My grandfather from New Jersey showed up on my dad’s doorstep on Friday, started convulsing and was transported via ambulance to Fairview Southdale with a temperature of 105.8 degrees F. By the wee hours of Saturday morning, he was in the ICU, hooked up to oodles of modern pharmaceuticals and a mechanical ventilator.
The next few hours of needing to decide if grandpa would want to be artificially induced to live or allowed to die became the most difficult of my recent life. Seeing him in the ER, his chest pressing up with each forced breath I knew he wouldn’t have wanted this, I can’t imagine any elderly person would. . .where is the life in this sort of selfish intervention to forestall the inevitable?
I think my dad knew that, knew that he’d already gone too far in his attempts to extend his father’s life during this latest medical crisis. But he didn’t really know, because they’d never talked about it. Neither he, nor his sister had talked to their dad about what he would want in a situation like this.
We found his living will not long after the search started. He specified that he would not want extreme measures taken to hasten death, instead only to be kept as comfortable as possible. . . and even then it was a struggle to decide to discontinue the interventions that had already taken place, eventually authorization was given for the removal of the breathing tube and the medications as lab tests continued to indicate increased tissue death, and lack of kidney function.
It’s Tuesday, and he’s still hanging on despite the predictions of the medical professionals that keep assuring us it won’t be much longer now. . . I still think the right decision has been made, and that this slow, marginally conscious, feverish death will give him greater comfort than another few weeks of a pharmaceutical induced life in a nursing home.
I ask that you read Dr. Gawande’s article on what medicine should do when it can’t save your life, and that you talk to your loved ones about their wishes, so you need not make weighty decisions about what they’d want under the emotional duress of a crisis.