Friday, May 23, 2008

Enduring to the End

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.


Jeremy said...


Sorry to hear about the hardships your father has had to endure. My dad is currently recovering from a stroke as well (without the significant complications and medical flub-ups you described your father going through) and it is a long and hard road.

Good luck to you and your family as your father goes through the next few months. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Thanks. I appreciate your comments.

Cameron said...

My condolences, Reach. Good luck to you and your father.

Alienated Wannabe said...

Dear Scott,

I am sorry about your father's condition. I am praying for him, you, and your extended family.


Keryn said...

Reach Upward, your post touched me a lot, especially given that it is Memorial Day Weekend. Two years ago Memorial Day, my father passed away after a year-long fight with lung cancer. I know the conflict of feelings you described--not wanting the end to come, but at the same time wanting to know WHEN--to end the suffering for both your father and your mother.

I truly admire your father and the way he is facing this last trial. He must be an amazing man to have raised you! It gave (and gives) me no end of comfort to know of my father's faith.

My prayers are with you, your father and especially your mother in this hard time. Bless you all.

Anonymous said...

My family went through this a few years ago with my grandmother (not a stroke, but the end of life deterioration of her health). It's a real challenge emotionally and I wish you all the best in this struggle.

Scott Hinrichs said...

God bless you all for your kind comments. My parents are amazing people. Someday I'll post more of their story, probably in a series, and probably in memoriam to Dad.

Yesterday my Dad was feeling stir crazy. It's difficult for him to walk 30 feet, but wanted to get out and go for a ride. It wasn't easy for him, but I got him into his truck and drove him up to the summit of North Ogden Divide and then back home. I felt compelled to do this largely due to something that happened to a friend of mine.

A few years ago, my friend was caring for his aged, bedridden father. My friend went to see what his dad wanted when he called out in the middle of the night. He said, "I want to go for a ride up to Mantua." He said, "Dad, it's 2:00 AM. You wouldn't be able to see anything." He replied, "I know son, but I could hear the wheels running on the road." My friend promised to take his father the next day, but his father never woke up again.

I suspect that there will always be regrets when a loved one passes away. But taking Dad for a ride isn't going to be one of them.

That One Guy said...

Many kind thoughts in your direction... A while ago you posted a couple of thoughts with regard to your parents' early life in another country.... I hope the ending is at least peaceful, serene, and not agonizingly long.

Everything "just right" - as right as it can be.

It does sound like A Life Well Lived.