Two days ago my mother passed away peacefully in a hospice facility. She had been evaluated by the hospice nurse for needs and qualification on Friday afternoon and was on her way to the hospice facility that evening. I stayed with my dad who was devastated. My mom had been in extreme pain as a result of a broken hip and surgery which she came through like a champ. What I did not know, and which no one explained to me, were all the issues to consider in a situation like my mother’s. All I was told is it does not look good. What does that mean in my mother’s context? Severe hip damage which will not heal? Or will not be capable of weight bearing? Effect on her dementia due to anesthesia or trauma? It turns out you should avoid hospital emergency rooms when you have an dementia patient; it causes accelerated progress of the disease. But my mom fell, broke her hip (and hit her head we learned three days later) on a Sunday morning. Her primary care physician was on vacation. EMT took her to a secondary emergency facility so surgery would not occur until thirty hours later on Monday afternoon. I had begun investigating answers to questions I had which had remained unanswered for two weeks following her surgery, such as how the surgery would, in fact, affect her. Hospital jargon is not always easy to decipher. For example, although I may know what a word means in every day jargon, it may have a different meaning in “hos-speak.” Thinking I understood everything was a mistake, fortunately a minor mistake in the greater scheme of things, but still a mistake. The Living Will my mother had prepared was very specific: no food, no IV fluids, only to be made comfortable (no machines or artificial life support) which hospices are experts at. The morphine was a blessing. Four days after she was admitted, she passed away “in her sleep.” I have my regrets which I hear is common, but we did what we promised we would do for her.
When a loved one is in a condition which requires another to make strategic decisions for him or her, you are helping them by making your desires known. “Make every effort to keep me alive” or “let me die with dignity” and describe what that means to you. Many people learn how important these directives are when they don’t have directives for a loved one and decisions need to be made. Many people are relieved to know directives in a living will assist them in making decisions fora a loved one. Suffice it to say that although you prepare end of life documents according to what you want to have done for yourself, it is just as important to know you are preparing these documents for your survivors. This includes funeral directives and memorial wishes. If you can have all this in order, as my mother did and my father does, it is a big burden off the shoulders of the person who would otherwise be making the decision alone, or with family members who may not agree on what should be done. I am told that the death certificate will state she died of a fractured, or broken, hip. Doesn’t that sound odd? I expected it to say some complication like pneumonia or something as a result of her broken hip and weakened condition. Her body gave up the fight, this I know. I relate this to you to provide you with some information I did not have so you can try to avoid some difficulties. And to quote a journalist from years ago “. . . and so it goes.”
(Editor’s Note: Drue Morgan-Birch is a family lawyer, and can be reached at 620- 9367, or firstname.lastname@example.org.)