By Ashley Horst
Fundraising & Marketing Coordinator
Recently I was watching the Netflix series, Cobra Kai. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it is a continuation of the Karate Kid movies. Cobra Kai catches up with Johnny Lawrence and Daniel Larusso as middle-aged adults who start competing karate schools. The drama unfolds from there.
In one episode in the 2nd season (spoiler alert), Johnny gets a phone call that causes him to leave his karate school in the middle of teaching a class. He rushes to a hospice facility where Tommy, a friend from high school, has just found out that the cancer he had has spread to his brain (For those who have seen the movies, Tommy is the fighter in The Karate Kid who shouts “get him a body bag!” during the big fight scene in the first movie.). The other two friends that made up their gang—Bobby and Jimmy—arrive and they begin talking about how they are going to help their friend leave the hospice facility. One of the friends says that Tommy can only sign out for 24 hours but they just can’t “let Tommy rot in this place.”
As soon as the nurse leaves the room, Tommy pulls the leads from a heart monitor off his chest and “escapes” the facility. The four friends strap their sleeping bags to their motorcycles and hit the open road where they live it up one last time together. In the morning, Johnny and his buddies awaken to find that Tommy has died. They are distraught as they call 911 and try to resuscitate him. It is of no use. Tommy is gone.
It’s a dramatic scene—one that is moving, emotional and leaves me as a hospice professional wishing that they had just talked to Tommy’s hospice team about their plan.
This is where Hollywood and hospice part ways. In Hollywood, even the death of someone who has a terminal illness is full of drama and suspense. In hospice, we want to minimize the drama and suspense.
Here is how the scene probably would have gone if Johnny and his friends had talked to the hospice team about their plan:
Johnny and his friends arrive at the hospice facility where Tommy has been admitted because the cancer has spread to his brain and is no longer curable. While the friends are reminiscing about the good old days, one of them mentions that it would be nice to have one last night together. They mention it to the hospice nurse. The hospice nurse calls in a hospice social worker. Together they talk to Tommy and his friends about their wish.
First, the nurse and social worker educate Tommy about where he is in his disease process to help him understand if there are any risks to leaving the hospice facility and taking such a trip. Ultimately though it would be Tommy’s decision as he would be free to leave at any time.
Once Tommy makes the decision to go on the trip, the nurse and social worker would educate Johnny, Bobby and Jimmy about Tommy’s disease process. They would prepare the 3 men for the possibilities of what might happen while they are on their trip. Together with the hospice team, they would create an emergency plan that would cover any symptoms that Tommy might experience and for the possibility that Tommy might pass away (although this outcome would have been farfetched based on how active Tommy was and what that might indicate about his prognosis). They teach Tommy energy conservation techniques to help him enjoy the trip as much as possible and make sure that he has any medications that he might need.
The social worker or hospice chaplain would probably talk to Johnny and his friends about the possibility that Tommy might die. They would explain that it is not uncommon for someone to pass away quickly after fulfilling a final wish or going somewhere where they are at peace. They would have told the men what to do if this happens, who to call and would prepare them for what would happen next.
The four friends would then have set out on their trip knowing that they can call the hospice team for support any time if they should need it. There wouldn’t have been any chest leads to rip off since most hospice patients aren’t hooked up to any sorts of monitors.
Just like in the show, they would have a great time. They would laugh, tell old stories, eat greasy foods, ride the coast on their motorcycles and sit around the campfire companionably in the way that only old friends can. And in the morning when they awoke to find that Tommy had passed away, they would have called the hospice team and sat reverently with their friend as they waited for a hospice nurse to arrive. They could have lessened the panic and the distress because they would have known that their friend had been at peace.
Not quite the heart pounding, gut wrenching scene that Hollywood prefers but one that is infinitely better for everyone who has to live out this scene in reality. It is also the one that we want for our patients and their families. We want to help our patients live out their days in whatever way suits them best. That could be motorcycles and camping or family dinners on the farm with their children and grandchildren. All of our patients are different and we celebrate those differences.
The care we provide might not be realistically featured on your TV screen but it’s exactly what our patients and their families need. They need education, support, comfort and the confidence that they can help their loved one continue living each day.
Hospice of the Panhandle surrounds those journeying through the end of life with expert medical care and compassionate support. This circle of care educates and empowers families to care for their loved ones at home, provides support in nursing facilities and can offer the 24-hour care of the Hospice of the Panhandle inpatient facility. For more information about hospice services for yourself or a loved one, call (304) 264-0406 or go to hospiceotp.org.
Ashley Horst is the fundraising and marketing coordinator at Hospice of the Panhandle, where she has worked for the past 13 years.