Day 331. Hmmmm … Hmmmm …

What to do? What to do? Which do I choose? Door Number One? Two? Three? Decisions, decisions. Left? Or right? This? That? Or the other? Yes? Or no? choices Here? There?

Sorry. Certainly not everywhere.

Think again. So many choices. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Too much of a good thing, you know? What to do, what to do? It happens to the best of us. What’s the right decision? What are the consequences, should the wrong decision be made?

Another thought-provoking idea from the WordPress Daily Prompt team: “Pinpoint a moment in your past where you had to make a big decision. Write about that other alternate life that could have unfolded.”

None of us can ever escape unscathed. None of us can get through life without having to make tough

decisions. But I’m hard pressed to come up with one that’s tougher than deciding someone’s fate. Deciding whether they will live or die. To have someone’s life in your hands.

Six years ago I was faced with such a decision.

No, I wasn’t in a courtroom, on a jury. Canada doesn’t have the death penalty.

I was in a hospital. In my mother’s room.

With everything that was wrong with her, what finally did my mother in was a broken hip. Obviously her overall health, or the lack thereof, played an important role, but the catalyst was a fall.

It was a Saturday. We’d been out all day. We came home to have a nap, have some dinner and go to an early movie. Cecilia, my mother’s caregiver, woke her up when it was time for her meds. For some inexplicable reason, instead of sitting and waiting for her, my mother decided to get up. Still groggy, she forgot to put the brakes on her walker. She slid. The next thing we knew she was on the floor, moaning.

Unlike other times she fell, this time we couldn’t get her up. We tried. She screamed in pain. I put a pillow under head, covered her with a blanket and called 911.

Because of her medical condition (think rowboat springing leaks everywhere), the doctor in Emergency wouldn’t operate until he got the all-clear from her endocrinologist, a cardiologist and her nephrologist. It took all weekend. I won’t go into all the details because it’s a long story. And it’s off-topic today. Suffice to say, my mother did NOT regain consciousness after the surgery.

While the surgery, itself, was a success they could not revive her.

To be honest, I had a bad feeling when they took her down to surgery. A story for another time. They let me go with her, as far as the doors to the OR. Then I went back to her room, to wait. I knew as soon as I saw the doctor’s face, it wasn’t good news. We always know, I think.

“Your mother’s surgery went well”, he said, with a solemn face. “But unfortunately, she has not regained consciousness. We have had to put her on a respirator. Sometimes, patients do recover. They wake up, even when they are on respirators. And sometimes they don’t. Without the respirator, they cannot breathe and can’t survive.”

Those were his exact words. I still remember.

He then apologized to me. Not for her condition. For the fact he now had to ask me THE question. The million dollar question: “What did I want to do if my mother did not regain consciousness?” He apologized because I should have been asked BEFORE she went into surgery. For that matter, SHE should have been asked. She was conscious. And capable of answering. And more than capable of making the decision.

But we were not asked. And he was sorry for having to ask me now, when I was obviously distraught. Devastated. Sad. Frightened. Overwhelmed. Overcome.

My mother had a living will. “No heroic measures. No life support.”

However it was not in her chart. Nothing was in her chart. I just knew about it.

Before you say “So what’s the point of this story? There was no decision for you to make”, let me explain:

There was a decision for me to make. Because there were no legal documents around to force my hand. And when you love someone, your first reaction is to save them. It’s an emotional reaction. It’s a selfish reaction. But it comes from the heart. And I defy you to say your initial reaction would be different.

That lasted a minute, maybe two. Then I thought of my mother. About her zest for life. Her love of life. About how independent she was. How dignified. How proud. How happy she was, living with me.

A possible scenario flashed before my eyes. If I were to choose Door Number Two, instead of Door Number One:

Great news. She regained consciousness. She’d spend a week or two in hospital. Each day more agonizing than the last, as they made her get out of bed. As she had to try to walk, with help, to a chair. To the door. To the nurses’ station right outside her room. Exhausting and frustrating and demoralizing hours spent with physiotherapists. And occupational therapists. Portable dialysis units being brought to her room three times a week. Dialysis for four hours each time.

Exhausted and fearful of what would come next, her spirit would be terribly shaken. I could see her giving up. Then the transfer to a rehab facility. We’d be told it would be anywhere between five and eight weeks. Intensive physio. Too much for her, really. Especially with all the dialysis she had to take. She was struggling. Her mobility was really impaired. It wasn’t looking good.

Finally the news we would not want to hear. She would be unable to move back to my house. Even with nurses. She couldn’t get in and out of bed. She couldn’t walk as far as the bathroom. She would have to go to a nursing home. Not even an assisted living senior’s facility. A nursing home. Where she’d most likely be confined to bed.

Sure, she’d be alive. I’d still be able to see her. But what kind of quality of life is that?

And that was probably the best, possible scenario.

What was the worst, and most likely?

That she’d never regain consciousness. That she’d been plugged into a machine, for the rest of her life. Unable to move. Unable to speak. Unable to eat. Unable to live the way she would want to live. The way anyone would want to live. Not really living, at all.

My question to the surgeon was, “What are her chances of regaining consciousness?” Obviously he didn’t have a definitive answer. How could he? But he didn’t give me much hope, either. I asked if I could see her.

One look was all it took.

Her arms were blue. Literally. And freezing cold. Her entire body was freezing cold. Her face looked like a mask. Her eyes, which were open, were staring blankly. At nothing. She didn’t even blink. It was grotesque. There was no movement at all. The only sound, was the sound of the respirator. I tried talking to her. I picked up her hands. I rubbed them. I kissed her. I brushed her hair back with my hand. I patted her shoulders. I pleaded. I cajoled. I begged her to wake up, to respond. I did it once. I did it twice. I did it ten times.

Again I asked the doctors, different doctors this time, what her prognosis was. It didn’t look good. Not that I needed them to tell me.

They left me alone with her for a few minutes. I said my good-byes.

Even if she hadn’t had a living will, I would have made the exact same decision, gut-wrenching as it was. I loved her that much.

22 thoughts on “Day 331. Hmmmm … Hmmmm …

    • What’s really agonizing is the reality of the situation. That you are going to lose someone you love. The finality of it. That’s what’s tough. There’s no hiding from it.

  1. The toughest decision ever, Fransi. You are so right about that. The most important aspect is that you know your mother would have approved of your choice. It really was her choice, as you point out. Your post proves how vital it is that we have discussions about this with the people we love so that, if that terrible moment arises, we know in our hearts we are doing what they wish. No matter how much it hurts our heart. {{{{{{{hugs}}}}}}}

  2. No matter how much we sharpen our swords and prepare, sometimes the battle is simply greater than we are. You handled it with grace and poise. I have been both witness and unwilling participant to situations where no clear decision was communicated and no clear decision maker was agreed on. In those cases selfishness too often trumps mercy and reality. Those that didn’t bother while the persons were still here tended to hold on tightly to avoid their own broiling mediocrity coming home to roost. It also forced others to deal with that at a time when their focus would have been better placed on processing their personal grief. These selfish acts prolonged and expanded the pain of loss. It was also a used over time as platform to transfer unresolved emotions to innocent and compassionate parties to maintain the illusion of equating not letting go with love. It looked to me like a destructive bonfire of vanities. As a consequence, my wishes are quite clear. I don’t want anyone to flinch or question my desires. I also do my best to live without the cloud of unfinished business that can so leave others in a lurch when we rejoin the ocean from which we came. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you. For some reason, death often brings out the worst in people. The worst possible time for things to get ugly. I thank the Universe daily for the open and honest conversations we had in our family. And the respect we had for each other’s decisions.

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  5. You made the best (for your Mother) and selfless (on your part) decision. I can’t even imagine how difficult that was. Those of us that have never had to make that “final” decision can only hope we will do as you did should we ever have to.

    • Thanks. I don’t know what the stats are and, of course, we only ever hear about those few cases where the courts have to get involved, but I can’t believe that most people wouldn’t do what I did. When there is no hope of recovery I don’t know how you can condemn someone you love to being kept alive by a respirator.

      • It is tough, believe me, I know. But six years later I still see my mother laying on that bed with absolutely no sign of life in her eyes. Absolutely blank. It was a chilling sight. I still feel how cold she was. What would I have been holding on to? No way I could have done that to her.

      • So sad that this visual memory is still so strong for you. I know though, from previous posts, that you have so many more wonderful visual images of her. I’m thinking she is somehow telling you via this post how very grateful she is for your having made this very difficult but loving and compassionate decision at the end.

      • Thank you. Oh you’re right. I do have wonderful memories and images. I thank God every day I made the decision I made. I cannot imagine going to see her everyday in that condition, knowing she wouldn’t even have known I was there. She wouldn’t have known she was there. And in the end she was gone the instant they unplugged that respirator. It was the only decision to have made.

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