I know what you’re thinking: She’s cold-hearted, cruel, and unkind.
But am I? Or are you?
Grandma Lilly is 87-years-old and in the ICU. She’s on a ventilator with her wrists restrained to the side of the bed. Grandma can barely see because her eyes are puffy: scleral edema. And her heart races: 140 beats per minute. Her blood pressure is low and Levophed and vasopressin drips are ordered.
Her family can’t talk to her as she phases in and out of existence. For her, end-stage renal disease means dialysis. And respiratory failure equals ventilator. She’s a brittle diabetic with uncontrolled fluctuating blood sugars.
Grandma Lilly can’t eat, and we feed her by a tube that goes into her nose and to her stomach. Tomorrow, she gets a PEG tube surgically inserted to feed her. She’s been on the ventilator too long.
Next comes the ICU package: ventilator, dialysis, pressers, restraints, trach, PEG tube.
Any second of clarity or awareness is pure brutality. There’s no pretty ending to this torture except through death.
Poor Grandma Lilly.
Oh, the memories! When we were kids, we’d chant for Grandma Lilly. She’d snuggle us up in that rocking chair and read books to us. Let us splash our feet in the puddles after a misty rain, built sandcastles at the beach, and gave us candy when momma said no.
She was our heart and soul, and we wanted her to live forever. But we don’t live forever.
There’s cruelty in putting an 87-year-old with multi-system organ failure on a ventilator; restrained, medicated, disoriented, and wishing for the tunnel to the hereafter.
Your memories will live forever.
The ventilator. Churning inspiratory and expiratory breaths … day after day as Grandma Lilly wishes for death.
Grandpa Joe is two doors away from Grandma Lilly.
He’s going to die too from cancer. But he’s led a good life. And he’s cognitive enough to say he wants to die peacefully with his family and his dog Rufus by his side.
Grandpa Joe is a DNR/DNI and has requested to be “comfort care.”
He is given a morphine drip that flows slowly through his vein for his excruciating pain from cancer.
He breathes slowly. But he’s happy and pain-free and surrounded by love. His room is dimly lit. Music seeps out and fills the ICU hallways. Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
A Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout, he was the only one in his family who got a college degree. We loved his campfires, the stories he told, the wisdom and gentle guidance. And here, his family sat around him. Good old Grandpa Joe. What a life filled with love. They held his hand as they told their loving stories of Grandpa Joe. They laughed and silently wept. Tears of love and happiness and letting go but knowing the pain and suffering of his cancer would be over with soon.
After several rounds of CPR and cracked ribs, little Grandma Lilly died.
Grandma Lilly left this earth tied down like a captured animal.
Grandpa Joe left this earth with quiet whispers of, “I love you.”
The choice can be yours.
Go quiet into the night.
This is our last dance.
Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com