One thing almost everyone goes through is something most baby boomers are going through right now: the deterioration and, eventually, the deaths of our parents. Lorie Eber, who is a professional wellness coach in Irvine, California, went through it and from some bad experiences, learned some good lessons. As she says, A Good Death is Hard to Come By.
A few weeks ago my beloved Dad died. He was 96. I mistakenly assumed that his well-documented wish to die in peace would be respected. Far from it. My purpose in sharing this story is not to malign the medical community, but to put all boomers on red alert as they go through the rite of passage of losing their parents. We live in a death-denying culture.
I was Dad’s caregiver for fifteen years, making sure that nothing bad happened to him in the care community as he sank deeper and deeper into the quicksand of dementia. When he was still of sound mind, he told anyone who would listen that he just wanted to be “left alone” when the angel of death came to take him away. He sported his DNR bracelet — “Do Not Resuscitate” — as a badge of honor.
As it turned out, I had to fight a pitched battle to ensure that he had a good death. The medically trained staff treated death as an insidious enemy to be resisted and stomped out, much like the Ebola virus. My Dad was lucky that he raised a pit bull of a daughter.
I can describe the ordeal in steps …
1. Let’s Deny Him Morphine
Getting Dad back on hospice, so that morphine would be readily available for pain, should have been a mere formality.
When he took to his bed, stopped eating, refused fluids, and could no longer swallow, I assumed it was a matter of paperwork. Yet, when I met with the hospice RN, he shocked me by confidently proclaiming, “Your dad will never qualify for hospice” after skimming the chart for under two minutes. I eventually succeeded in getting his snap judgment overruled, but only after spending hours on the phone pleading with his superiors. My Dad proved the RN wrong. He died within five days of the misevaluation.
2. Let’s Take Dad to the ER
The Licensed Vocational Nurse panicked at the thought that my dad might die on her watch. She phoned the on-call doctor and got an order to take him to the ER. Such a recommendation was ill-advised on so many levels: Dad’s body was shutting down and rejecting fluids, he was on hospice, and a hospital is the last place to take a confused person. As you can imagine, I rejected the suggestion, but wondered how many family members would be able to say no to a doctor’s order.
3. Let’s Shove Some Robitussin Down His Throat
My dad could no longer swallow. Nonetheless, when I went to check on him a few days later, the attending nurse was in the midst of valiant efforts to force-feed him sips of Robitussin, which he promptly spit back at her. I ordered her to cease and desist.
4. Let’s Try an Antibiotic
I received a call from the nurse informing me that the doctor had written a prescription for an antibiotic because Dad “might have pneumonia.” It was clear to me, and would have been obvious to the physician, had she bothered to come and see her patient, that Dad’s body was shutting down. So what if he had pneumonia? Again, I rebuffed the MD.
5. Learn from My Experience
If you’re willing to be demanding and uncompromising, you can defy the odds and achieve that pain-free death we all want for our loved ones. Here’s how:
- Understand that medical training teaches practitioners to do everything possible to eke out even one more day of “life.”
- Educate yourself about what the body does when it’s shutting down.
- Don’t assume that medically trained personnel know “what’s best.”
- Channel that demanding, obnoxious New Yorker who always finds a way.