End-of-life decisions are in no way pretty

April 03, 2005|by Russell Williams

There has been much discussion raised by the Terri Schiavo situation in Florida. I, unfortunately, have had a recent experience that may be viewed as having some similarities.

Daddy had been failing intellectually and physically for five to seven years. When his eyes became so bad that he could no longer read, he started listening to books on tapes. Eventually he got to the point where he would listen to two or three chapters, fall asleep, and, when he woke up, be unable to remember anything about what he had just listened to.

Therefore, he would play the same two or three chapters again and again. Then he got the point where he could no longer figure out how to work the cassette tape player on which the books were played. Not long after that, he went into a nursing home.

At first, he had his own room with a bathroom and he ate in a common area. He lost the ability to understand how to set his radio alarm clock. Because of this, it would occasionally come on blaring at full strength in the middle of the night.


When he could no longer safely stand up, he was put in another room and started wearing diapers. He was now transported by wheelchair to the common eating area.

When I would come to visit, he would express an interest in catching the train to go someplace. I would help him get into his wheelchair and we would go up and down the halls of the nursing home looking for the railroad station.

Eventually he would become fatigued and decide not to go for the train ride on that particular day. After this, he got to the point where he did not recognize anyone, nor was he able to communicate at all with words. All day long he would lay in bed, wearing his diapers, which were changed on a regular basis.

By this time, he had to be spoon-fed blended food. The nursing staff frequently changed his positions and they put special gloves on his arms to protect his skin. At no point did he develop bedsores.

About three weeks ago, he appeared to have a stroke. The stroke appeared to have paralyzed his left side. After the stroke, he could no longer swallow.

Attempts were made to spoon-feed him water and food, but there was no way of telling how much of the water and food went to his stomach and how much went to his lungs. The choice, which he was unable to participate in, now became whether to do nothing or to put him in a hospital and insert a feeding tube or an IV - or both.

Based on his written requests and frequent verbal expressions, his three children unanimously decided to follow their father's request and not have food or water delivered via artificial means.

This meant that my father's three children, the nurse, the lawyer and the teacher, unanimously decided to let their father slowly die of thirst and hunger. It took him from Thursday morning of one week until late Saturday night of the following week to die.

And I am not going to try to use euphemisms and make it sound nice. It was not pretty and it was not nice.

Russell Williams is a Hagerstown resident and a member of the Washington County School Board and other local public-service organizations. He wrote this as a personal letter and not as a representative of any of those organizations.

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