Heart breaking

Dateline: Wed 30 Jun 2010


The June 14 story from the New York Times magazine, "What Broke My Father's Heart", is a cautionary tale about the ravages modern medical technology can unleash on the elderly. Imagine being 79 years old, stroked out, with severe dementia, and trapped in a bionic body that won't quit, courtesy of a pacemaker guaranteed to go for at least another 5 years? Argh. Living hell.

The effects on the ailing gentleman, a former university professor, his brave but absooutely overwhelmed wife and their surviving daughter are carefully documented.

Must read.



Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Heart-breaking. Literally. I read it, also, and kept it around. I'm not sure why...

My grandfather was an ornery cuss. He played high-stakes poker and made/lost two fortunes in life. He lived. Lots of stories. And 70 years of heavy smoking.

When he became ill at his second wife's home in Anderson at age 79, she insisted he go to the "best" hospital, St. John's, a religious institution. A good public hospital was bypassed. He had a DNR order, and my mom and I made sure it was properly filed. The nurses just nodded and left. He had badly-damaged lungs and he knew his time was near.

Two days later, my mom and I were with him, and we left to eat lunch. While gone, he slipped away--and we returned to see a doctor crouching on the bed and whacking his chest hard. Four medical folks were crowded around--his chest was badly bruised from that invasive treatment, and they had the nerve to bill my step-grandma over $4000 for that "care." They revived him after 25 minutes, and got a pulse. But Gramps was gone, if not physically. A respirator hummed constantly.

One day later, he slipped away again, while my mom and her brother were there alone. For some reason--Divine Providence?--alarms did not sound. Mom and my uncle did not call the nurses. Twenty minutes later a nurse came in, saw the scene, and castigated my family for not calling nurses sooner.

I'm sure St. John's is a nice place. They ignored my grandfather's wishes. My mom and uncle did not--and thankfully, they were there at his end.

This story happens dozens of times every day in Indiana. I have come to the reluctant conclusion, perhaps unfairly, that religious hospitals feel free to ignore DNR orders too often. (For point of reference, ONCE is too often)

I've made sure everyone in my family has a copy of my medical self-determination document. My docs. I scanned a copy and carry it with me on my keychain on a memory stick.

Someday, maybe we Americans will fully embrace a decent method of dying. So far, we haven't. As I approach 60, it scares me...that I'll not be able to speak whenever my life ends, and some "hero" will extend my life, perhaps painfully, beyond my wishes.

2010-06-30 15:14:03

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

I have noticed via obituaries and personal experience that the average survival time for cancer patients with terminal cancer seems to be around 6 months. I have a family member with metastisized stage 4 colon cancer who is undergoing all the rigors and indignities of treating that disease.

When is it time to say "that's enough?" I am sure there are people who refuse further treatment because living six more months without any quality of life simply isn't worth the pain and cost. And yet there's no graceful way for a "that's enough" decision to be affected, short of simply refusing treatment and enduring the consequences.

2010-07-01 06:59:41

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

It's an excellent question, Tom. I've discussed it with my children, in their 20s, and I encouraged each of them to honor my decisions (in writing with multiple copies around) and for THEM to consider their own lives and decisions, too. And commit them to paper.

I told a friend of my admonition to my kids, and you'd think I asked him to French-kiss his sister. "Why would you scare your kids with their own immortality? They're young."

Because accidents happen and I want to know their true thoughts in case I have to make that decision.

I asked my son last night, if any of his friends had the same two-way death discussion with their parents. He said he didn't think so.

Therein lies a problem. We don't just die because we get old and have cancer. We die from unexpected things in our 20s, too. Funeral directors have had too-tight a grip on the info-flow for too long, because it benefits that industry. The smart ones began opening up 5-10 years ago. Building "Family Life Centers" instead of funeral homes, and inviting folks to rent their parlors for family events.

I haven't quite warmed up to that possibility...Gramma's 85th birthday party in a Family Life Center. I'm afraid she'd think we were measuring the drapes or something.
But I admire the funeral industry for trying to recast itself, and reach out to younger folks.

Again, the NYT magazine article is stunning. A must-read.

2010-07-01 09:08:37

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

This kinda goes with your Star "content" post...

I looked on my reading stack last night, and found 6 NYT Sunday magazines from the past months. I save them because I want to read or re-read something.

Excellent articles every week. I know it's New York, and the advertising support is vast, but...

I cannot remember when I last saved a Star article of any kind, for future reference. Hasn't happened in a long while.

2010-07-01 09:12:30

CrossedWires [unverified] said:

I read it, and kept it too. My sentiments about saving New York Times article as well. Just not much good content here. Fear one day I might be on Hoarders.
The article reminded me of my mothers decision to stop her dialysis treatments, after 60 days in the hospital. Certainly for her quality of life.

2010-07-01 13:18:48

Comments are closed.


or Register


Syndicate Blog