HAUNTING DIARIES: A CAUTIONARY TALE
Part Two: My (late) Father: secret diary – on DEATH!
**See previous post: ON SEX!**
DIARY Question: Are you afraid of death? How would you want to die?
Dad: “If I were snatched back from the jaws of death, my
morale wouldn’t be high. Dying suddenly is a shock, but better than a long period attending a suffering, lingering loved one.
The older I get, the less time I hope I’ll have to spend in a nursing home. There’s a fine line about “the right to die.” What about pulling the plug or refusing medicine?
And what about suicide? Hamlet questioned it, adding: “The almighty fixes his canon against self-slaughter,” implying sin. But Jack London, in “The Sea Wolf,” wrote: “There’s a price no one will pay for living.” To me, that’s hanging on, at great expense, financially and emotionally. I’ll be happy, when the time comes, just to shuffle off this mortal coil. Now, (at 80 – 9 years before his death) “I’m tired of living and feared of dying, but Old Man River just keeps rolling along.”
What do I want on my tombstone?
“I TOLD YOU I WAS SICK!”
My father never fought death. He welcomed and relished it.
Our culture insists on “fighting” death, even for the terminally ill and the elderly. But, as Philip Roth wrote: “Old age isn’t a battle, it’s a massacre.”
His three-month decline began in April, with a range of home health care, including “rehab,” that he hated.
“I don’t need an OCCUPATIONAL therapist, I need a DEATH therapist,” he said.
Next – emergency rooms and hospitals prolonged his agony, and mine, as I witnessed multiple procedures and humiliations for an 89-year-old who only sought a peaceful exit.
In the hospital, we went through a dozen death scenes. I believed each one. The first, after 6 hours in a rickety E.R. wheelchair, 48 hours with no food or drink, finally in a prized bed, he said his initial goodbyes to me.
I tracked down a nurse who “wasn’t sure” if he was supposed to eat. After a 4-hour fiasco with “dining services,” Dad revived on breakfast and morphine.
“I still don’t understand why I didn’t die,” he said. “Georgia (me) tried to starve me, now she’s disappointed.”
More misery and multiple deathbed confessions led to my own manic meltdown, fits thrown in the halls, crying jags and pastoral consultations.
My desperation move was to enroll in what I call the Ritz Carlton Hospital wing, where $275 (extra) a night bought a peaceful, humane experience that I hope will become the no-cost norm for future dying patients.
We had a suite. Adjoining rooms, with a bed for me, rather than the floor. No more parade of constant shift changes – six different doctors, countless techs and nurses who burst in once, maybe twice and never returned. No more disruptions every two hours. No more of the ever popular “On a scale of one to 10, what is your pain level?” Dad answered 10, 160, 3,000, whatever came to mind.
The angelic Ritz nurses – only two per day, actually spoke English and took time to talk to me. To my amazement, one even referenced Florence Nightingale’s recommendation of “fresh air, peace, quiet and comfort,” admitting that hospitals provide none of it.
Still, stalling tactics, from social workers, for-profit hospices, insurance “assessors,” rehab (acute and sub-acute) facilities, denied my father admittance. The glitch – “He’s not dying within 6 months, but he’s not strong enough for rehab.”
Oh. Hospice Atlanta, never having seen Dad, rejected him, but quickly suggested a self-paid in-patient service for $11,000.00 PER MONTH. Readers, those zeros are correct.
Miraculously, Southwest Christian Care, in Union City, Ga., accepted him at NO COST.
He died six days later. I stayed with him, in the fresh air, peace, quiet and comfort that Florence Nightingale sanctioned. And on a scale of one-to-10, I believe his pain level was zero.