I am taking a memoir writing class this semester. I have no intention of writing my autobiography and I don’t particularly enjoy dredging up my ancient history. I’m just trying to improve my writing and this was the Osher offering. In a sense, I suppose keeping a blog is a form of memoir. In the first class we were given two topic suggestions: the kitchen of your childhood; or the most important thing that happened to you. This week’s suggestion: write about a family secret. We don’t have a lot of family secrets. Most of our dirty laundry got washed in public–my father’s paranoia, my ex’s alcoholism. I thought of one tiny secret, seemingly not important, but it opens up a Pandora’s box of aggravations. I’m still trying to decide if I want to go there. Class is on Tuesday.
For the first week’s topic I wrote about an experience I had with my father in an emergency room. It was a profound experience for me, but it actually had much more to do with health care than with my father, who was being subjected to what passed for care. This is the story I wrote for class:
I got a call from the nursing home at 10:30 on a Sunday morning; My father, Maurie, had coughed up blood and they sent him to the emergency room. I threw on clothes and rushed to get there before they did anything to him. My father was 92 years old. In previous occurrences of bleeding no diagnosis had ever been made.
The emergency room was unusually quiet, but I had never before been there on a Sunday morning. They had already done an EKG and taken a chest x-ray and found nothing. I spoke to the doctor at length, possibly for half an hour. He wanted to put a tube down Maurie’s throat to see if he could determine where the blood came from. He told me Maurie could hemorrhage, bleed to death. He repeated this several different ways, telling me over and over how my father could die. I restrained myself and didn’t say that at 92 there weren’t many other outcomes. The conversation was chilling. Finally I asked what he would do if he found the source of the bleeding; would he want to operate? Before he could answer I told him I wouldn’t want him to operate on a 92 year old man. My father had a DNR, hated hospitals and never wanted any procedures done to him.
The doctor emphasized again that he could bleed to death. I felt like I was signing my father’s death warrant. I knew he wouldn’t want any invasive procedures. I kept thinking about the sore throat he would have if they put the tube down him. I asked the doctor if he would be in pain if he bled to death. He said no, but continued to torture me with terrifying details.
This conversation was the most difficult half hour of my life. I felt like a killer, but I knew deep down I was right. Finally he agreed to send Maurie back to the nursing home without any further tests. When I told this to my father he thanked me. We both went back to the nursing home where I had to repeat this terrible conversation to try to keep them from sending him back to the hospital if there was another occurrence. In fact, he lived comfortably another two years and didn’t have to endure the terrible sore throat he would have had after the test.
After watching them shock my fathers heart out of ventricular fibrillations four or five times, while he was awake through it all, I could tell his heart was not going to last much longer.
The doctor ordered another blood gas. While his eyes rolled to the back of his head, the nurse asked me to restrain his arm as she kept poking him trying to get an artery. He was clearly fighting her.
The emotions going through my head at the time I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’m watching this man, this amazing man, the patriarch of the family, the man I look up to for strength, for answers to life’s questions to everything. . . lying in bed almost helpless, struggling with this nurse and me holding his arm allowing this to happen. I asked myself for what? What would we gain by torturing him with another blood draw. I knew in my heart he was never leaving that hospital. I knew he hated all the poking and prodding. My brother and his second wife were there as well and I finally grabbed the nurses arm and said STOP. No more. He’s done with tests. There will be no more tests on my father. We will leave him in peace.
While we all made the final decision to stop everything, I was the one that started the process. I killed my father. I’m not trying to be a martyr or anything like that, I just hate the fact that I did it. While I believe it was the right decision for my Dad and I’d do it again because I couldn’t stand to see him suffer, I still hate the fact I did it. Right or wrong, I have to live with that.
I know how you felt. Life’s harsh at times.
Having always lived in strongly Democratic areas (even Pittsburgh)I’ve never been called for an abortion survey. It certainly tells you how accurate those surveys are.
Ditto Stacie’s comment about “where your writing is going these days.” Bravo for standing up to the doctors. That’s not easy, I know.
It’s not the same thing, but do you get “survey” calls about abortion? Where you can answer only yes or no, and the question is, “Do you believe in ending the life of an unborn child?” The first time I hesitated, because I certainly don’t want to kill anything. But the second time the call came, I shouted, “Yes!” to every question asked regardless of how heartless it made me feel. Would you believe I’ve never had another abortion survey call since?!
When my grandmother had her stroke, she was completely paralyzed and her doctor told me and my father she would not make it. He said this after she had been alive for 3 days against all of her doctor’s predictions. He said this in front of her in her room. My father was in shock, and I told the doctor he was fired…to get the hell out, and not come within 10 feet of her room door. I looked at my grandmother and asked her if she was ready to die. One blink-yes…two blinks-no. She emphatically blinked twice. We ordered a food tube put in and she lived for another 8 years, feeding herself and after 6 months. The practice of medicine is just that..they practice drugging us up, and don’t want us to think for ourselves. The body and will is much wiser then most doctors. I learned a lot in that 10 minute conversation about my grandmother…sounds like we must have gotten the same lesson.
I really like the way your writing is going these days, by the way.