When a wife won’t let her husband die

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We were told to wear masks before entering this patient’s ICU room. Entering his room, you could smell his rotting flesh. He was 92 years old.

His skin would slough off if you dared to bathe him.

His decubitus ulcers were raging with infection.

As long as I’ve been an ICU nurse, this was the worst — the smell, the neglect, the disrespect for this man.

He was VIP status.

I always had a problem with VIP status.

Either everyone was a VIP, or no one was.

Every patient should be treated with mutual respect and care.

He laid there motionless. Pupils fixed. No movement except for a deep sternal rub we would do to check any responsiveness. He laid on that bed on a ventilator churning inspiratory, expiratory.

Who was alive? Man or machine?

Because of his sepsis,multiple-system organ failure, and his dangerously low blood pressure, we had to place a central line in him.

IV pressors started.

And we waited and hoped and prayed that his suffering would soon be over.

He came from old southern money. His daddy started up textile mills in the south. And his daddy passed his legacy to him. Preston “The Second.”

The oldest of the boys.

He would continue to spread his textile mills to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

But Preston was the king of the mills. And the king of the families that worked for him.

Sitting in his great, 9,000-square-feet Victorian house on a mountain top as his employees lived in the valley of the mill village. There were only identical two-bedroom, one-bath houses. The families that lived and breathed the mill life lived there.

During this time, textiles and cotton farming ruled.

Preston was a good man, though. He was a philanthropist. He loved the arts, and botanical gardens, operas, and Broadway plays. He loved his wife, his high school sweetheart, and his son and two daughters. And they led a good, bountiful life.

Preston financially helped his employees if they were sick or having money problems. He was their king, and they loved him.

By the time he was 70, his dear wife passed away. He was sad and lonely, and a new woman came into his life. She was full of energy. Loved the social life and gave Preston continuous love and affection. To his children, though, she was distant and superficial. His adult children caught on right away. She had her “eye on the prize.”

Preston married her. Anna had a taste for the finer things in life: antiques, clothes, dining, travel to exotic lands. Whatever she wanted, it was always the best that money could buy.

It was summertime and 80 degrees outside.

We were all working continuously in ICU without a break or quiet moment. We knew visiting hours were soon. The ICU doors opened.

In walks Preston’s wife Anna with a full mink coat, silk-lined. Really.

She wanted everything done to Preston.

And so we had to do the impossible. We had to torment this patient who desperately wanted to die.

His children wanted him off the ventilator. His children wanted their dad to rest peacefully without all of the medicines or the intrusive ventilator.

Dad wasn’t even responsive. But their step-mother insisted. Everything was to be done.

We were told by the children that his wife wanted him alive because when he died, her flow of money ended. She would only be given an allowance.

You see, Preston eventually realized what his wife was all about.

So we carried on. Turning his body. Cleaning up his feces in bed as he had no control. Washing him as his skin sloughed off.

The rotting smell of a man who should have been dead. It became unbearable.

Several days later, he finally died — his children on one side of his bed.

His wife, in her mink coat, on the other side of the bed.

Love versus greed.

We were grateful and thankful that this great man that everyone loved was finally able to rest in peace.

Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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