How Did I Get Involved?


By Pamela D. Wilson, CSA, MS, BS/BA, CG

I recently received a telephone call from the housekeeper of a woman named Shirley.  She called, frantic because Shirley was starving herself — she wanted to die.  After speaking with the housekeeper, I learned that there was a neighbor who had taken on the task of helping Shirley on a regular basis because there was no immediate family in town.

How Did I Get Involved?

I spoke to Mike, the neighbor, about visiting with he and Shirley to determine what might be done.  Upon meeting Shirley, I discovered a small woman of 5 feet and 80 lbs. according to the scale in her home.  She was quite conversational and admitted that she was starving herself because “the angel of death had visited” and she no longer wanted to live.  Shirley was physically weak, could barely walk by herself and had not bathed in some time. She had a notable lack of memory and her only means of nutrition was juice that she drank during the day.

Mike was concerned about his personal responsibility and liability in supporting Shirley’s desire to starve herself.  I was concerned about her falling in the home or being too weak to call for help.  We spoke to Shirley about going to the doctor – she refused and said she had not seen a doctor in over five years because she just didn’t trust them.

Shirley agreed to have an in home caregiver come into her home to help her bathe and check on her on a daily basis in addition to wearing an emergency call device in the event of a fall or other emergency.  Mike was torn between his personal desire to help Shirley and his desire to do the right thing for her physical well-being.

In a situation like this, where there are no clear guidelines, where does one go for help or advice if a person refuses to seek medical help?  Many of us in our desire to help others sometimes become involved in situations for which we are unprepared.

Contacting an advocate is one option to allow an independent evaluation of the situation and a discussion of options.  In Shirley’s case, we were eventually able to convince her to agree to go to the hospital for an evaluation.  The result was that she was diagnosed with cancer and was placed immediately in a hospice community where she was made comfortable.  She remained there for a few weeks until she passed away without worry, pain or discomfort.  Mike was relieved that Shirley was able to receive needed care and passed away peacefully.

© 2012, 2013 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

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