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Ashes to ashes.

2004-11-29 - 11:31 a.m.

It is with a heavy heart that I write this – my mother in-law passed away Saturday night. She went quickly and the 10 minutes it took us to get there were too long to make it in time.

We’d seen a decline that day. It wasn’t just J and I who were there at the end of the day either – everyone who’d been in at different times on Saturday had noted that her breathing had gotten shallower and that she’d gotten less and less responsive. Before we left we’d had a frustrating conversation with the nurse.

“Her breathing is different.”
“It’s probably because of the pain – most people breath more shallowly when they’re in pain.”
“What pain? Has she started experiencing pain?”
“Well she’s on codeine…”
“When did she start that? She hasn’t needed codeine for awhile. Has her headache returned?”
“I presume so. I just got here so I haven’t had a chance to really take a detailed look at her chart.”
“What do you think has caused her headache to return?”
“You’d really have to talk to a doctor. He can go over the CT scan results with you.”
“She hasn’t had a CT in a week and a half and we already know the results of that one. Are they considering doing another one?”
“You’d have to talk to the doctor about that.”
“Has the doctor been informed that she seems to be doing worse today?”
“We’ll be monitoring her very closely.”

I know this reads like a semi-reasonable conversation but a lot of the frustration came from her tone, which was very condescending, the fact that she didn’t look at the chart to answer any of our questions and wouldn’t discuss certain things but didn’t offer to get a doctor to discuss them, and the fact that the vibe was that she really was dismissing our concerns and didn’t have time for us.

It’s a shame because up until that night, we’d had nothing but positive interactions with the staff at the hospital. They, especially the nurses, were really, really great.

That night when we first got the call I got kind of pissed off. Both times we’ve been summoned in the night we could tell that something was wrong that day. Both times we’d be told that she was having “a bad day” yet neither time did they step up the monitoring protocol. They “close” monitoring the nurse referred to at that point was going into her room more often but there was no way she could have been expected to just stay there with her – she had other patients. I am still kind of angry that they didn’t put the heart-rate monitor or pulse-ox monitor (both non-invasive) back on her to sound an earlier alarm that the end was near. I know that the outcome wouldn’t have changed and I’m not saying that they should have taken any heroic resuscitation measures to buy those extra ten minutes for us to get there – that would have been both cruel and against her wishes stated in her living will. I just can’t help but think that if they’d reattached the ECG they’d have gotten an alarm sooner and we might have gotten there in time to be there with her.

J and his family have had a month to prepare for this to happen. In terms of timing – both her daughter and son in-law were in town this weekend, as was one of her dearest friends. Everyone got chances to visit in the last few days. Even so, it’s a hard thing. Everyone’s been hanging in dealing with like troopers, but it’s hard.

She was cremated today; the funeral is tomorrow and it’s just for family, both as per her wishes. Tomorrow will be hard. Maybe the hardest so far.

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