09 November 2011

Another Death Story But There's a Funny Part

George was 96 when it became clear he would no longer be able to maintain himself in his assisted living apartment. 

He still showed up in the dining hall, hailed by all: "George!" He would smile and wave and totter with his walker to his place at the main table, surrounded by 20 or 30 other ambulatory silver heads. But back in his studio apartment, George's independent life was breaking down.

George was my partner's father. He was always a vexatious presence in our life. (But now, for the life of me, I can't remember how.) George was active pretty far into old age. Into his early nineties, he traveled, white-water rafted, volunteered for a disadvantaged youth program.

Not the real George, but where did he get George's hat?
The facility George lived in was "graduated." You went there when you were getting old, and you left when you died. Along the way, you graduated to less personal space and more personal care. George followed the prescribed path.

When George seemed Near the End, bedridden from a collapsed spine and fighting many other ailments, the staff called my partner and her brothers with hopes of their "timely arrival."

George was in a tough spot. Too debilitated to function physically, but quite "there" for everything else. Sometimes irritatingly there, not to put too fine a point on it. George got it into his head to die and "be done with it." He demanded of his doctors, Hey, fellers, how long would I hold out if I didn't take any food or water?

Hospice was "called in." Who called them in? No one was quite sure. George himself? His doctors? The living facility? It sure wasn't us middle-aged professionals, rendered ineffectual in an unfamiliar culture. But along came the people from hospice. They took George over. They spoke quietly but cheerily to him. They were very sincere in their desire to help him die.

 "Let us help YOU!"
See? They're indefatigably cheery.

George received palliative care. This turned out to be simply lots of morphine, and no food or water. The stricken, reluctant, horrified offspring, and the even more stricken, reluctant, horrified non-offspring, "kept watch." The nursing staff was impressed by the "continual presence of the family."

So George slipped away from consciousness, as six of us took turns keeping that watch. It took days and nights. And days and nights. During my turns, I lay back in the recliner provided, under the blanket provided, and read a book I'd brought. Sometimes I slept. I didn't have any morphine to give him so what was I going to do?

Verizon?? What?
George mostly breathed, stertorously. Every once in a while, he would fight toward the surface. He'd be restless, flailing a bit. Was he in pain? The hospice people sure thought so and, appearing out of nowhere again, sprang forward with more morphine.

Not too long after one of those injections, George gave a particularly long and tattered inhale, and then he exhaled, and he was gone. I was not the one there. This was told to me by my partner at the time, who, fittingly, was there when her father died. (Way more fittingly than if, say, I had been there.)

The funny thing? A few days later, we got to laughing (okay, we were hysterical) about how cantankerous George had been. And my partner confessed she'd worried that he hadn't been trying to convey his pain so they would bring on more morphine, but that he'd been caught by his own bluster. Really George was struggling to STOP the bulldozer of "palliative care"--fighting against the morphine to say, Hey, wait a minute there, fellers? I was just kiddin'! Let me up out of here, and give me something to drink, will ya??


  1. I am sorry for the loss... and that your hospice experience wasn't what it should have been.

  2. Amante! So good to see you. I've been trying to figure out how to get back to you, other than this way, but no link leads me to you.

    Please leave me a contact. You can post it here in a comment and I'll just remove it right away for privacy.

    Hey, the hospice people were actually very good with George. You know I can have a screwy way of looking at things, and that's what really happened with the morphine administration.

    I hope to make contact with you soon. Hi to LaSombra!

  3. I will zip you an email with contact info.

    I've missed you bunches.