Making the Hardest Decision of All

“We’ve called an ambulance for your father. He’s had an unresponsive event.”

The voice on the other end of the telephone was the charge nurse at the nursing home where Dad lived. I swallowed back the cold fear that engulfed my heart as I gave her the instructions she needed. I then called my brother, who lives two-and-a-half hours south of here, and my cousin, who lives an hour north. I also called my roommate who rents the basement apartment of my house to let her know what was up. Thankfully she offered to drop me off at the hospital which is only a couple of blocks away so that I wouldn’t have to fight for a parking space. I wasn’t exactly in a condition where I capable of driving even that short distance. I waited patiently (NOT) for the ambulance to arrive at the hospital, watching every minute pass with fear in my soul, counting every second. I knew exactly how long it would take the ambulance to go from the nursing home to the hospital provided there were no accidents on the highway. Finally the admissions clerk allowed me back to the room where Dad and the paramedic and nurse were.

“Your father’s glucose was 38 and we did see the defibrillator fire for one beat,” said the paramedic as he finished his paperwork.

When I was at the nursing home earlier that day, as I’d been every day since his admission, I realized just how weak and frail he was. He’d lost so much weight not even his belt helped. He didn’t have the energy to cut his food or even chew. While I sat by his bedside the pain overcame me and, like a coward, I fled. I could not bear to see him like that. This was Wednesday October 17, 2012. In the early hours on Thursday he was admitted to the hospital and assigned a room on the telemetry wing of the hospital. I sat by his side just watching the heart monitor, finding comfort in the rhythm, abnormal as it was it was his normal. Every now and then tears would well up but I was able to hold them back.

Skip to Sunday October 21, 2012. As he’d already told his doctor he wanted to go home and I’d decided to abide by his wishes, I made some calls to arrange for assistance in caring for him. The hospital psychiatrist came in to evaluate him, officially saying he did have dementia and would prescribe something to help him relax and stay calm. He’d required a sitter 24 hours a day due to his attempts at getting out of the bed and becoming delusional.

Monday morning Dad’s doctor asked to speak to me outside his room. With great difficulty I agreed with him that there should be a DNR for Dad. He was suffering enough, why have the medical personnel break his ribs trying to revive him when his heart is trying to say “Enough already!” With a heavy heart I also decided it was time we discontinue his dialysis. Dad never wanted dialysis in the first place; I was the one who made him go. It was time to let him die in peace. It was time to let go. It was time to say goodbye.

The hospital psychiatrist showed up that afternoon and I told him of my decision. He asked me to step out in the hall due to my cousin and a friend sitting in Dad’s room. He asked what led to my decision and as I tried to explain tears welled up in my eyes. He asked why the tears as I didn’t have them the day before. How could I tell him the day before I thought Dad was going to live at least a short while longer at home? He then asked me if I was comfortable with my decision. NO! I was most assuredly NOT comfortable with my decision. How can anyone be comfortable when they write the death sentence for a loved one? The nasty little voice in my head that likes to criticize was telling me I was killing my father slowly. I was putting him down but doing it over days rather than seconds. As the shrink matter-of-factly asked me questions I wanted to slug him. I told him, however, I was comfortable with my decision, that it was just hard to let go. That was my Daddy in there, yet it wasn’t my Daddy. I’d not had him for quite some time. Daddy would not want to suffer like this.

So here I sit in his new room on a different floor. He’s missed two dialysis treatments and his defibrillator was turned off on Tuesday. Tomorrow will be his third missed treatment. He’s on morphine every three hours and they’ve ordered a pain patch in addition. My soul is ripping with each moan of pain uttered from him. I want to scream at the nurses and doctor “DO SOMETHING!” Yet they are doing something. We don’t want to kill him but allow him to die in dignity and peace and no longer in pain. Yet he is in pain. Dear Lord, did I make the wrong decision? Am I now a murderer who tortures her victim by allowing him to suffer? Is he still alive because he’s fighting so hard to remain? Did I screw up? I’m sitting here listening to his moans and there’s nothing I can do except wait for him to die. No words can remove this guilt and doubt from me. No words can bring me comfort. I fight back the tears. I am ashamed of them. I am weak.

Heavenly Father, even if you answer none of my prayers save this one I will be eternally grateful. I await your judgment on my decisions and actions during this time. I beg of you, take my father’s pain away. Spare him this suffering. Let him go gently into the night. He’s fought the good fight, let him rest now. He’s been faithful to you throughout his life; please give him the peace you promised. Take his pain away, Father. Take my Dad home in peace. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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