She knew what she wanted.
She’d watched her husband of 52 years die on a vent, and followed his wishes to remain a full code. But she knew that was not what she wanted for herself.
So, she wrote a Living Will, had it notarized, gave it to her personal physician, told all her friends and family what she did not want. She wasn’t eligible for a DNR, as she was a healthy 89-year-old, but she knew what she wanted.
“I do not wish my heart to be restarted through usage of any
chemical, mechanical or physical intervention…”
Of her 6 children, one fought against her mother’s decision, and it was this child, this one desenting voice, who found her mother collapsed on the kitchen floor.
“I do not want any external device to be used to maintain my
respiration if my body is incapable of sustaining it on its
The daughter told EMS her mother was a full code, and they intubated her on the floor of her kitchen. Once at the ER, her heart stopped, CPR was performed, and her heart was shocked back into a beat. Under the hands of those trying to follow the daughter’s wishes, the woman’s ribs cracked and broke.
“I wish to die a peaceful, natural death.”
She was then sent to ICU, where her heart tried to stop 3 more times. Each time, the broken ribs jabbed and ripped into the fragile muscle and skin as CPR was performed. Electricity coursed across her body and her frail heart was restarted a 4th time. By this time, the other children were there, but the act had been done, over and over. No DNR was written, and the Living Will fluttered impotently at the front of the chart.
“I do not wish artificial means of nutrition to be used, such as
nasogastric tubes or a PEG tube.”
Her swallowing ability was lost in the storm in her brain that had left her with no voice, no sight, no movement. A scan showed she still had brain activity; she was aware of what was being done to her. Including the PEG tube sank down into her stomach, and the trach in her throat.
“I wish nature to take its course, with only medication to prevent
pain and suffering.”
The daughter who wanted the mother to remain a full code also refused to allow narcotics to be given, stating she did not want her mother sedated, since she would “wake up” when the correct medical procedures were performed. Her nurses begged the doctor to write a DNR, and he said, “the family can’t get it together, and I’m not getting into the middle of it.”
“Allow me the dignity we give to beloved pets. Let me die in peace.”
I met her one Tuesday night, and spent that night pouring Jevity into her tube, only to suction it back out. Her legs were cool and mottled, her bowel sounds were non-existant, and her blue eyes stared blindly at a ceiling she could no longer see. The MD refused to terminate feedings, but I held them since there was no digestion taking place. The woman was turned and repositioned every 2 hours, and each time, she moaned and gurgled as her lungs slowly filled with fluid. I whispered my apologies as I did the very things to her she tried so hard to prevent.
Suctioning improved her lung function, but would make her body tremble. Over the next 2 nights, she slowly died, all while the daughter demanded more interventions, and maintained that her mother wanted to be a full code. We had read the Living Will. We knew better.
“Thank you in advance for helping me in the last moments of my life
to have a gentle, peaceful passing.”
She had another stroke, and went back to the ICU, where she was coded until there was not enough surviving heart tissue to maintain a beat. Finally her heart was broken.
And so was mine.