Joan’s breathing relaxes as the morphine starts working. Her son Travis, on the other hand, is clearly upset as we sit at her bedside where she is dying. Despite his mother’s intense respiratory distress before he gave her the morphine, he’s convinced that he’s just made a big mistake. “I’m sorry, mama,” he whispers.
He turns his head my way. “I wish you hospice folks had never brought that morphine out here,” he says. “Now she’s dead for sure and it’s my fault.”
A sometimes essential medication.
For caregivers with this level of fear about morphine, it’s a painful dilemma. If you don’t use the best, sometimes the only, medication we have for getting acute respiratory distress in terminally ill patients under control, both patient and caregiver suffer. But if giving morphine is freighted, as it is for Travis, with a belief that it causes death and/or signifies giving up on, even betraying, a loved one, it can intensify a caregiver’s distress.
The hospice nurse had already given the standard education, assuring Travis that in patients near the end of life morphine is safe and effective when used as prescribed. We had given him written information debunking some of the common myths about morphine—“it kills you”; “makes you crazy”; “it’s addictive”—when used appropriately with hospice patients who have active symptoms. We had promised to […]