Note: This is a part of a series of posts about DrG’s parents, who both suffered from and ultimately passed away from serious health conditions – his mom from multiple myeloma, and his dad from complications from a severe stroke. Over the course of their illnesses, he put up these posts. DrG thought about removing them, but ultimately decided to leave them up in the hopes that they would help other people.
Final Update on My Mom
My mom was found unresponsive by the nursing/rehab staff on Sunday February 20th and taken to the Emergency room that afternoon.
I got a call from the ER doctor that night telling me that they’d gotten her stabilized temporarily but that she was suffering from kidney failure (a consequence of the multiple myeloma. As an immune cell cancer, the cancerous cells crank out ridiculous amounts of antibodies that ultimately clog up and destroy the kidneys), and sepsis (a bacterial infection that has spread to the blood).
The best we understand, as no autopsy was done, the infection in the surgical wound in her leg that they had been battling for a couple of months finally won, and made it to the blood stream, a condition called sepsis.
This is a hugely bad thing of course, the infection now spreads throughout the body and to all the organs) and you begin having DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation; usually a consequence of sepsis, where the body simultaneously clots and bleeds, a very bad thing, because you suffer blood clots which block blood flow and kill off cells, and you also bleed, another very bad thing).
They had her temporarily stabilized but gave her 1-2 days maximum. As her executor I gave them a DNR (do not resuscitate) order and told them NOT to engage in any heroics but to keep her comfortable.
My dad, knowing the severity of the situation was able to spend some time with her, and told us she was on and off lucid.
With the help of plenty of morphine and some Ativan (an anti-anxiety medication) she was finally able to sleep, and she died peacefully at 4:15am on February 20th, President’s day.
I got the call Monday morning as I was getting ready to go to the airport (I’d booked a flight as soon as I heard the news). Unfortunately I, and my aunt, who was similarly flying in, missed seeing my mom at the end. Something I have mixed feelings about.
On the one hand, I’m glad, I didn’t have to see her at the end and be with her when she breathed her last – tough, tough, tough. On the other hand, I wish I had been. But, I can say now, I’m at peace with it. It worked out fine. Mostly I wanted her passing to go ‘well’, and it did.
Who knew dying was such a difficult thing?
So began, and continues, the paperwork. Sheesh, it seems like the actual dying is the easy part. The bureaucracy we’ve had to go through has been ridiculous.
First it’s a two hour wait at the hospital to be able to sign the paperwork, a 30 minute wait to see her body, and another 20 minute wait to get her wedding ring out of the hospital safe.
By the time we were able to get to the hospital, they had moved her body to the morgue, and they normally don’t allow people into the hospital morgue to view bodies (I’m not sure what exactly they do do at this point?) but we got them to make an exception and had a very emotional and cathartic viewing.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, despite the pain that seeing your dead loved one brings, I HIGHLY recommend it. Something about actually seeing them, brings a sense of closure that just knowing they’re gone doesn’t.
But seeing a loved one dead is an intensely surreal experience. Someone you know thoroughly, who was talking, moving, breathing – alive – now isn’t. You keep expecting them to open their eyes, talk, move, but they never do – and they never will.
The rest of my time in San Diego was spent trying to tie up all the loose ends involved with dying. We had gotten all of the necessary paperwork about 80% done before her death, which spared us a LOT of headaches.
Let me say this right here and now.
If you haven’t gotten your will, your power of attorney, and other legal documents done in preparation for your death, DO IT SOON!
If you haven’t also told your loved ones how you want the end of your life to be – do you want a ‘do not resuscitate order’, do you want to be put on breathing machines and feeding tubes, etc. – be sure you do it NOW, so they know your wants.
Also tell them what you want done with your body, what type of funeral you want (cremation, burial, ‘natural’ burial – without embalming or a coffin, etc., cryogenically frozen, disposed at sea, shot into space, whatever). Is there somewhere specific you want to be buried, like a particular cemetery? Anything you want on your headstone? Do you want a mass or other religious event? And more specifically (because we’re in the middle of it) do you want specific songs, readings, etc. at this event?
The more you don’t answer these questions, the more you put the burden on your loved ones to do it.
In spite of what we had done, there’s still a ton of stuff to do.
The Death Certificate
And everything hinges on the death certificate. Without it, you CAN’T:
In other words, you basically can’t do anything without the death certificate. So it’s kinda important. So it makes sense that doctors have up to 8 days to complete it (that’s sarcasm).
And I found out very quickly that ER doctors rarely sign death certificates, instead sending them out to other doctors to sign. I don’t pretend to know why, but I’m guessing it might have to do with liability (law suits). If your name is on the certificate, and the family decides to go after someone, you’re the prime target. Knowing this I contacted her oncologist right away and asked him if he could help us get this done ASAP.
I found out yesterday, March 1st that they’re STILL wrangling over this. Now apparently there is some bureaucratic silliness over crossed t’s and dotted i’s – they’re debating the exact day that her hip replacement was done 2 years ago. Because, you know, that’s really important right now, while her body continues to sit in a cooler 10 days later.
So we’ve taken all those things as far as we can, and are now left in limbo, until the death certificate is completed and released to us.
Everything changes, nothing changes
If I sound angry, I’m not, I’m just irritated. That an intensely stressful, personal, devastating, transformational time for my family has to be mired in bureaucratic BS.
A death of someone close to you is just so strange. It stops your life and those of your family. It’s just so all consuming. But then you look around and see the rest of the world just continues on their merry way. And it’s both very comforting, and totally bizarre.
My mom has always been there, every day of my life for the past 36 years. Except for the past 11 days.
The plan had been for me to fly down for a week, get everything taken care of so my wife and son could fly down, and we could bury my mom, and then bring my dad back to Seattle with us and get him settled in assisted living.
And then we heard that with all the paperwork it would take 3 weeks to get everything taken care of.
So, I’m back in Seattle for the next 10 days or so, when I’ll have to go back to San Diego for the service and funeral, then I’ll be driving a moving van back with my dad from San Diego to Seattle (road trip!).
I want to thank everyone again for their kind support. It has been so helpful and so heartwarming.
Thankfully my mom’s struggle is over now.
If this series has touched you at all, I ask that you make sure to cherish your loved ones while they are here, and prepare for their and especially your own death (none of us is going to avoid it).
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Photo attribution – https://bit.ly/2kWc8TI
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