For a little over a year now, I have had some of the worst nightmares and an overwhelming feeling of guilt. On Feb. 16, 2011 we had a family meeting in Wake Hospital in Raleigh, NC to decide the fate of my mother. She had experienced some discomfort in her chest and was taken to the hospital several days earlier. The night she went into the hospital I was told she was alert and talking to people before they left for the night.
I was then told that some time during the night she was put on a ventilator and a coma was induced. I remember thinking this was insane. Mother laid in a coma for a few days and the family was told she would not recover to the point of living without a ventilator or even to come home. Mother was 72, extremely obese and in relatively poor health. Mother had made it clear in writing that she did not want to be kept alive by extraordinary measures like a ventilator. Many of the family members expressed their desire to just let her die within a few days. I was very much against this decision and even pissed a couple of siblings off when I did not agree and decided to argue in favor of giving mother time to fight whatever it was that was making her sick.
A few days passed and she continued to get worse. The doctor called and wanted to meet with the family again. We all came together and it was disclosed she had H1N1. According to the doctors her lungs were scarred so badly she would never be able to breathe on her own again. It was then decided that we should just let mother die. It was hard but I stood there and watched for 10 minutes as my mother's vital signs slowed and eventually the monitors announced that her heart had stopped beating. At one point, for about 5 seconds my mother opened her eyes and looked as though she was in distress and the look of panic was written all over her face. It is a memory that haunts me to this day.
I have always been an animal lover and never, have I ever made a decision to put an animal down nor have I made a decision to kill an animal, unless the animal was in pain or posed a danger to me or mine. (As a young kid I hunted for about 3 years until I came to the realization that I was actually taking a life. I had to quit.) However, I stood in a hospital room and made a conscience decision to basically put my mother to sleep.
I have not been able to overcome this guilt, but today I may have discovered the key I need to lock this guilt away. Out of desperation, I called my brother's ex-wife whom I have always loved. Trenessa in a weird sort of way is like a female Chris Massey. She is a very talented and knowledgeable nurse, who will tell you the truth even if it hurts your feelings. If you don't want to hear the truth don't ask Trenessa. Trenessa had come to the hospital during the time mother laid there in a coma. Trenessa had worked at Wake Medical in the past and was known by some of the staff. Trenessa at one point had gone to mother's room and started shaking her hard and talking to her rather loudly. Mother woke up long enough to answer some of our questions about whether she was in pain and she asked by writing on a napkin how her boyfriend of 15 yrs Larry "Mickey" Dail was doing. It made me believe that mother was being kept in a coma unnecessarily, and it gave me false hope of her being able to recover. Needless to say, this feeling was exacerbated when I saw how upset and pissed the medical staff had become when they asked us to leave mother's room so she could rest. I felt this was wrong not to bring her out of the coma long enough to tell her to her face that she was dying. To let her process the thought and to give her the conscience thought that might make her fight to live.
I wake up at night in a cold sweat two to three times a week with two different nightmares. In one I have overwhelming guilt for participating in the decision to let her die.
The second is my fear of becoming aware I am in a hospital being able to hear what people are saying around me but I am unable to communicate that I am okay. They are making the decision to just let me die. The nightmare develops into an overwhelming panic and I have honestly fallen out of bed twice in the past few months due to the sudden surge of panic and the fight or flight response taking control of my body and mind.
I have made Janit promise that she will force the hospital to do whatever it is they have to do to be able to look me in my eyes and say, "Chris you are dying. If you want to live you have to fight to breathe. You have to make an effort to show us you want to live." Give me what I thought until today was an option my mother was denied.
You see, Trenessa told me today that Shannon, Trenessa's daughter had been with mother the morning they made the decision to put her on a ventilator. I am told the doctors discussed with mother the possibility that she was not going to live through this illness, which at that time they had no idea what it was. It was three days before a culture grew and H1N1 was confirmed. All this time, I have believed mother was unaware of anything that was happening to her. All this guilt and pain could have been avoided if my family was not as dysfunctional as it is. All it took was this one person, that I love and trust, to fill in the blanks to at least ease the guilt I have been feeling for over a year now.
I know I have come to this conclusion from this experience. I will never again be in a discussion to decide life or death of a loved one. If ever my wife Janit becomes ill I will, unless she tells me differently, do everything in my power to make sure she has the ability to live another day. When I am unsure of what to do, I will excuse myself, go into my closet and pray to my God in silence for guidance, but i will not discuss with anyone the life or death decision of another human being.