Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sara Douglass on Dying

Popular Australian fantasy author Sara Douglass has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In this a deeply moving post at: http://nonsuchkitchengardens.com/wordpress/?p=606 she talks about comforting the living while dying. Ordinarily I wouldn’t comment on something like this, but this one hit me in a sensitive place.

Over the past 5 years I’ve lost both parents (my father passed away in July 2005 from a combination of lung cancer, liver cancer and emphyscema) and my mother died in March 2009 (renal failure).

Dad had emphyscema for years, it grew steadily worse, then the lung cancer hit and spread to his liver and that was pretty much a death sentence, he was given at most 3 months to live after they found the liver cancer, he lasted a week. I think it was the emphyscema that got him in the end, as that had been an ongoing problem it was strangely comforting to me that he died of an illness he had battled for a long time, and I believe had accepted some years before passing would eventually kill him. Once he’d been told that he didn’t have long he fought like hell to get back home, he wanted to die at home. We got him home 2 days before he died. Sara talks about this in her post, despite their wishes to the contrary most people do die alone, if they are in a hospital or nursing home the chances are greatly increased. Dad had my mother with him when he passed, I was at work. I tried to get home once I got the call, but he’d gone by the time I got there. His last words to me were to be careful (I was sleeping at my parent’s house in case I was needed during the night and drove home each morning to shower and dress for work), I still tear up whenever I think of those choked out words.

In many ways my mother did it tougher. She had nowhere near the time Dad did to come to terms with her mortality. She had breathing difficulties and thought that was the issue, but after the doctors had done their tests they diagnosed her with severe renal failure. We tried the caring for her at home route as well, but were unable to cope with it. After an attack that nearly killed her they took a proper look at her and realised that the problem was compounded by a urinary infection, which once they treated, she was able to live at home, and look after herself with help from family, an amazing neighbour and regular visits from the district nursing service. Inevitably she did collapse at home and was placed back in hospital. I still seethe with rage when I think of that place’s useless, compassionless ‘social worker’ telling me that she had to be placed in a nursing home because according to a report done by a geriatrician, who assessed her on one of her few lucid days that she did not qualify for palliative care. She fell out of bed one night because she tried to climb over the rails, and when I pointed this out to him this clot had the gall to tell me that she had a little fall! She was 4’8” and weighed less than 5 stone, she was nearly 80, there’s no such thing as a little fall in those circumstances. Like Sara said I am sure Mum not want to die alone, but she did. She fell into a coma 3 days before she passed, and one morning when the nurse did her rounds they looked in, and she had stopped breathing.

I urge people to look at Sara’s post, it’s got good advice and hopefully it will help people going through what my family did twice in 5 years.

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