Hospitals, Care Facilities: What We Don’t Want for Aging Parents–Part 2

Part 2 continues with the conversation overheard behind the curtain…..

Daughter: Hi! You’re looking great, Mom. You’re comfortable now, huh? OK…that’s OK”  (sigh)     Horrible noise comes from Mrs. S.

Daughter“It’s awful–(pause)–Sally and Tom are downstairs and the kids are at camp…..”  Another noise from Mrs. S evidently signals recognition of another person who had just made his/her presence known.

Daughter“I wore your watch today, mine broke.”

New Voice: “Hi! I love you.”

Daughter“Betty’s here.”

Betty“Hi Ruth. Gotta smile today?”…. (quietly) “See the tears?”

Daughter: “OK, Mom. I know, I know it’s awful”……(long silence, perhaps rearranging the pillows)

Betty“You look much more comfortable–she looks much more comfortable this way…..”

Male voice“She looks good anyhow–and she looks better than she has. You’re a strong lady, Ruth.”  (An awful loud burp from Mrs. S.)

Voice“It’s good when you can cough–makes you feel better….I know it’s rough and you don’t want to be here.”

More conversation then–
Daughter“Mom, we’re gonna go. OK?” (pause). “OK?” (pause). “It’s OK–OK? Have a good night’s sleep, OK? See you tomorrow.”

And beneath the curtain I watched the stylish sling-back, high heel sandals turn to depart.

During the conversation a male family member became visible on my side of the curtain at the foot of my bed. I acknowledged his presence but it created a moral dilemma for me. Should he know about Mrs. S’s experience the day before? If I didn’t say anything, who would?

My counseling skills surfaced and I settled on something like “I know how hard it must be.”

“It’s like a kick in the butt,” he responded, obviously sensitive to and upset by Mrs. S’s situation.

“She had a difficult time yesterday,” I offered. Pulled out her IV tube, pulled out her nasel tube. You might want to ask the nurse about it.” 

The following day a nurse and an orderly came in and Mrs. S and her possessions were wheeled out of the room. “Where’s she going anyway?” asked the third occupant of our  room.

“Six-South. She won’t be coming back.”
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Can  we assume Mrs. S had no advance directives–given no one medical power of attorney? Remember this was several decades ago. If she did, one wonders if she directed that her children make all the decisions or if she ever discussed her wishes with them.

On the other hand, if we want more control at the end of life, meet Eloise, who lived alone in their home after her husband died. Alert and active, she worried about enduring a helpless last stage of life. She left DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) post-it notes where they couldn’t be missed. She filled out her living will, health care proxy, power of attorney documents, completed all other documents and told any contemporary who would listen, to do the same. She unfailingly reviewed her final wishes with her doctor at each appointment and made everyone she knew aware of them. At age 95, after attending a luncheon and lecture, she went home, took a nap, and died in her sleep.

If we’re fortunate, we prepare ahead like Eloise and exit like Eloise. What if we aren’t as fortunate? Yesterday’s Part 1 post  generated one comment. Think about it.We can have everything in place, but unknowingly set things in motion that we can’t control.  For instance, advance directives do not take effect in 911 emergency situations. (Emergency medics are legally bound to try to save a life–probably never know about a person’s advance directives.)  Worrisome? More on this next post.

We try to help parents age well until the very end, but “stuff happens.” How can we protect against that happening?