Sickness unto death, without despair | The Japan Times Online 12/3/11 12:46 PM￼￼
The Japan Times
Sickness unto death, without despair
Hospice assists terminal patients to die in comfort and dignity
By NATSUKO UTSUMI Special to The Japan Times
One summer morning in 2001, a good friend of mine, Bronson Conrad, rang me at my Manhattan home. After we’d chatted for a while, he broke the news that he had incurable, terminal cancer in his hip bone.
“What do you mean by incurable terminal cancer?” I asked him, almost with annoyance.
“It means that I’m dying,” he said.
No! How could anybody sound so unperturbed at making such an announcement?
I cannot remember what I said afterward, but I was crying at the same time trying to make him tell me that there was even a faint hope of recovery. It was supremely ironic that he was the one doing the consoling as I became more and more distraught.
Bronson wanted me to visit him in Toronto while he was still strong enough.
He was only fifty-something then, a tall and sturdily built former Canadian Army officer who had made his fortune starting up an Internet company and other businesses — even a diamond-mining concession in Sierra Leone.
Always an energetic risk-taker, he had enjoyed an adventurous life. As an avid recreational pilot, he had flown two around-the-world trip in his own small Cessna. On the second of those flights, 2 years before his death in 1999, his wife and two sons accompanied him on what, unbeknown to any of them, would turn out to be their last family trip.
￼￼A week or so after his call, I flew up to Toronto. Frankly, I had had no idea what to expect. However, as soon as I walked into his large suburban home, I relaxed as I saw my dear friend sitting up and smiling on a high hospital bed set up in a living room. During my visit, Bronson made and received several business phone calls, while I looked at small woods through the living room’s panoramic windows that look out over a terrace.
As he was considerably calm and alert, we managed to talk about the fun times and adventures we’d shared. Momentarily, it was easy to forget that he was dying.
It was not so easy, however, when he talked about his horrendous pain. That was controlled, he said, by morphine-based medication that he administered himself when he needed it by pressing a button on a portable pump called a “syringe driver,” which subcutaneously injected just the right amount to alleviate his pain without making him lethargic. Thanks to this self administration system, despite the fact he had tremendous pain from the cancer, he could still talk and even laugh almost like he used to. Nevertheless, my emotional but rather inconsiderately strong goodbye hug made him wince.
Bronson died three weeks later.