It All Happened So Quickly
My father, age 72, fell getting into bed and broke his hip in early September. After laying in pain on the floor of his bedroom for 24 hours, he was finally discovered and taken to the hospital. He underwent successful surgery to mend his hip, but came down with pneumonia the next day. I immediately drove to Sacramento to see him, and help take care of him. When I arrived, he was barely able to breath or talk. When I asked him if he wanted me to help him get better, he said he wasn't sure if he wanted to live or die. He had fractured his hip once before and he was clearly depressed over the prospect of having to relearn how to walk.
I had taken care of Dad twice before while he was in the hospital and I discovered that he always received better care when I made friends with the nurses and talked to the doctor as much as possible. You know the saying, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
I did all I could for him that night and then slept on the sofa in the intensive care waiting room. Needless to say my meals were completely off kilter-and my appetite had also disappeared. I still had to eat and was glad to find the hospital had an all night vending area with some reasonable selections-a fresh apple and yogurt. I was very glad to be on the insulin pump which makes it easy to skip meals and eat when I want. High emotion situations like this can play havoc on my blood sugars and my perception of low blood sugar. I always carry my meter and glucose tablets in a fanny pack that I wear constantly-though I clipped it to a chair next to me in the waiting room when I slept.
Dad was near death the next morning. His lungs were completely full of fluid and the stress of trying to breath had almost exhausted him. I felt helpless to help him physically, and told him "I really love you Dad." When his doctor came in and recommend a breathing machine (putting a tube down his throat to breath for him and suction the fluid out), Dad nodded his approval. Then a large group of people came with the tube and the breathing machine. They asked me to retreat to the waiting room. I told them that I would stay with Dad. The head nurse announced in a very sharp voice that it was not appropriate for a family member to be in the room during this procedure and told me I had to leave. She had that tone that told me it was no use to argue. As I left the room I turned and told all of them to "be good to him, he is my father." They said they would.
They knocked him out with a tranquilizer and put in the tube. Dad was finally able to get some much needed sleep. It was such a relief to know that Dad could now rest with out straining to keep death at bay. I went to a convenience store to get some bottled water and food, and checked into a hotel so I could get some much needed sleep.
Within two days Dad looked much better. He was alert and though he couldn't talk because of the tube, he was able to write notes to us. "How are you?" "Have you had lunch" and other friendly gestures. The doctors let us all know that his lungs were not getting better. Then Dad started writing "I want to die." "I am ready to die." "Take the tube out." It became evident Dad was aware enough to decide his own fate and that his condition was not going to improve.
It was at this point that I went to see him for the last time. I told him how I loved him and how much he had meant to me. I went over several good things in my life that I had him to thank for and thanked him again. I told him I was glad that he was my father. He could only use his eyes to answer that he heard me, but that was all I needed. I know that I am lucky to have been able to share this moment with Dad while he still lived. It was hard to speak these things to him. But now I am exceptionally glad that I did.
The next day my sister went before the hospital ethics committee to petition to have the tube removed. They agreed. One hour later the tube was removed and two hours later Dad stopped breathing. He had just told everyone to go out and eat lunch, that he "wanted to get some sleep." Fortunately he had morphine and was able to "go to sleep" very peacefully. He had said good-by to his family. It was a conscious decision.
I took me some time to get back to my life and work. I now understand that the death of a father creates a certain rite of passage for a son. Dad was my friend. He still is, but in a different way. In the ensuing weeks I could complete routine things that didn't take much decision, but not high stress activities like publishing this newspaper.
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