Will power and our inability medically to change that

End Notes by Amy Clarkson
South Wind Hospice Medical Director

We have pills for just about anything. We have pills to make our blood pressure come down, pills to make our hormones go up, pills to bring our sugar down and pills to make our mood go up. We take pills when our body hurts, and we take pills when we can’t sleep. We take pills to help us breath, to help us heal, to help us eat, and to help us not to eat.

There is at least one thing that we have no pill for. In fact, if someone could invent a medicine for this, they’d be an instant millionaire. I’m not talking about a pill to cure cancer, or a fountain of youth pill, but something much more basic; a pill to increase a person’s will.

It’s inherently obvious, but worth stating, that for someone to want to get well, they must have the desire to get well. This inner fire or zeal to conquer challenges is what we call will power. Although expected to have an impact in such things as sports, business success, or even dieting, we tend to forget that someone’s will has enormous impact on end of life issues.

It can be startling for families to watch a loved one’s health ebb away, especially if a doctor insists that medically everything is fine. “I don’t understand”, they’ll say, “the tests came back negative, yet Dad doesn’t want to get out of bed!” It seems incredulous that someone wouldn’t at least try to live.

This frustration to instill in someone else the will to change or the will to live is aggravating, because it is out of our control. Despite our cajoling and encouragement, no argument seems good enough to increase that inner oomph.

What can we do then? First, understand that whether right or wrong, thousands die every day simply because they’ve given up. Doctors can’t write that the cause of death was ‘loss of will to live’ so it is sometimes written as ‘failure to thrive’ but more often another disease is listed, though inwardly we know that the patient’s lack of desire to go on played a large role in their death.

Second, it’s important to know that deciding you are ready to die isn’t the same as being depressed. While depression can certainly interfere with one’s stamina and enthusiasm for living, there are scores of individuals who just decide they are done with life, and they are not at all depressed. It is crucial to tease out depression, though, because it can be treated.

Lastly, and most importantly, we can develop empathy. There is always something at the heart of giving up. Sometimes a person is tired of dealing with chronic pain, other times they are terrified of living alone, or of falling and being helpless. At times, a person may feel they are being a burden, or they’ve lost their life-long love. When we are open to hear why someone has lost their will, if nothing else it inspires compassion.

It is okay to continue to try to change our loved one’s will, but ultimately it is their choice, and our lasting gift should be respect . . .at least until that pill gets invented.

Will power and our inability medically to change that

End Notes by Amy Clarkson
South Wind Hospice Medical Director

We have pills for just about anything. We have pills to make our blood pressure come down, pills to make our hormones go up, pills to bring our sugar down and pills to make our mood go up. We take pills when our body hurts, and we take pills when we can’t sleep. We take pills to help us breath, to help us heal, to help us eat, and to help us not to eat.

There is at least one thing that we have no pill for. In fact, if someone could invent a medicine for this, they’d be an instant millionaire. I’m not talking about a pill to cure cancer, or a fountain of youth pill, but something much more basic; a pill to increase a person’s will.

It’s inherently obvious, but worth stating, that for someone to want to get well, they must have the desire to get well. This inner fire or zeal to conquer challenges is what we call will power. Although expected to have an impact in such things as sports, business success, or even dieting, we tend to forget that someone’s will has enormous impact on end of life issues.

It can be startling for families to watch a loved one’s health ebb away, especially if a doctor insists that medically everything is fine. “I don’t understand”, they’ll say, “the tests came back negative, yet Dad doesn’t want to get out of bed!” It seems incredulous that someone wouldn’t at least try to live.

This frustration to instill in someone else the will to change or the will to live is aggravating, because it is out of our control. Despite our cajoling and encouragement, no argument seems good enough to increase that inner oomph.

What can we do then? First, understand that whether right or wrong, thousands die every day simply because they’ve given up. Doctors can’t write that the cause of death was ‘loss of will to live’ so it is sometimes written as ‘failure to thrive’ but more often another disease is listed, though inwardly we know that the patient’s lack of desire to go on played a large role in their death.

Second, it’s important to know that deciding you are ready to die isn’t the same as being depressed. While depression can certainly interfere with one’s stamina and enthusiasm for living, there are scores of individuals who just decide they are done with life, and they are not at all depressed. It is crucial to tease out depression, though, because it can be treated.

Lastly, and most importantly, we can develop empathy. There is always something at the heart of giving up. Sometimes a person is tired of dealing with chronic pain, other times they are terrified of living alone, or of falling and being helpless. At times, a person may feel they are being a burden, or they’ve lost their life-long love. When we are open to hear why someone has lost their will, if nothing else it inspires compassion.

It is okay to continue to try to change our loved one’s will, but ultimately it is their choice, and our lasting gift should be respect . . .at least until that pill gets invented.