Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How The Right to Die with Dignity Doesn't Exist

When I was a young boy, around 10, Christine Woodard hired my cousin Russell and myself to clean out a chicken coop for her. The name Christine was to formal for me, I called her Grandma. The deal she gave us was, "two dollars for every wheel barrel or chicken manure we drug out of the chicken coup." Needless to say, we were both excited that we could help our grandma and earn some spending cash. When we got about half way done, Russell and I realized that we didn't have as many wheel barrels as we would have liked. After all, the deal was two dollars per wheel barrel, if we unloaded more wheel barrels, we would inevitably get more money. We began to put less manure in the wheel barrels, and stopped packing it in tight. We had decided to "pull one over on grandma."

When we finished up we went in the house to clean up. Grandma asked us how many barrels we had taken out. We proceeded to give her an outrageous number. I think it was around 20 barrels (and she knew we only had about 6 when we got half way done). Grandma knew right away that we were trying to pull one over on her, but she never said anything other than, "I'll pay you both in the morning; now sit down for supper." My grandma always cooked the best food (as many grandmas do).

The next morning Russell and I decided to collect our pay, and go buy penny candies from the local store. That was back when penny candies actually cost a penny. We asked Grandma if we could get the money she "owed" us. She handed us five dollars each, and we looked at her like she had just slapped us. We asked, "Where is the rest of our money?" She replied, "Well I had to deduct for your supper, and for the room you slept in last night." She never said another word; she just went back to her morning chores. It was one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned. If someone treats you with enough kindness and respect to offer you a reward for your hard work, return the favor with honesty, kindness, respect, and give them you purest effort. Grandma was tuff when she needed to be, and gentle when she didn't. She was the strongest, most independent person I have ever known. She recently passed away at 75 years of age, on Saturday September 17, 2005.

I have thousand of memories like that of my grandma, and they are all great. She taught me so much, and I really loved her with all of my heart. I know it seems odd that I have found the need to put all of this personal information, especially on a blog that is designed to spread the ideas of personal responsibility and individual liberty, but it's important that you know how much I love and respect my grandma before you read on.

The last few months of my grandma's life was spent in extreme pain and anguish, both mentally and physically. She had broken her hip, and the state had placed her in a nursing home. She also had a disease called bronchiectasis, and had portions of her lungs removed earlier in her life. Depression set in after Grandma had been placed into the nursing home. Her state appointed doctor placed her on anti-depressants. The anti-depressants seemed to take away all of her will to get better, and all of her willingness to be active. She lay in bed without emotion; she became less of the woman I had known. As she lay in her bed in the state appointed nursing home, she developed a really nasty bedsore. Her state appointed doctor ordered her to take pain medication, and the state appointed nursing home ordered her to have a catheter inserted because they felt she asked too often for help to go to the bathroom. The pain medication constipated her, causing extreme pain in her stomach. The state appointed nursing home never thought to check for constipation, even though that is the most common side effect of painkillers. Eventually, the inability to remove the waste from her body where it normally does caused Grandma's body to remove the waste by vomiting. She couldn't eat anymore; still the state appointed nursing home didn't bother to check for constipation. After a few days of the toxins building up in her body, infection started to spread. She also received an infection by an unsanitary catheter. The bedsore she had started to develop started to get to the size of a quarter and went deep enough to reveal muscle tissue. Her state appointed doctor ordered her to a wound care specialist. At this point Grandma's children decided to take action. Her oldest daughter picked her up and took Grandma herself to the wound care specialist. The specialist took a look at my grandma and told her that she belonged in a hospital, not at the wound care center. At this point Grandma had not been able to eat for over a week.

When my grandma was checked into the hospital the family was told that she didn't have long to live. She had lost the ability to swallow, and was aspirating all of the food and drink that the nursing home tried to give her. She developed pneumonia because of the aspiration. I received a call from my mom, who was crying hysterically. She told me that Grandma didn't have long to live. I made arrangements to go to Indiana to see her one last time.

When I finally got to the hospital, I saw my grandma crying. She was begging to die. She was in excruciating pain due to her incredibly gruesome bedsore, the pneumonia, and the infections that were taking hold of her body. No amount of painkillers could ease the pain. Have you ever been unfortunate enough to have someone you love so much, look you in the eye and tell you that they wish God would end their life? It stirs up the worst feelings, and your emotions contradict themselves. On one hand you want to see your loved one’s pain end, but you know that would mean ending their life. Nobody should have to suffer through pain like Grandma was suffering, and nobody should have to witness a loved one suffer through pain like my grandma was feeling. My grandma's family doctor told all of the family that she may have a chance if a feeding tube was inserted. My grandma's living will strictly prohibited inserting a feeding tube. The doctor told the all of Grandma’s kids that if they all agreed, they could override my grandma's wishes. They all agreed, because they couldn't bear the fact of witnessing their mother starving to death. It was an easier choice for them to live with not my grandma. I tried very hard to prevent them from going against my grandma’s wishes, but in the end I lost my battle. The feeding tube was inserted. In the end Grandma did have the final say; her body rejected the feeding tube after the first few days.

As a family, we all watched as my grandma’s body started to break itself down. We cried with her as she begged God to end her suffering. We stood by helpless as she begged us for food and water. We sang songs to her, and we prayed for her. I’m not a religious person, but I know now the power of prayer and faith. It was the only thing that comforted my grandma in her final days. I left Indiana before Grandma passed away. Life goes on, and so mine did. I heard the news that Grandma would be allowed to go home, but only to die. I checked in daily and heard of how all of Grandma’s loved ones surrounded her bedside. Her minister came to hold a church service in her house. All of this was such a comfort, more than any pain pill. God did finally answer her prayers and took her to heaven. She died surrounded by love.

I do feel a bit odd myself sharing all of this personal information about my grandma and my family with you, but it is important for everyone to hear. I do blame the social worker and the state of Indiana for Grandma getting as sick as she did. I’m outraged that they decided to interfere with a personal matter, and made a poor choice. I am disappointed with my family and myself, because we didn’t do enough to stick up for her. We didn’t do enough to make sure that she was getting proper health care. Regardless of those facts, no one should be allowed to suffer as she did. When I saw my grandma in so much pain and listened as she cried while begging God to end her suffering, I could only think of ending her life and easing her pains. It really bothered me for many days that those thoughts wouldn’t leave my mind. When I finally left Indiana, my conscience wouldn’t ease up on the fact that I did not end her life. So what does this have to do with freedom? It’s simply this. Who has the right to your body? Is it you or the state? Who should get to make decisions regarding healthcare? Is it you or the state? Who should choose how you die? Is it you or the state? Right now the Supreme Court is hearing a case that involves the right to die. I want everyone to know, that this case is a basis for the most pure form of freedom. It is inhumane to allow people, who have no chance of recovery, to waste away and suffer with agonizing pain. Neither the state, nor anyone else should be able to tell a person that they have to live. It is the job of the individual to determine if their life is at the quality that they want it to be. It should be up to the individual to decide if they want to live or die, and it should be up to the doctor if they want to decide to end someone’s suffering. We have allowed the government so much control over our lives that we can no longer decide, as patient and doctor, to live or die. When we cannot make a decision to die with dignity, nothing else matters. Think about it.

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