Two weeks ago today I made arrangements to go see my Dad so I could help him die.
The day before (Thursday) my sister-in-law had called to say he was in the hospital with spinal meningitis. I decided to go that weekend. Friday I found out how serious. I left work early, and didn’t start driving that night once my wife told me we could afford a plane ticket.1
I arrived in Salt Lake City around 2:30 pm on Saturday, rented a car, and immediately drove up to the Logan hospital. Though Dad had been delirious the day before, he was conscious and able to hold short conversations. He had rallied that morning, so much so they thought he might be recovering, but had visibly worsened by the time I got there. He clearly recognized me, but was unable to tell the nurse my name.
I pulled up a chair beside his bed and held his hand. We talked some. I told him that on my drive up I thought about how the world reminded me of the Book of Mormon shortly before Christ’s death. He asked me if I thought the world was going to hell. I told him yes, which he thought funny, but that I was of an age where that feeling wasn’t uncommon.
I was only able to understand about half of what he said. He obviously could rally a little through force of will, but also tired easily. I called my Sister-in-Law and my Uncle to tell them that I thought it was serious, and that anybody who wanted to see him before he died should plan on doing so the next day (Sunday).
Because of the acuity and worsening of his condition, despite multiple antibiotics and an anti-viral, it was decided to move him to a larger hospital in Murray Utah, just south of Salt Lake City. It took a couple hours to get the OK from Murray and for an ambulance to arrive. When it did I told my Dad that I would follow him down, but would stop for dinner, so wouldn’t be there when he arrived.
I stopped for fast food on my way out of town. It was late enough that it wasn’t crowded, but I got some stares, which I found unusual since I am white, conservative, and Mormon enough to usually pass without comment. The lady at the counter kept referring to me as “my friend with the black leather coat”. It isn’t black, but is dark enough that I didn’t take it amiss. I chalked it up at the time to the coat, but later thought it was more likely my “countenance”.2
When I arrived at the hospital he was in the neurological care unit. I was impressed at how many people that could rustle up for his room and nine o’clock at night. He had arrived an hour before me, and his temperature had risen to 40°C (104°F). They spent the next several hours running tests and working to lower his temperature.
My Dad was still coherent, but he faded faster, and had a harder time communicating. I could understand only about a third of what he was saying. In Logan he would periodically reach up to rub the tip, or just to the side of his nose. After the transfer he would reach up, but couldn’t get to his nose, so I took it upon myself to rub it for him whenever I saw him trying to reach up.
I was very grateful for the people working with Dad. The nurse was cheerful in a reassuring, not false, way that I was grateful for. My mother was a nurse, and had long learned that nurses are not usually good sources for empathy, which she was. She seemed cute, which at my age has rather broad boundaries, and is a type 1 diabetic, similar to me.
His doctor also was approachable, and I felt a human connection from talking to him. They had tried to get a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) in Logan, and weren’t very successful because Dad had moved around. I told him I would be willing to sit with Dad to help keep him quiet since Dad would respond to me more than the nurses. Sadly, the anesthesiologist thought it inappropriate, so I only watched from the window.
That night during a quiet period between tests, when Dad was not awake, I would relax in a chair away from the bed. At one point I thought I could see in my mind’s eye3 two beings near the foot of the bed. I didn’t think it was quite time for him to go, and didn’t worry about it too much.
The next day (Sunday) Dad’s wife Lucille came down from Logan. My Uncle Orson showed up, as well as my brother Phillip. They were able to talk to Dad a little, and we were able to get some more information about Dad’s condition from the nurses.
While Phillip was there I was able to talk about an advance directive for Dad, but wasn’t able to locate the day shift doctor to discuss it with Lucille. When my brother left at 2:00 pm I followed him to his house to clean up and get a break. While I was gone my Aunt Gail and her husband, Dad’s cousin, Eugene came by also.
I showered, talked to my brother and his family for a while, had some dinner, and went back to the hospital. Everybody had left by then except Lucille. Dad had an oxygen mask to help with his breathing that Lucille had brought down from Logan. She had left it in her car, and went down to get it.
When she left I decided to meditate.4 In my meditation I talked to Dad. I told him that it was his choice to live or die, though I felt he had already chosen to die. I then mentally shouted it out to the rest of the ward. With what affect, if any, I don’t know.
At some point I heard Dad start choking. He had been having trouble swallowing, and therefore trouble clearing his throat. He was hooked up to several monitors, one of which was for oxygen level. When it started beeping (it was low, but not life threatening) I went out to tell the nurses about his choking. I went back in, and he had stopped, so I sat down again.
The nurse came in, turned the monitor off, and checked on Dad. When Dad didn’t wake up I came up to rouse him. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Dad, wake up”. At that point the nurse saw that he was not breathing and started using a BVM (bag valve mask) on him.
People started coming in and I moved away, standing a little ways away from the foot of the bed where I could see what was happening, but still not interfere. Shortly after the doctor arrived his heart stopped. He started to call for everybody to start resuscitating him when he looked up at me. I shook my head no. He came over to me and asked if I had power of attorney, and wanted them to stop.
I said, “I am my Father’s oldest son. Yes, I do.”
The doctor went back, and everybody stopped trying to revive Dad. Seconds later Lucille walked in the door and asked what was happening. I called to her and said, “Lucille, come here.”
She walked over. I put arm around her and said “Dad is dead”. She started sobbing, and I held on to her to comfort her. After a little while we sat down by the bed. She wanted to know what happened, and I told her a little about it, and said that we could ask the doctor when he came back. I held her hand, and we talked a little about Dad, and what we would do next. I suggested we say a prayer, so we did.
At some point I went out to talk to the doctor, and later he went in to talk to Lucille also. He told her Dad had a heart attack because of the strain of his body failing, and that seemed as good an answer as any we could have. I told him how grateful I was for their care, and that he couldn’t have been in a better place. He said that he was sorry my Father died. I said that’s why I came.
I then went back into the room, and Lucille and I stayed there for another hour or so. It was quiet, and peaceful, and I had no desire to be anywhere else. Dad was gone, and it was OK.
I went so that my Dad knew I loved him, relieve him of some guilt, and ease his transition. I think I did alright.