Die Hard in Bulgaria
Do you remember the controversy that BBC triggered last year after filming the dying moments of a terminally-ill man whose family agreed for the death to be captured on camera?
I remembered it yesterday as I watched the body of a dear friend of mine, who has been battling cancer for three years with the utmost courage and patience, gives up its fight for survival.
I have been there before – my father died of cancer five years ago. But it seems that he was a truly lucky man – died pretty fast at home, surrounded by the family.
My friend, it seems, was born under crossed stars. Due to specifics of her illness and the spreads that she has, death is a prolonged and painful process, while the need for medical and psychological help is critical.
The BBC series, which included footage of the cancer patient death, angered some people, but the producers said they wanted to tackle the difficult subject.
Since talking openly and intelligently about such difficult subjects as the end of life and life-threatening diseases is rare in Bulgaria due to some inner backwardness, we have more prosaic problems to solve.
"It seems like the nightmare is just starting," my friend told me yesterday, her lips breaking into a forced smile.
The situation we found ourselves trapped in would have been funny if it was not heart-breaking.
As her body started to gradually switch off, she was checked into hospital. But as there were no vacant beds in the oncology ward, she was hospitalized in the internal diseases unit. There however she was no longer classified as a cancer patient, just someone needing life support.
A hopeless case, she ended up belonging nowhere. Not because the doctors and nurses, overwhelmed by the workload on their hands, did not want to help her. Just because the way the system works is a killer, literally.
After some personal intervention and insistent talks, she was prescribed what she needed to alleviate the pain and the nausea that the final stage of the disease brings. With the help of her sister – a pharmacist – we provided what was needed urgently.
Now there is just one "minor" issue to solve – getting a permission to administer medicines for a cancer patient in a non-oncology ward. This seems to be against the rules, set by the Big Brother watching - the National Health Insurance Fund.
Funny, isn't it? Red tape makes palliative care close to non-existent in Bulgaria, at least in the form the civilized world knows it.
Faced with the harsh reality, many people find themselves turning into vocal supporters of euthanasia. Even I imagined how I will stay at her bedside until she dies from a mixture of drugs taken to end her life.
I am not sure whether the prescribed medication would ease her suffering, but can tell you that seeing someone care for her made her feel a tad better.
Yes, cancer patients do need to talk to someone even when the body has already given up the fight, they do need to know what is in store in the next few days, do need psychological support and counseling what can be done to alleviate the pain and suffering.
It is not like cutting off some tape with some scissors, for good or bad.
May be nature gives us one last chance to bid a longer farewell and get inspiration from the strength of the most vulnerable among us.
Let's not ruin it.