Mid last year my uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer for the second time within a year. This time was different than the last, it spread much faster and more aggresively. By November he was in and out of hospital. He became a small build, fragile man, not even a mere glimmer of his old self. While in hospital and still in a fair state of mind, he asked my mother (his sister in law), my husband and myself numerous times to help make an end to his life. Afraid of what the repercussions whould be, none of us could manage to help him in this regard. Needless to say that together with his ailing body, his state of mind went as well.
On February 13th 2015 we decided to sit with him through the night, I was to take the 23:00 to 03:00 shift. The sounds that his chest made sounded like a kettle boiling, he had trouble breathing. As I sat in the chair looking at all the drips dangling from the stand, all I could think about was a way to end his suffering but I had no clue as to what was in those drips. Fearing I would make things worse and be prosecuted I did nothing!
At 02:40 my mom came in to take her turn, 20 minutes too early, she wished me happy birthday and went to sit by his side, kissing him lightly on his forehead and stroking his arm, assuring him that she is there. Then he stopped breathing, grinding his teeth. I told her that he did the same twice already and eventually the gurgling would start again. But she shouted with horror that there was blood coming out of his mouth, I took his oxygen mask off because he was chocking in his own blood and bodilly fluids. I then ran to the nurses station and called for help. The nurses asked me to get my mother out of the room as she was yelling, crying and going out of her mind with what’s going on. Eventually he died the most terrible death, drowning in his own fluids.
Today I feel I’ve let him down and the only other person who knows exactly how I feel, is my mom. We are left with the pain of what he had to bear, what we’ve seen is a constant reminder of the worst type of death he had. Sometimes I find it hard to cope.
If the right to die with dignity was legalised in South Africa, it would not only save the ill-fated, loved ones from suffering a terrible death but also a lot of trauma and pain for the people that have to witness their loved ones go through such a death.
I write this letter with a lot of anger and pain towards our justice system that is failing to change the Constitution in regards to dying with dignity.
In loving memory, Frans Gouws