I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t reach my dad on the phone for several days, so I called one of his neighbors. It was then I learned he was in ICU in Pueblo, Colo. My brother knew he was in ICU and decided not to call me because my brother is a jerk, as will become obvious later in this tale. I tossed clothes in a bag and caught the next flight out of Kona, Hawaii.
I had no problem recognizing my dad. He had the same ruddy cheeks, but the colon cancer they removed took a lot of his life force out with the diseased tissue. He was intubated, couldn’t speak and was obviously dying. His feet were exposed to the open air on that cold May morning, so I held them in my hands to warm them when the doctor came in.
He motioned for me to meet him in the hallway. My father had no “Living Will” so his life was in my hands. The doctor tried very hard to sell me on keeping my father alive so he could try some “other things.” He never gave me a concrete answer as to what other things he was speaking of. This physician was making my skin crawl like an auto salesman trying to sell me a “lemon.”
When I pressed for an explanation as to what other “things” could be done his only answer was, “Your father has good insurance.” I was shocked. I told him I would not let him treat my father like a lab rat, and that we were through exploring “new treatments.”
This enraged the doctor. However, I was surprised when his muscular white-coated arms shoved me backwards. I caught myself from falling, which was a small miracle since I was recovering from neck surgery and wasn’t in the best shape myself.
I reported the doctor’s behavior to the hospital’s Patient Advocacy Department. I could see the woman at the advocacy desk blanch. I knew the words that were going through her mind were “She is going to sue!” I didn’t sue because caring for my father was the only thing on my mind.
The doctor did apologize. My phone rang in the condo I was staying at across the street from the hospital. I have no idea how he got my phone number, but he said “his wife told him to apologize.” The angels in my head told me his wife did not know anything about this incident and never would unless his ill-temper got his ass fired. My guess was he was lying (again) and the woman at the Patient Advocacy office had tap danced on his balls with her stilettos to make him apologize.
I called my brother in Chicago and let him know that our father was very unwell and would probably never survive on his own without intubation. He and his wife flew out that next day and agreed with my diagnosis.
That evening artificial breathing tubes were removed and within a few moments my father passed away. However, a rather beautiful miracle occurred before dad left this world. He had been looking at us, his children, with a rather flat expression. Suddenly a smile lit up his face and he was looking through us to the angels standing behind us that were there to take him home. It was at that moment I felt less like an executioner and more like a loving daughter removing her father from pain.
That weekend we had plans to bury my father on a Saturday in his hometown of Westcliffe, about a 90-minute drive from the Pueblo hospital. My brother had rented a big Buick and promised to pick me up that Saturday morning to take me to the funeral. This was important because I hadn’t rented a car.
I waited for my brother’s arrival to the last possible moment and then called the mortuary since it seemed that my brother had “forgotten” me. He has one sister and no other relatives attending so forgetting me was not possible. Making me look like a jerk and hurting me was more his style, given his lifetime of heinous acts including shooting me with a BB gun and trying to strangle me with a pillow.
I was very lucky that the mortician was preparing to pull out of the drive when my call came in. I asked him if I could ride with him. He explained that they only used four-wheel drive pickup trucks in the late winter in the mountains. I told him that would be just fine since there was no cab that would take me there.
I loved the mortician. He was dressed up in a very formal black suit, an elderly man neatly groomed. I expressed my thanks and we made jokes on the way up.
In a quiet moment after becoming friends, the mortician confessed, “I have been in this business my entire life and I have never seen a family member do something as cruel as your brother had; he stood up his own sister for her father’s funeral.” He just shook his head and looked very sad. At that moment I asked him if he minded if I rode back with him to Pueblo, and he kindly agreed.
When we arrived at this Old West-looking cemetery, instead of brass poles and artificial grass the grave was just surrounded by some loose 2 x 4s. My brother, a handsome 6’2″ pallbearer, took the left front position on my dad’s casket.
The other pallbearers were locals and familiar with the turf. My brother was not. He stepped on the loose 2 x 4 and fell thigh deep into my father’s grave. I always felt this was my father’s way of scolding my brother for standing up his sister! I did my best not to laugh, but I think many of us who knew my brother’s reputation thought this accident was my dead father’s doing. I hope so. And if so, thanks, Dad!
The lesson I learned from all this (other than my brother and some doctors are total jerks) is the importance of taking some of the weight off your family’s shoulders by having a living will, power of attorney and whatever else is required in your state to empower your loved ones to provide only the care you want to receive at the end. I found out, from the kind folks of Hospice of Kona, that I needed one more piece of paper to be kept from intubation and extra life-saving efforts that would be expensive, possibly hurtful, and do little to extend my life.
Much to my surprise, in this state – and possibly yours – EMS personnel can and may ignore the instructions of a Living Will, ignore the instructions of a spouse with Power of Attorney, and do whatever they deem best for you unless you have a “Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST).” I now have a POLST form, signed by my doctor, on the wall over my bed.
POLST forms and rules vary by state. Look in “Google” for your state’s form. The form states clearly what can and cannot be done to sustain a life in case of illness or accident. I have tried to convince friends that this piece of paper is necessary, but many of them believe that what they have from their trusted attorney is enough. It is not, dammit, it is not.
A POLST won’t save your life, but it will save your family money for unnecessary procedures and their feeling that they pulled the plug on you, not knowing whether they were really doing the right thing. That guilty feeling stayed with me for a long time, and I don’t want anyone else to go through that.
However, remembering my brother crawling out of my dad’s grave is a hoot I still treasure.
Here’s the link for the Washington State POLST form.