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Life Intervenes [could be triggering for those with ill loved ones]



A few weeks ago (August 14th, to be exact), my dad was taken to the hospital because he had fallen in his apartment and couldn't get back up on his own. He's 88 and lives in an old folks' home, but in an independent living apartment of his own. He isn't in great shape: he gets winded walking down a long, level corridor, something he has to do three times a day to get his meals in the cafeteria downstairs. Anyway, they worked him up and didn't find anything in particular, so they guessed it might be a urinary tract infection. After a night in the hospital, they moved him back to his apartment complex, but kept him downstairs in the nursing ward.

He seemed to be getting better, and I would visit him after work in the evenings. Then, August 31st, he was taken back to the hospital, complaining of abdominal pain. It turns out he picked up a C. difficile infection on the previous trip, probably as a result of the antibiotics killing off all the competing good bacteria. This is a painful diarrhea-producing intestinal disease, which can be fatal in elderly or immuno-compromised patients. They moved him around a couple of times, then settled on a cardiac telemetry ward to keep him in. He's in "isolation", which means you put on a paper gown and rubber gloves every time you go into his room. This bug is pretty contagious.

Anyway, on Wednesday the 4th, my brother called to suggest that I take off Thursday, because Dad wasn't doing well. So, my brother and I sat with Dad Thursday and Friday, during the day. At night, I went home to sleep, and my brother, who lives two hours away, got permission to live in Dad's apartment for the duration. Then, Saturday the 7th, Dad's breathing was bad enough that we decided to stay with him during the night. Dad didn't sleep more than two minutes at a time because he was so apneic. He would gradually doze off, then stop breathing for fifteen, maybe thirty, seconds. Then he'd rouse himself and struggle, throwing off the bedsheet because he thought it was that and not the fluid in his throat that was choking him. So, of course, I couldn't sleep either. My brother, who's a nurse, could manage to sleep briefly, but we still thought Dad could go any time.

Yet, when morning came, Dad was still with us. In fact, with a change in his pain meds, he seemed to be sleeping relatively comfortably. So, around noon, my brother decided he had to go home to his family, and I went home to get some rest. I had been awake for something like 26 hours without any sleep, and besides three hours on the couch in the patient lounge, was up for something like 37 hours. Both my brother and I decided we would have to return to work this morning, and continue to visit as we can.

So, this morning I went by before work, and found Dad propped in a sitting position, weakly feeding himself some breakfast. That's the first food he's had in four or five days ... His breathing is better, but there are still a lot of things wrong. He could still go at any time, and no one's really fighting that hard, because he has seemed ready to die for some time. Yet when the time came, he didn't give up. Who know? Someone suggested that he still has something he has to do here; the trick is figuring out what it is.

We'll do our best to be with him, whatever he needs.


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Sigh...it's very difficult, isn't it. I'm sorry any of you have to go through this. Weird thing to say, but...I hope you know what I mean.

While you do your best to be with him, your friends here, are here for you.

Need a hug? You're good?

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It's a weird sort of combination: they need you there, and you need to be there, yet you'd both choose to be somewhere else if you could ... It's certainly not a fun process to watch.

I cried a little, and I would miss him, but I would rather he could go, if he needs to and isn't suffering too much. The stubborn old guy was refusing pain meds for a while, though, so he basically was suffocating and aware, at the same time. There are few things more frightening than having no air.

This is the kind of time that hugs were invented for. Thanks.

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I'm so sorry, Mark. :( I know this is so hard. :(

I'm not triggered, though I was worried my blog might be triggering to you.

C diff is a very nasty stomach illness. You remember I had it for 2 months a few years ago? It is generally caused by some specific antibiotics, including clydamycin. The flagyl worked wonders for me. Maybe the antibiotics are helping and he will continue to heal and get stronger.

((hugs)) Thinking of you.

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No, Beth, your blog didn't trigger me. Our dads are in different places in their struggles. We changed my dad at least half a dozen times, most of those down to the mattress, over Saturday night. He couldn't even roll himself in the bed, and he hated being "dirty".

He's on a Flagyl/Vancomycin combo, and I agree, it seems to be helping. It's just that he went in with occasional atrial fibrillation and COPD. His fluid balance is out of whack, which is why his lungs are wet and his hands are swollen. And the CAT scan of his belly revealed spots on his liver and abdominal lymph node involvement, so we know that there's something malignant in there (instead of the CAT they were supposed to be looking for.)

*sigh* My sense of humor becomes (even more) inappropriate under stress.

The question becomes, what are we saving him for? He's not going to agree to surgery; he's already a DoNotResuscitate. But even though he repeatedly wished he could go, he didn't. Who knows why? Not I. <---- poetry

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I recall being told maybe if I left the room...the person would die.

I certainly don't have your wit, but I do recall becoming almost gitty-slap happy, maybe, sitting in the room, waiting for death. I felt a little guilty, but thought I'd rather hear laughing than crying. Actually, I want a puppet show :D

But, why? Maybe we will know when we die, or not.


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It turns out that my brother and his wife have managed to arrange to move Dad down to Richmond, where they live. That's better for Dad (he's closer to his grandkids, for one thing), and it's better for my brother (he doesn't have to drive a four-hour round trip.) Plus, both my brother and his wife are nurses, and there are two of them, so Dad gets more visits. I think it's the best place for Dad to be.

It just means that now, the four-hour round trip is mine. So, unless something serious happens, I'll probably wait to visit until the weekend ... They offered to let me stay with them, but that's still two hours after work one day, visit, sleep, and two hours back before work the next day. Not sure that's what you call "quality time".

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My brother said the same thing, Kent. There was also the possibility that he would wait until we were both there. Let's just say that he and I took our meals together, down in the cafeteria. {For a four-day period, all my meals, including one 2 AM snack, were in the hospital cafeteria. It wasn't exactly Zagat-rated, either.}

I won't lie.

There's something

That money can't buy:

A comfortable

Way to die.


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I have always taken the position that the time, in the last few days, or minutes you spend with someone you love, who is dying, doesn't matter much. Your relationship with that person has already happened. Now, wanting to keep someone company and comfort them, and spend every last moment with them...I understand. I did it. {{{This is a time where you just do what you feel is best, day to day.}}}

Oh, the cafeteria or the dinning hall...the smell, made me physically ill and the food, made me want to run. _I_ even ate fast food to sustain myself. I craved cheeseburgers and pizza. I hoarded a bag of M&M's.

Take care of your needs too, Mark.

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I think of attachment again. If it were me dying I would very much want my loved ones near me. Others may want to be alone.

Maybe he, or some part of him, wants to fight for life as long as he can.

Meh. We just don't have the answers sometimes.

Your friends are here and we care.

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It feels like you are doing the right thing, Mark. These things are out of our control. Our ex-president, Nelson Mandela is hovering between life and death and has been for months now. Good care is keeping him alive, but he has been on life support and one has to wonder why, he's 95. The ends of our lives are mysterious.

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Seddy, it happens to me sometimes (or often times) too. As much as I care, I just do not know what to say that might help. I think it can be helpful to stand by someone in the place they are in. I know that helps me. Sometimes there are no words, but simply friendship. It matters.

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Maybe what matters, seddy, isn't saying the right thing. Maybe it's saying whatever comes to mind, but with the feeling that you're trying say in your mind as you say it. You'd be surprised what a person can feel without it being said.

About life support: it's a very difficult thing, to sit and watch a person suffer. You think, "Isn't there anything we can do to make them feel better?" and of course, there is. Only, all it does is postpone the suffering ... Dad (and Mom did as well) had long ago made it clear that they don't want any "heroic measures", which relieves us of the feeling that we "should" be doing more.

I told my brother, at one point, about my ambivalence about being at Dad's bedside (I wanted him to know we care, but I didn't necessarily want to watch the process of him dying), and my brother said, "Would you want to die alone?" I was forced to say, "There was a time when I was quite certain I would," back when I was suicidal.

That gives me a vastly different perspective from him and his wife, who as nurses have had to watch a fairly large number die. Not that it becomes impersonal, especially if it's a loved one, but that at least they know what to expect. Whereas for me, when Dad was wishing out loud that he might die, all I could think of was the time when I wished the same, but turned out to be wrong. I can't make it be impersonal ...

The trick, I guess, is to work in a field where that's an advantage rather than a disadvantage. ;-)

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I imagine your father's doctors already know, but c diff can be difficult to get rid of and sometimes it comes back after a course of antibiotics. I was one of the fortunate ones who didn't have any reoccurrences. Just something to watch. I hope he's feeling better.

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Well, I guess I should update this ...

Dad continues to do well, at least relative to his worst point, a week ago Saturday. My brother arranged to move him down to Richmond, near him, so that he gets more visits (my brother, his wife, and their kids), but it means a two-hour drive each way for me. I did go see Dad last Saturday, and found him sitting up in a wheelchair. He sounds a bit breathy still, but at least there's no gurgle even when he breathes deeply. He still uses oxygen, and his eyelids are rimmed with pink, which I think could be a side-effect. But he seems to be getting better, at the moment.

Thank you all for your caring.

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