A day passed since the meeting with the doctor. I met with Dad’s wife at the hospital, and she asked me what I thought about what she should do. One thing in particular that the doctor said kept hitting me – he said that my Dad was currently suffering. To me the word “suffering” means pain and distress … and it seemed to me at the time that by keeping Dad connected to the respirator, we were prolonging his pain. If I were in Dad’s place – what decision would I want made? Would I want to be let go of? Was my Father going through a living hell … a personal torment … wanting or needing to be let go of, but having no way to communicate that to us? I remember thinking to myself, “What would Dad himself do in this situation?” – and the answer was “Dad would make the decision to let go, and not prolong anyone’s pain.” And so that was what I told my Father’s wife – we should end his suffering, and let him go. She agreed.
We met with the doctor again in that same dreaded hospital conference room. I remember the conference room had an odd name … something like “Family Counseling Room” or similar. I remember thinking that room should be renamed. Dad’s wife and I sat with the doctor – this was a different doctor though … the doctor from the day before was not available. This doctor was younger … in his early 30s … and was not extremely familiar with our situation. It would have been nice to have had some continuity with the previous doctor – but it was what it was. My Dad’s wife told the doctor that she had decided to discontinue life support – but that she didn’t want to do so until about a week from now. I instantly thought to myself “Huh? WTF? A week from now? Where the F did that come from?”
I inserted myself into the conversation between the doctor and my Dad’s wife. I barked out something like, “Excuse me – what are you talking about … a week from now?” She responded that she wanted to give her son (a non-blood relative of my Dad’s) a chance to finish up his work week, and drive out to see Dad one last time. The emotion of the situation and moment kicked up the drama 10X … and I was appalled at what came from my mouth next … I said (actually yelled) something to the effect of,
“My Dad is suffering … and you want him to continue to suffer for the rest of this week until your son can drive out here on the weekend … are you out of your MFing mind?”
To my surprise, she looked at me … told me to shut up … that she had made her decision … that it was her decision to make, and that was that. I had to get out of that conference room, and so I stormed out.
I left the hospital for a few hours, and then came back – and met with Dad’s wife in one of the waiting rooms. I apologized for being rude and yelling – but that I stood by what I told her. And she told me that she stood by what she had told me – that she was going to wait to remove Dad from life support. I was furious – but I knew it would do no one any good for me to continue to be difficult … and so I sat there quietly with a sense of hate and resentment toward Dad’s wife.
Two more days passed – it was a Thursday now. Dad’s wife and I had been doing “shifts” visiting Dad in the ICU. I went every day from noon until around 7 p.m. – she was there in the mornings, and in the evenings after me. [We had been doing these “shifts” for the entire two month duration of Dad’s ordeal.] It was around 9:00 a.m. that Thursday, when I got a phone call from Dad’s wife at the hospital telling me that I needed to get down there right away – that Dad was taking a turn for the worse. I dropped what I was doing … and immediately drove to the hospital.
I arrived at the ICU, walked in the door – and saw Dad’s wife sobbing and looking at Dad. I rushed over to his bedside … and what I saw shocked me tremendously. In the days prior with Dad in a coma, he basically had looked like he was asleep. Sure there was a tube in his throat from the respirator, and he had an uncomfortable look about him – but he had had a calm look about him. Not now – his eyes were wide open … and his face was making a terrible expression that I have difficulty describing. He had the look of agony on his face … and his wife saw this, too. I looked at her, and I said to her something like, “You know – we need to let him go now” … and she started to cry loudly, and agreed. The doctor said that Dad was in the process of dying regardless of whether we removed him from the respirator or not – that they thought maybe his aorta had developed a small rupture, and that more surgery was out of the question. The doctor said he had maybe the rest of the day to live if we didn’t disconnect him first.
What happened next is somewhat of a blur. I remember his wife signing some documents. I remember a priest coming in and speaking with me … I am Catholic … I am a bad Catholic … and whatever the priest said at that time was comforting, but would probably have been more comforting if I were religious. I remember after all of that – the doctor came in, and turned off the respirator. I remember staring into my Dad’s eyes as his life slipped away … he still had that same terrible, anguished look on his face … the look that is carved in stone in my mind … the look I will never forget. After just a few minutes, the heart monitor went flat – and he was pronounced dead.
[Sent in prior to the addition of our ADD COMMENT feature below.]
Martin, Age 71, Ft. Lauderdale, FL: I am sure he felt truly blessed with your decision. I know I would be and I have made it very clear, signed every document, done everything I possibly could to ensure that I will not be kept on life support--I want to think that if I reach that stage that I would have a moment of clarity before hand so that I could end my own life--I don't want to suffer and I don't want those who love me to suffer.
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