I was late to work tonight because we took my Dad to the emergency room. He had some outpatient surgery on Friday to remove an infected tumor on his neck and a basal cell cancerous growth behind his ear. He was OK the next day but seemed a bit out of it on Saturday, and Sunday afternoon he got so weak he couldn’t stand up for a while. The skin graft on his neck was swollen, red, and smelled bad as well, so we took him in to get looked at.
My Dad is 72 and has developed some health problems in the last several years - myasthenia gravis, diabetes, and more recently has experienced a lot of mental deterioration. It’s been diagnosed as Alzheimers but we suspect it may be something else, possibly related to some of his medications which can cause dementia over time - anyway, my wife worked in a nursing home and says my father doesn’t seem like he has Alzheimers at all. He is normally alert and in a good mood but has lost a lot of his short term memory, and while most of the time you can’t tell there’s anything wrong with him there are a few things he can’t remember, like where the bathroom is (despite his having lived with us since before Thanksgiving). He realizes that there’s something wrong and he always phrases questions that he knows he should know the answer to so it’s like we are just confirming something that’s slipped his mind. Sometimes though, especially at night, he gets more confused and can get very angry with my mother, who admittedly doesn’t deal with the stress sometimes and is bad about not hiding her frustration with him - even before this started happening he would sometimes blame her for not keeping track of stuff he happened to forget, and now that he’s forgetting stuff more it comes up more.
Dad was pretty out of it tonight. He was eventually able to stand up and walk around and we got him to the car, though it took about 15 minutes and sometimes he would just stand still and not budge, even when we tried to help him. We get him in, get him admitted, and hang around while they do some of the first tests. I’m already worried about later tonight after he’s alone, as he kept trying to get up and walk around even though he had a heart monitor and an IV on him. We’d tell him he had to sit down or he’d pull the IV out and he’d nod, but a few seconds later he’d forget again. Anyway, he’s finally getting moved upstairs and my mother and I are talking to the latest doctor outside the room, who is agreeing that he probably should be sedated tonight and asks if he is ‘demented’. Then he asks if he has a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order - no, but he used to talk about it. Then he asks us if we want to give a DNR order.
Mom starts to say yes, but then goes indecisive, and after several seconds looks at me and asks ‘What do you think?’ The doctor looks to me too. I paused for less than a second in which I briefly consider asking Dad, then say ‘yes’. It’s decided, the doctor pats us both reassuringly on the shoulder and tells us there’s probably nothing to worry about, but they had to ask before we left.
In the car Mom tells me not to worry too much about the DNR, they asked before his last trip to the hospital. I told her I wasn’t worried, I knew that that’s what Dad would want, he always said he didn’t want to be dependent on some machine. When he was hospitalized the first time for myasthenia several people had to hold him down to get the tube down his throat for the respirator - he would be dead today if he had made the arrangements instead of just telling family about it. Mom then agrees, yes he used to, but she’s not so sure what he would say these days.
So now I’m at work, thinking about how if my Dad dies tonight it could be because of me, and that I made a decision for him that he might not agree with in his current state. Luckily Sunday nights are really slow.