24

Some of you saw my post on Facebook — I’m back in Elgin.

Sunday evening, while having a female-only marshmallow roast with my friends Catherine and Pam (and her daughter, Sarah) my brother called and told me my dad choked on food at his nursing home and was in ICU in critical condition. Later I learned he’d been “down” (without oxygen) for up to 20 minutes.

My mom called me at 4:30 the next morning with news that the hospital called and said she should get there as soon as she could — the situation was grim. I started packing soon after, jumped in the car and drove 12 hours to Elgin.

During the 12 hours that I was in the car, the doctors decided to use hypothermic protocol on my dad, where they lowered his body temperature to 94° F for a while in the hopes that the cooling would prevent further brain damage.

I saw my dad on Tuesday morning. His body temperature was raised to nearly normal, but he seemed to be shivering. After a while a nurse came in and explained that he was not shivering, but having a seizure and would be placed on anti-seizure medication in addition to 3 kinds of blood pressure medications, and a sedative. Doctor after doctor came in and gave their opinions. Nurses came and went. Dad showed no sign of anything beyond basic life.

Today we rushed to the hospital to talk to the elusive neurologist who told us he wanted to wait up to 72 hours to see if there was any improvement. A few hours later his cardiologist came in and said there was no hope and we should make our decision quickly to remove the breathing tube. I asked him if he’d even talked to the neurologist and why their advice was so different. He claimed the neurologist didn’t want to be seen as a failure. I didn’t buy that and asked a nurse if there was someone more neutral we could talk to. She thought that the pulmonolgist might have a more middle of the road view.

Well, we waited and waited for the pulmonolgist, but he never appeared. Finally he called and talked to me. He said he agreed with the cardiologist and outlined a plan of his own which included removing the breathing tube. I didn’t ask, but wondered what happened to our right to make a decision. it seemed as if he were making the decision himself.

I talked to the nurse again and she agreed that we should be the ones making the decisions. She added that she didn’t have much hope that my dad would recover in any significant way, but that it was our decision in the end.

We’d all made a decision, separately, but it was the same decision in the end. It was the doctors that kept confusing us — giving us opinions that didn’t match the others.

We all want to do right by Dad. There is no chance he’ll recover and we understand this. We’re in agreement.

In the end the neurologist and pulmonolgist agreed that the next 24 hours would tell them what they needed to know.

I wished for a flow-chart or checklist we could go through to make this decision easier. I never expected the doctors to be in such disagreement.

Yes, I’ve watched House. I know TV doctors disagree, but I never expected it to happen in real life. In my life.

8 thoughts on “24

  1. So frustrating. Reminds me of Mike’s grandfather when he went in for what should have been a reasonable bypass surgery (it was scheduled, for instance, not emergency) and he never came off the table. It was the family’s decision but all these things weren’t being discussed or shared with the family and there was this fear of really screwing up or being forced to do this or that. I’m sorry this is happening.

    But “the elusive neurologist” is a good title for something.

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  2. Hi. It’s the 22nd, Friday evening, and I see that Dean’s car is gone from your house. On the way to Elgin?
    I’m sorry that it’s all come to this, Dona. I can’t really imagine how you are feeling. Both my parents died while I was away, and being the “baby” in the family I never had to deal with anything bigger than making sure Mother’s ashes didn’t get thrown in the trash by accident when her apartment was being cleaned out.
    This has been a trying couple of months for you. I wonder if you are second guessing yourself about decisions you made concerning your mom and dad. I always thought you did the right thing – not easy or simple, but definitely the right thing. I still think that, for what it’s worth.
    Stay in touch, tell me what I can do to help, what ever it may be.
    Hope to see you soon.
    Catherine

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  3. I’m also sorry to read this Dona; dealing with dying is hard enough without all the medical confusion that makes things even more difficult. I guess medicine is not the cut and dried science that would make decisions like this easier (if easier is the right word). Hugs to you,

    Helen

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