My Dad suffered a stroke about a year and a half ago. Life was not good for him during the first few months after the stroke. The drugs they had him on made him mentally unstable. Doctors insisted that he was suffering from dementia. They wanted to give him more drugs to combat that problem.
Then Dad nearly died after being given a routine antibiotic for dental work. The drug interaction wasn’t supposed to be as bad as it was, but he ended up in intensive care. Then after he was out of intensive care, a nurse “following standard procedures” nearly killed Dad again. He probably would have died had not my Mom been in his hospital room.
Fortunately, Dad rebelled against the drug therapy. At first he surreptitiously washed the drugs down the drain instead of taking them. But eventually he just refused to take them. He went through withdrawal symptoms, but he emerged much better. After scaling back to drugs he felt were absolutely essential, his quality of life and his mental status improved dramatically.
When Dad was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF), his heart was pumping at about 30% of normal. This causes all kinds of problems, including lack of energy, fluid retention (which can make you feel like you’re suffocating), and starvation of blood supply to vital organs. Dad’s last EKG had his heart pumping at about 60% of normal.
Over the past few weeks Dad has been feeling progressively worse. He’s had less energy. He has lost significant muscle mass. He can’t sleep well. And more recently he’s been feeling much more congested. When he went for a coronary checkup, they noted that all of his CHF markers were up, so they sent him for a new EKG.
They don’t give you the EKG results at the testing center. You have to see your cardiologist for that. When Dad & Mom consulted with the cardiologist the other day, he said that the EKG showed Dad's heart pumping at about 10% of normal. A person simply can’t survive long in that condition. Eventually the vital organs shut down from blood starvation. They asked the doctor what they should do about it, and he said, “Get your affairs in order.”
Actually, the doctor did order an increase in Dad’s diuretic medications, but that’s a temporary treatment that is only marginally effective. There comes a point in everyone’s life when their body can no longer sustain life. Modern medicine cannot forever halt the inevitable. Dad, for his part, has the attitude, “Bring it on.” Death holds no fears for him. Right now he feels just awful. Just getting dressed takes almost an entire day’s allotment of energy. And he can’t get comfortable no matter what he does.
Mom is doing her best to cope with the situation. Being the primary caregiver in an end-of-life situation where a lot of care and attention is required is extremely draining. It’s frustrating not knowing how to better help your loved one. It’s difficult to take time away because you’re worried what might happen while you’re gone. It seems disloyal. The heavy demands fatigue you. You feel guilty for somewhat looking forward to the end. I take my hat off to anyone that valiantly works through such a difficult role. I watched my Mom-In-Law do this with my Dad-In-Law, and I have great respect for her.
You think you’re in love when you’re courting your spouse and when you’re beginning your marriage. But I have seen true love demonstrated by my Mom and my Mom-In-Law, each caring for a dying spouse after five decades of marriage. Now that, Huey Lewis, is the power of love.
I have no idea how long Dad will be around. The doctor says that few people in Dad’s condition make it a year. I’m surprised that anyone in Dad’s condition could make it even a month. He might surprise the doctor by hanging around for a while. But I don’t expect that will be the case.