Shock, Engulfment, Tearing Asunder

I’ve been doing a re-watch of old Twilight Zone episodes recently. The latest reboot of Jordan Peele seemed promising but each episode is too long and drawn out. So much time is spent on building the tension up, by the time there’s any kind of pay off I have already fallen asleep.

While there are true classic episodes in the original Twilight Zone like “Eye of the Beholder”, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, and “It’s a Good Life”, one of my favorites is the relatively quiet “Nothing In The Dark” featuring a stunning young Robert Redford. On death and dying he tells a despairing lola Gladys Cooper:

 “You see. No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.”

I sometimes wish I can reassure my patients that death is like this, but nobody can, not with all the tubes sticking out all over their body, and the difficulty in swallowing, and the distressing death rattle, and the opiate-resistant pain, and the neck tumors that just won’t stop growing. One of my beloved patients, a very nice grandmother, recently succumbed to stage 4 lung cancer after an initial fantastic response to targeted therapy. I was quite elated that we were able to detect T790 mutation in a blood test, meaning there was a treatment option I could offer. It was too late.

Like in the case of the many patients I took care of in their final days I looked back if there was something else that could have been done, something I might have missed, something that could have made the journey to death more comfortable. The second-guessing will never end. For now, death still seems like shock, engulfment, and tearing asunder for the patient and those left behind.

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