Understanding all that is behind a DNR order is crucial. It may be one of the hardest conversations to have and the most unpleasant to discuss but please do not take it lightly.
As a rookie caregiver, I had to figure so many things out on my own. Absolutely I stumbled, I have a lot of lessons learned, and I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert. However, I did do quite a few things right and some of them by accident. There is no guidebook, no course you can take, and no college degree that will educate you or prepare you for all the decisions you now need to make and this my friends is a big one.
Over the years, we have never truly been able to confirm my father’s education level; he was a Korean War Vet, a steel plant worker, a father of six, and an all-around great guy. He had this super hero mentality and immortality to him that reigned supreme right till the end. One of the biggest challenges I had faced with such a man, is when he didn’t want to talk about things, he made it clear and when he made a decision he stood firm. So how exactly are we going to talk about the end of his life?
As his power of attorney, his medical proxy, and his best side kick, we went through everything together, so it came as no surprise to my siblings, when it came to his end of life care, it was me he wanted by his side. This is a slightly different mindset as I am the youngest, and most people choose the oldest.
When the doctors and nurses approached him with a DNR order – will you sign or will you not? They don’t provide much explanation around the ramifications of this decision. And this my friends is a big decision. Who knows, maybe they believe it is self-explanatory. I have uncovered… not so much!
My dad absolutely refused to sign a DNR order… and simply replied time and time again “What’s wrong with you people, you don’t want to even give me a fighting chance?” He knew one thing for sure, I am my father’s daughter when it comes to emotional resilience and if/when the time came, as medical proxy I could in fact make the decision, the right decision for him. OR… maybe he was on to something!
At the time, I didn’t see the brilliance in this decision, after all, we knew he was at the end, but he just couldn’t bring himself to sign the paper. I did not push him or even try to override his decision, I simply thought to myself, “It sucks to be me!”
I left the hospital that night just before 10:00 pm. After speaking with the doctors, we knew we were at the end and there was nothing anyone could do. My dad wanted to go home, so I had spent the better part of three days working with Hospice to simply bring him home and make sure all that we needed was at the house. We were scheduled for an 11:00 am discharge and I was moving in with him till the end.
Somewhere around 2:00 am I received the call that he had gone into cardiac arrest because of there being no DNR order, they were able to revive him, and he was now on respirators and life support.
I quickly got up, dressed, and into the car to get to the hospital. Knowing my one brother was closer to the hospital than I was, I called him from the car and that started the family chain of phone calls. Luckily, my sister who resides in another state was in town because we knew we were close to the end. Between Michael and me we were able to get the whole family out of bed and to the hospital in less than an hour including my Aunt, my father’s only living sibling.
Each one of us and our respective partners/spouses were awarded the opportunity to say good bye. Being Catholic, we called in the priest to administer last rights/anointing of the sick and say a few prayers with the family. As each one took their turn, I continued to prep the doctors that I in fact was going to sign the DNR order for them to shut down the life support. Not an easy decision, not an easy task, and well I was right, “it sucks to be me.”
The brilliance in his decision to pawn off this awful task to me…
Instead of dying alone or with a bunch of strange medical staff, his decision awarded us the time to get to the hospital, allowed his only living sibling and all six of his children to be there right by his side and to send him off into the afterlife together.
Before you sign on the dotted line… make sure you are fully aware of all the ramifications of what you are about to do. This decision will be one of the hardest you will ever make. I just asking you to take a moment to think about it ask the right questions to the doctors and make sure you’re fully educated before you take the pen to the paper.
A few months later, my sister who was also terminally ill, went on life support. Her refusal to sign the DRN order allowed her oldest son and his wife the time they needed to travel from out of state to be right by her side. She took a page right out of dad’s playbook.
I’m just asking you to think about it.