Since a recent posting concerning the deteriorating health of my mother, there have been further developments. She passed away last month. It is the scene of her final moments that I wish to describe.
I talked about the probably medication errors that brought her to the hospital. Now, we used a different medication to help end her life.
I was called to the hospital by my three siblings, who had been there a while. They wanted to increase her morphine drip, knowing that the increase would likely be the end of her already labored respiration. But they waited for me to arrive first. When I got there, she was on her side, and each breath made her face look like a fish gasping fon land. Her eyes were open, but not seeing. There was no one else in the room. Since my sister is a nurse in that hospital, she could control the rate of the iv drip.
I was rather alarmed. I wanted to better understand what was happening. I know that my sister wanted Mom to be out of pain, but were we killing her?
I spoke up, and asked that question. Everyone was distressed, but we could still have a conversation about what was going on. My sister asked me what I wanted to do, which was difficult to answer. She wasn't being flippant - there she was, in possession of much greater knowledge about the situation than I could hope to have, but she really wanted my opinion. I asked, what was she really dying from - would she be dying anyway, and were we just hastening a process with the morphine, while sparing her pain. She was bleeding internally, and there was no way to access the bleed without invasive surgery, which we had declined to do, since she would not survive the procedure with her co-morbidities.
Sister went ahead and increased the morphine, and within a few minutes, the very loud labored breathing quieted down. Her eyes remained open. I positioned myself seated by her head, my nurse sister to my left. She was talking to Mom constantly, giving reassuring statements which were likely not heard. My other sister and brother were on the other side. Over the course of several minutes, her respiration continued to drop, as well as her heartbeat. Sister mentioned that when her heart rate dripped below 60, her pacemaker would attempt to kick in. It did, creating a short spike on the monitor, but it didn't last. Her vitals continued to drop quickly from there, and then she just stopped all motion. Her eyes remained open, and the rest of the time we were in the room, and we said goodbye, I considered closing her eyes, but did not.
One bizarre moment was yet to occur. We had to get the attending ICU physician to declare her death, so we called the floor nurses to get the doc. It was about 2 am. I watched him stumble toward the room, he walked in, banging his shoulder on the partly open glass door, walked past the four of us, peered over her, turned around and said "well, she's at peace" to nobody in particular. He stumbled out, banging his other shoulder on the same door. No acknowledgement of any of us. Nothing like "Hi, I'm doctor whoever, I'm sorry for your loss.
JMK (nee H) 1928-2007