How my dad died

2018-08-28

I saw my dad in March and he didn't look well.  I knew he wouldn't be around much longer and a few weeks ago I got a call from the hospital that he was no longer able to breath on his own.  He had a tube going down his throat that was hooked up to the machine breathing for him.  The doctor told me they couldn't keep him on that for more than 15 days, and we had two choices, either do an operation to put the tubes through his throat or to pull them out.  If they did do this procedure he still would never be able to breath on his own, and the doctor didn't recommend this course of action.

I bought a ticket to Miami and came over here.  After a full day travel, I went to bed and woke up the next morning.  Ivonne has been helping my dad out for years and I met her and we drove up to the hospital together.  I saw my dad in the hospital.  He was heavily sedated as every time he wasn't he would try to pull the breathing tubes out of his mouth.  He's been in many life threatening accidents through the years and that's almost always the first thing he tries to do when coming out of a coma or whatever predicament he's been in.  After a few minutes he seemed to be gaining consciousness.  He was out of it but I could see he was aware that we were there.  I said hi, and told him a few basic things, he couldn't speak so it was hard to communicate with him, especially on top of the sedation.

We sat down with the doctor and talked about pulling the plug.  I was ready to do it then, but Ivonne had an emotional breakdown and couldn't handle the idea of doing it right then and wanted to wait a few days.  I told her we could wait one day, I couldn't handle the idea of having to go through more days with this constantly on my mind.  We said goodbye to my dad and went home. I hardly slept at all that night.

The next day we went back again, and told the nurses and everybody involved that we were ready, but we had to wait another 6 hours.  They kept telling us they would be ready in 30 minutes. It’s a difficult mindset to be in for 6 hours.  The doctor said when a patient is in this kind of situation, the patient may die in minutes, hours, days, or weeks.  We all had to leave the room as they were pulling out the ventilator tube. 

It was hard for me to deal with this.  When you see this kind of situation in a movie, the person is always in a vegetative state.  I knew my dad was there.  Just a short time earlier I was showing him pictures of his grand kids on my phone.  He couldn't talk but he was looking at my phone with interest, he always loved seeing pictures of his grand kids.  This wasn't just a formality of pulling the plug on someone who would never regain consciousness, I made a decision that would end his life, a life which he was still conscious of.  I couldn't believe anyone should have to make this choice.  Even though everyone around me assured me I was doing the right thing. 

They gave some anti-anxiety medication and some morphine to him, and said they would make sure they would make this process as comfortable as possible for him.  He wouldn't go into a panic about not being able to breath.  After they took the tube out he started taking very difficult breaths.  They said they didn't know how long it would take, but said it would likely be minutes.  Right next to him was a machine that had his heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen and something else I didn't understand having to do with his breathing.  The number was around 10, then would go up to 12, then 15, then 20, then back down to 15.  After 5 minutes, then 10 I thought maybe he would hang on much longer than the doctors predicted.  Then his stats would start dropping significantly.  Ivonne cried and held his hand, I told him I loved him.  After 20 minutes he stopped breath and his heart rate went to 0.  Then he took another breath, and then no more.  I felt like he might have been looking down watching my at that moment.  Not in a metaphoric sense, but a very real feeling I got all of a sudden a minute or two after he had died.  I stopped crying and looked up the ceiling and had an experience that is hard to describe.  I don't know what that was or what to make of it.

When my dad was young he threw a fishing rod at a rock like a spear and it bounced back and poked his eye out.  He fell out of a tree and broke his back.  When I was about 19 he was with his friend in a car.  They were both very drunk and his friend decided to commit suicide with my dad in the car with him.  The seat belts had been cut out, and my dad's friend drove into a brick wall at 60 miles an hour.  His friend look up and died about 10 seconds later.  My dad was taken in a helicopter and survived with some metal plates in his arm, leg, and back. 

Then one day after I had moved to Seattle I got a phone call from the hospital telling me they had found my dad on the street with a head injury.  It wasn't clear how it happened but he was in critical condition and in a coma with lots of injuries to his brain.  The doctor said there was about a 17% chance of him surviving and if he did he would have massive brain damage.  I cried hard that night expecting him to die, but the next few days he was still around.  After a week he showed signs of improvement and a few weeks later he was conscious and talking to doctors.  After a few months he was spending time in nursing homes and his home until he finally moved back home. 

A few years later he fell in the shower, apparently having an aneurysm and was back in a coma, and again, recovered and ended up back in the nursing home.  

Finally after years of drinking his liver wasn't doing it's job properly, and he had a line going into his body for dialysis.  It got infected with MRSA which originated from a hip replacement surgery.  Then he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and emphysema.  He had smoked for 60 years only taking breaks while he was in the hospital, although he would always ask people to sneak in cigarettes into his room.  All these things were too much for him and he could no longer breath independantly.  It was the emphysema that actually killed him, the lung cancer wasn't at a point where it was affecting anything really.

I don’t have any good way to conclude this, but I am relieved he is at piece now as his last couple weeks I’m sure were not comfortable. I know a lot of people who have died, and I think his death was a good one. Not full of fear, or pain, just slowly going out.