfish enough to keep him in pain so that YOUR needs could be met?

      July 6, 2011 at 13:28 | Report abuse |
  18. Matt Hutson

    Thirteen years ago my 65 year old mother made the choice to stop all support from complications as a result of a contaminated blood transfusion during colon cancer surgery that caused mutations of staph infections the doctors could not stop. We watched over the next several days as she slowly slipped into a deep coma.

    The afternoon just prior to her passing, my pastor came to her bedside to give her final blessings. While I laid on the bed with her holding her hand and caressing her forehead while the pastor spoke, I could feel occasional squeezing of her hand in mine. After my pastor left. I spoke to her telling her how much we loved her and would miss her and understood that she wanted to be let go to be in heaven with her sweetheart of 45 years who had passed away just 2 years earlier. Again I could feel her squeezing my hand and I could see a tear from the corner of her eye. She passed away less than 8 hours later and we believe that even in an almost vegetative coma state, she still heard me and was waiting to be told that her decision to be let go was OK and that we weren't angry with her for making that decision. She went in peace.

    Even though many medical professionals will tell you that people in that state of mind can't hear or comprehend what is being said, don't believe it. If you have the opportunity to have even that time with a loved one, speak to them of your love, memories, remembrances and happy times. As difficult as it is, don’t let them slip away with the memory of your angst, anger of loss, or other negative emotions. They will remember those final moments….and so will you.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tony B

      I recently went through this with my father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. When we discovered this, the doctor at the oncolgy center where my father was seen at laid out the facts. I commend him for doing what he did, as he explained that my father had about 2 months to live. I was in the room with my father and my mother when the doctor told us this, and then he went on to ask my father how he would like to live out his time, would he rather be under sedation and other medications, where he would not be able to enjoy the time he had left, or would he rather be able to enjoy the company of his friends and family. I know that was the hardest decision that anybody would ever have to make, but he chose to be able to live out the rest of his time here on earth. My fathers best friend drove for 24 hours straight to come down and visit with him one last time, and my father and I were able to talk about alot of things that had happened during our lives, and we were able to both forgive each other for several things that had happened.

      My father passed away almost 2 months to the day after seeing the oncologist, and to this day, I still appreciate what he did. He did not go after all the money, by putting him on Chemo and Radiation, he knew that it was a hopeless case. I went back after my father passed away and thanked the doctor for making the recomendation that he made, as it gave us a little more time to say our goodbyes.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:34 | Report abuse |
    • Roxy

      I feel your pain. When I was whispering to my dad, he also had a tear in his eye. It broke my heart, he could certainly hear me!

      July 6, 2011 at 13:09 | Report abuse |
  19. Mona in Tulsa

    "First, do no harm." Alleviate the crushing and terrible pain of the patient, and while you are at it, don't take away his hope.
    As to goodbyes, they are for the living who remain behind; not for the dying who know where they are going.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. JV

    Doctors know best, I base this opinion from my Fathers death. He was not intubated, my mother had been a nurse for most of her life and wanted to say good bye, so she was against the Doctors orders. His painful death still hunts me.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. ray

    Not all questions have answers.. The situation is so horrible that there is no good answer to this question.. Tell the people around you, including God, what you need to say while you still can. You never know when the inevitable will happen. This question has no good answer..

    July 6, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. V

    I personally believe when you keep someone alive in great suffering, that is equivalent to torturing. Perhaps rather than asking other people's opinions, ask the patient and see if they prefer.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ray

      I understand.. but it is easy to say that for yourself.. when it is someone else that matters to you (mom, dad, wife, husband, etc.) it is a different story.. and once they get hooked up to the machine... getting them off of it.. it is not so easy.. For me.. I don’t want to be on that machine, but if it was my wife.. sigh.. that is a harder thing to deal with.. right.. Imagine being a doctor in an emergency room, like our doctor here for instance.. it is impossible to know the "right answer" right.. ?? how can they.. but he has to carry the burden... sigh.. that would a hard thing to deal with, No?

      July 6, 2011 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
  23. LarryP

    I sat by my wifes side holding her hand as she went home to our maker. I had to make the decision for the doctors as to whether to keep her alive and very possibly a vegetable or let her go in peace. It still haunts me after 4 years, I still love and miss her, but I also know that she would not have wanted to live the life that would have been hers had they been able to keep her alive. She knew I was there even though her heart had slowed to less that 30 beats per minute and they had to use ultrasound to detect her blood pressure. As soon as I took her hand, I could feel her relax and the love flowed between us and the unspoken goodbye were said. Gotta stop now, I'm having difficulty seeing thru the rain in front of my eyes

    July 6, 2011 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Hohol

      I agree that it's up to the people to be together in difficult moments... not to doctors...

      July 6, 2011 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
    • Donna

      God bless you, Larry.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:29 | Report abuse |
    • Barbara Gregory

      Larry, I understand completely. I have just lost my husband 2 weeks ago and I guess I'll never stop crying.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:36 | Report abuse |
    • Roxy

      So sorry for your loss Larry. Barbara: God bless you and give you strenth to keep going. I am sure your husband would want that for you. Take care of yourself!!!

      July 6, 2011 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
  24. peter williams

    I speak from the point of view of someone who was supposed to die. I was hit by a drunk driver, and was given up for dead, and after 600 days of hospitalization, I am here to tell you that the truth in all cases is best for all concerned, and in that there is no doubt. For the patient, the family, the doctors and other professionals charged with saving lives, there is nothing more harmful than anything less than 100% complete honesty. When a full understanding of the situation is known by all, then any decisions made are based on fact, not hope or worse yet a false sense of hope. Trust me, when you are very sick, that only makes the patient and family pull together and fight, but with the understanding of the real situation can the right decisions be made.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Andrea

    Being someone who has went through this exact same situation with my brother, I think you have to realize no matter what percent chance of life the doctor's give you, you will always chose to believe your love one will beat the odds. Unfortunately, my brother did not beat the odds and he was a young, healthy boy. My dad was there to see him get off the elevator just like this story. I do believe knowing his pain was eased helps us believe he had a shot of getting better. People can chose to believe what they want but I do think people can still hear you when they are in a medically induced comma. My brother heard our words of encouragement and fought as hard as he could. Odd that this story is posted on the day he would have turned 26.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Joys Division

    As an EMT, I've been in lesser examples of the same story. From the family's point of view, I do think seeing him at peace might have been preferable... burns are unimaginably painful. From the patient's point of view, I think there are a lot of people– particularly parents of young children– who would NOT want their families to see them thrashing in agony. Can you imagine the final mental image a child would carry with them for life– their father scalded, screaming? I think generally, if the patient is lucid and capable of making the decision, they should be permitted to make the call– it is, in fact, their life and their family, and they have a better understanding of the dynamic and the personalities and needs then an EMT, paramedic or trauma surgeon would.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Joyce

    Tell your loved ones you love them everyday so you don't have to live with regret. 99 % of us don't do that. We should stop what-ifing every tragic situation.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sara B, RN

      As a trauma/neurosurgical ICU nurse, I completely agree with you, Joyce.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse |
    • rufus

      Agreed. If you live your life properly, a final goodbye means nothing. It is totally insignificant. Only dramatic, shallow, selfish people put such emphasis on "final goodbyes."

      July 6, 2011 at 13:35 | Report abuse |
  28. RB

    In spite Dr. M's compassion, skill, and professionalism, his decision was a product of his arrogance – something that is endemic within the medical community. You doctors need to get over the notion that you're special, and that you "know" what's best for us. If this had been my father, and I found out that the doctor made a unilateral decision to deny me a chance to apeak with him one last time, I would be furious.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Deephaven

      I think you're being WAY too harsh on doctors. When a patient like that comes in, they don't really know the true extent of damages or possibilities for recovery before they get to work. A LOT of stuff needs to happen simultaneously, though, and they need to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. It would be nice to have the wisdom of Job, but I'm sure it's difficult to know the exact right moment to pull the plug. In general, I think they're going to err on the side of giving the patient a chance.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:33 | Report abuse |
    • Stacey

      In situations that are this critical, time is truly of the essence. I cannot count the number of times I have heard surgeons describing what is known as the golden hour. One hour after injury in which you can truly accomplish the most good. To stop and ask the family or patient what they would prefer is to waste time in saving a life. In the case of this poor man, by the time his wife could have gotten in the room he would have been long delirious and unable to respond. Doctors do not make decisions based on arrogance, they base them on the facts and the experience that has brought them to that moment.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:50 | Report abuse |
    • Sara B, RN

      Waiting for the family to arrive during such a crucial time could be considered negligent and/or delay of care in the court of law.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse |
    • KandyK

      To RN: I thought this article implied they were right out in the waiting room. If they were not at the hospital I would not have waited to intubate him.

      July 6, 2011 at 13:19 | Report abuse |
  29. Hohol

    I think they should have let her in and be present during the ventilation, etc... if she would want to. So it's up to her to consider the chances and say good bye if needed... or just be there next to him and support him so they both stay together...

    July 6, 2011 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Sarah in Boston

    I am going through this right now with my father. He has been in the ICU for a week and a half with a septic infection. He is breathing through the tube and is sedated. He has been on dialysis for a little over a year and has been in and out of the hospital with various infections. He is 66 but his body is so weak. The doctors have been wonderful but have not given me false hope, which I appreciate. They do lower the sedatives from time to time so he can "talk" to me. He squeezes my hand and he mouths "I love you" back to me when I say it to him. I'm 24 years old, his only child, and it's been so difficult going through this alone and seeing my father like this. I definitely have the utmost respect for all doctors who go through this.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Donna

      God bless you, Sarah.

      July 6, 2011 at 12:33 | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      God Bless you Sarah. Stay strong.

      July 6, 2011 at 14:32 | Report abuse |
  31. Donna

    I think the doctor did the right thing no one wants to see there family member suffering any more than they have to.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Deephaven

    I think the doctors made the right decision in Jerry's case.

    Certainly, the thought of having a chance to say a meaningful goodbye to family is a nice one. Unfortunately, I don't think that would have happened. This man was in a horrible industrial accident, thrashing in pain and probably in shock. There wasn't much chance that he would be able to express organized, meaningful thoughts. Instead, the family would have been faced with a scene of shock, stress and panic. And, giving the importance of moment, it would probably be something they'd never forget. I doubt that a person in such a situation would want such a powerful, haunting memory to be emblazoned on the minds of his family (especially children). If anything, this is a good reminder to say all the things you need to say to people while you have the chance.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. W

    It would be nice if we all could say the things we want to our love ones..... I rather see u in pain knowing you can hear me say the words I love you than to walk in a room & you not hear me say I love you & I will see u again...

    July 6, 2011 at 12:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Dan

    I wonder if there's a psychological effect associated with the patient getting to see the loved ones, like a reminder of why they shouldn't give up the fight. Sounds a little Hollywood, but I wonder if it's true.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Andy

    Horrible situation to be in to make that decision as to let the loved ones see the suffering patient alert or asleep. I know that I'd prefer to see a loved one awake to tell them that I love them so they can hear it. As for me, if I'm the patient, I want to see my loved ones while awake.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Tony B

    I recently went through this with my father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer. When we discovered this, the doctor at the oncolgy center where my father was seen at laid out the facts. I commend him for doing what he did, as he explained that my father had about 2 months to live. I was in the room with my father and my mother when the doctor told us this, and then he went on to ask my father how he would like to live out his time, would he rather be under sedation and other medications, where he would not be able to enjoy the time he had left, or would he rather be able to enjoy the company of his friends and family. I know that was the hardest decision that anybody would ever have to make, but he chose to be able to live out the rest of his time here on earth. My fathers best friend drove for 24 hours straight to come down and visit with him one last time, and my father and I were able to talk about alot of things that had happened during our lives, and we were able to both forgive each other for several things that had happened.

    My father passed away almost 2 months to the day after seeing the oncologist, and to this day, I still appreciate what he did. He did not go after all the money, by putting him on Chemo and Radiation, he knew that it was a hopeless case. I went back after my father passed away and thanked the doctor for making the recomendation that he made, as it gave us a little more time to say our goodbyes.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Marie Rodela

    I know!
    Let's all just tell our loved ones everyday that we love them.
    Let's not wait till they are on their death bed.
    There is an old Indian saying. "Write your death song while you are living."

    July 6, 2011 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Darn

    Your reply is full of compassion. Your welfare check must be late.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Mari

    I would like to know from the author, after gaining 10 more years of experience, if he has been in the position to make a medical decision of this kind on his own and if so, what did he decide.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. James

    If you are in the ER fighting for your life, or just going out the door to work, ALWAYS tell your spouse or family you love them very much. It might just be the last time they see you or you see them alive! Its something no one ever thinks about but its true.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. NancE

    There is no right or wrong in a situation like this. Every individual would have a different preference. How is a Dr. to know? They make a decision based on what feels right at the time. The consequences will be difficult no matter what they decide to do. It's just a very difficult situation.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. EMS

    I NEVER leave the house without telling my BF and kids that I love them. Even if I'm just going to the gas station and right back, the last words from my mouth are "I love you, see you soon". This way, if my life is ended abruptly, they will know that I love them and that I will see them some day soon.

    July 6, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Chula

    That is why each and every day we say goodbye to our husbands, wives, kids, parents, all of our friends, and loved ones, every day tell them you love them. So they will know. Everyday treat them it as if is the last day you will ever see them. Then and only then will we appreciate them and have to live with a regret if something does happen to them. Let them know now. As this article shows, you may not get another chance.

    July 6, 2011 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Virgie

    I wonder if the man who was burned who was trying to speak was wanting to see his family?

    July 6, 2011 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply


    July 6, 2011 at 13:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Audra

    The doctor in this story was wrong to deny this family a chance to speak one last time. To offer hope in this situation was wrong; he all but lied to the family and just delayed the beginning of the grieving process. My dad had to be intubated because of rapid, severe scarring of his lungs caused by a side-effect of heart medication. We all knew that it was very bad, but he got to speak with us and the last thing he said to my brother and I was to take care of each other; he knew he was dying, no one had to tell him. He lingered on the ventilator for two more months, and the whole time I just wanted to talk with him more. I would be angry if I had found out that a doctor had made the choice to take away the chance for one last goodbye with my dad.

    July 6, 2011 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Utemama1

    I think that I would rather my loved one be sedated and peaceful than seeing them in that kind of pain, even if it is for the last time. However, I will never have regrets that I didn't get to say that last "I love you" because it is the last thing that I say to my husband and children before they walk out the door or even before I hang up the phone with them. The same thing with my mom, brothers and in- laws. You never know what horrible things could happen to them or yourselves. If something happened to them, I would at least have the peace of knowing that they knew how much I loved them. And vice versa. If something ever happened to me, they will know that they did have that last " I love you".

    July 6, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Virgie

    LIVING WILL. If you don't have one you MUST make one. This takes a lot of the decision making out of the hands of what should we do? It is not just a legal thing it is what you want. I wish my Mother had had one. She did not. Because I was not her power of attourney the Doctor and Nurses did not want to include me in the decision making. They intubated my Mother and I KNOW she did not want that. After and only after she had her heartattack while they were intubating her did they then ask me what to do. I told them my Mother would want to live but not as a vegetable. They began to chest compressions. I begged to see her. They finally let me in while they were working on her. The nurse not the Doctor was all but jumping on her. I told her I would be there for her. I told them to stop hurting her. They stopped. I struggle with this everyday.

    July 6, 2011 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Isiah H

    A Doctor should never give up hope on his patients, never.

    July 6, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Bill

    They were wrong. I am an EMT. I, like they, know that there is virtually no chance that this person would survive. I understand their logic but they are wrong. They should have allowed the family to spend the last few minutes with their loved one knowing that he is virtually guaranteed not to wake up. We transport and keep heart attack victims alive, after they have a return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) knowing that they are never going to walk out of the hospital. These people never regain consciousness either but the family sees them in the hospital with a heartbeat and gets to say goodbye while they are "alive". The families deserve that.


    July 6, 2011 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Isiah H

      I agree Bill 🙂

      July 6, 2011 at 13:20 | Report abuse |
    • GinnyL

      In this case, Jerry's wife did get to see him while he was still "alive" but unconscious.

      July 6, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Bill, so you would keep Jerry awake in intense pain ("thrashing around in pain on the bed") and drag his loved ones in the room to say "goodbye" to him? I think THAT is very wrong.....

      July 6, 2011 at 14:04 | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5

Leave a Reply to john chiapella


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.