This may contain triggers for people who are grieving. I share this to honor my mother’s memory and to tell a story of guilt and forgiving one’s self.
Late in the night, On January 26, 2017, my mother passed away in the ER. She had spent some time in the hospital in December and early January for an infection. The infection was remedied, but during that time, she became weak and developed a secondary infection that was identified shortly prior to her passing.
Prior to this episode, my mother had several instances where we nearly lost her. In fact, once we were called to the hospital and on the way there I was on the phone with the nursing staff telling them that my mother did not want to be revived should her heart stop. I was a bulldog at protecting my mother’s care and fighting for her wishes to be followed.
The day she died, I wish I'd been more forceful in asking for more information and advocating more extensively, but I didn't know what was to come. I spoke to her on the phone when I was on my lunch break. I remember how weak she sounded, and knew something was different. She could barely get the words “I love you” out, but these were the last words we said to each other. I’m so grateful for this.
For some reason, the awareness that the next day was my grandmother’s 100th Birthday and my mom wanted to be with her was in my mind, but it was a vague, un-structured thought. I did say to my husband that evening, that I was worried this was it, but it still wasn’t a certainty-just an instinct.
That night, I received a call to come to the ER as she was transported there. As I waited in the waiting area, I had a feeling this was different from all of the times she had been transported to the ER…from the fact that I was in the waiting area for 30 or more minutes while they (presumably) were assessing the situation. When I was called back, someone sat me down in a chair and said the DR will be out to speak with you in a moment. Again, this has never happened. I have been at the hospital with several ill family members and was never set aside to wait for the treater. I called some family members and told them to come and I sat…preparing myself to be told she had already passed away. When the Dr. came to see me, he informed me that she was alive, but very ill.
I went and sat with my mom briefly. I was struck by how cold her hands were and the glassiness of her eyes. Her skin was already mottling but I didn't put it all together. She was not responding to me, but I still carried hope that she may come out of this. She did have an existing DNR and we had been prepared to limit or stop treatment in the past….we knew what she wanted and were all agreeable and prepared for carrying out her wishes.
At some point, they needed to do some treatments on her, so the physician and I left the area and he so very gently and kindly spoke with me. He knew I was a nurse (though I work in an office setting, so my expertise is far from his and he needed to explain a bit more), but he spoke to me with great care. During the time that he and I were across the hall, we heard the alarms ring in her room and he was called to the room by staff stating she was crashing. I followed him and was in the room while they were performing CPR. We had previously discussed the DNR and he knew her wishes, and I wasn't ready. Nevertheless, they continued CPR as I (stunned and unable to make a decision) eventually asked them to stop this but keep trying to bring her back. The DR very gently and calmly advised the staff to continue life-saving measures.
I have no idea how long we were there in this process and how long it took for me while speaking to her and thinking my brother was on his way to realize that I was not doing what she’d asked, so I asked the DR why are we doing this? He replied in the kindest, most honest tone that “we are doing this for you”. I realized then what a mercy that was….what a gift….I asked him to please have them stop and my mother never regained a heart rhythm. My brother walked in the room minutes later. I'm so thankful he was not there during the process of her death. It was very traumatic...
The staff at the ER were so generous with their loving spirit during the very worst moments of my life. I will never forget their kindness and their professionalism.
Afterward, I left the room to give my brother some time with my mom and the moment I came out of the room I went into the waiting area the first thing I saw was of a friend I grew up with. She saw me and my face and grabbed me in her arms and held me. I feel like God sent an angel to be there. He sent so many angels that day and in the days to come.
I share this story because there was so much that could have been noticed and avoided. For a long time I felt as though I missed so much and so did the other health providers. I blamed myself, not for her death, but for missing things that may have extended her life. This is not where I am with this now. My process through the last few years was to deal with my guilt and then look at how to make her death matter. Can I use what I learned to be more attentive to the patients that come to me every day? Can I share my story so others who are in healthcare or some form of caregiving remember that what we do matters... .What we miss matters? If we who are charged with caregiving can make changes in what we see and what we miss, my mom's death will mean something more than loss. I know it made me a better nurse and a better family member than I was before.
I also have come to realize that God uses people in our paths. I have no idea if the physician who handled our situation was a Christian, but I do know I felt Jesus in him. I have often wanted to reach out and find him to share that. Maybe one day I will -Meghan