Rat Poison

He finishes dinner with his wife, the first they've had in weeks as he's recovered from hospitalization. Both feel better. Renewed. Maybe a bit hopeful. His balance isn't what it used to be, he's still tired, unsteady at times. Weaker than he was. She finishes the dishes while he, complaining of being tired, heads for bed upstairs.

On the third step, he remembers something and, naturally, turns to go back down. His balance, though. Not what it used to be. He falls the three steps, foreward into the foyer. And weak; doesn't catch himself. His nose bleeds. And bleeds. Bleeds even after she holds pressure and calls 911, bleeds to the hospital. Bleeds with anterior packing.

By the time he stops bleeding with a postieror pack, he's intubated; mental status, airway protection, and all that. Multiple facial fractures are found. He's admitted to the ICU for a hopefully swift recovery. Opacity at the base of his lung is watched; perhaps he breathed blood. Hard to say.

By day 3 or 4, it's not hard to say. The lung fills in, the tube stays after the packing does. He spikes fevers. He doesn't wake up. Now 4 to 5 days without nutrition, fractured, infected, a tired body, issues layering on each other.

His wife knows that he wouldn't want all of this. Wouldn't want the tracheostomy, the feeding tube, the supportive care to see if he comes out of it. That's were we were. Stuck. Or, not stuck, because the family was sure of his wishes, and all of them agreed.

The Navy man who drove the boats for the landing on Guadalcanal had care withdrawn on the 4th of July. How terrible, you may opine. How macabre. But. The monitors were shut off. The tubes removed. His sons and daughter were there. His wife was there. They held his yellowed, bruised cool hands. Draped in a home blanket. They spoke to him, and we shut the door and the curtains, watching the monitor still on outside slow, and become more and more shallow until they stopped.

This is the situation the supposed 'death panels' were for. It was as good a death as we could offer for a good man. No bureaucrat showed up and told us we had to let grandpa die, nor would they if we had kept the 'death panels'. The family happened to know what he wanted, and because of that, we could let him go. What if they had been gone? What if they had disagreed? Weeks and months could pass, hooked up to machines and tubes, sustained, exactly as he didn't want to be maintained.

It's terrible when anyone dies. It's worse when they are treated with guesses as to their wishes. No one deserves guesses like that. The family is often asked to 'guess' what they might have wanted. Imagine, having to feel as though your decision will either end the person's life or lead to a full code and then the end of their life, not knowing if they wanted to leave quietly, or fighting to the last.

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