Living with a Living Will

old_man-2Last night I made a decision. Well, I made a decision in the afternoon, but last night I reversed it. Yesterday a surgeon from my dad’s hospital called. He’d examined Dad and found that he had a heart condition that caused his heart to beat alternately very fast and very slow. He wanted to insert a pacemaker to keep my dad’s heartbeat regular. I asked if my dad was capable of giving consent. The doctor said no. Sounded simple enough, so I said sure. He scheduled surgery for the next day.

When I told my husband, he said, “You’d better check the living will. He might not want a pacemaker.” So we did. The living will from, or whatever it’s really called, said that Dad did not want his life prolonged by “artificial means.” I thought that was pretty vague, so Matt emailed a lawyer friend I went straight to the web. Well, it turns out that a pacemaker IS considered “artificial means.” In fact, every document that said so mentioned pacemakers first on the list of “artificial means.” My husband and I looked at each other. “It’s what he wants,” he said.

I called the hospital. Rescinded my consent. Hung up. My whole body felt heavy. I felt like I’d just signed his death sentence.  I wondered if it was the right thing to do. My husband assured me that it was. My BFF confirmed it. I still felt the burden of the decision but I was also a little calmer. The truth is, when I’d blessed the pacemaker, I wondered if THAT was the right thing to do. That decision didn’t sit well either. I firmly believe that my father is dying. For Pete’s sake, he gave up control of his money. It’s a sure sign.

But I just did something that would likely shorten his life. I started to think about his life. His aide wakes him for breakfast. He takes him to the living room. He eats. Then he falls asleep, sitting in his wheelchair until lunch, when his aide wakes him again. He eats and falls asleep until dinner. His aide wakes him to eat. He sleeps, this time until 11 p.m. He wakes up fully for an hour or two and that’s when he does all of his talking, phone calling (you know how people appreciate that after 11) and refusing to sign checks. My dad always bragged that he stayed up until two o’clock in the morning. I don’t know who he was trying to impress. After two hours, the aide helps him into bed and he goes back to sleep until morning.

My Dad has nothing left. Oh sure, he’s got me and the grandchildren, but we don’t mean a lot to him. He’s said the kids were cute but that’s the closest he’s come to a complimenting me on my family. On Thanksgiving, my BFF’s parents were asking him about the kids and all he wanted to do was spread neighborhood gossip. My mother died in 2009, but it’s not like she’s waiting in Heaven with open arms. He did take care of her through her Alzheimer’s (See “Labor of Love?”), but that was so he didn’t have to pay a nursing home. Their relationship was antagonistic at its worst, and civil at its best. His dog died years ago too. She’d welcome him as only a dog can. I know she would.

The only thing he’s got to show for himself on Earth is some obsolete machines that made computer chips and a pile of money. He always said “Everyone hates their job” so he’s not holding onto the machines.

He must be hanging on to the money. And that’s sad. I feel sorry for him. Truth is, I’ve felt sorry for him for a long time. He never embraced life like other seniors. He spent his golden years taking care of my mom, yes, but when she died he didn’t start taking walks again, or swimming – the only things he ever really enjoyed. He lost a lot of his hearing but he didn’t get a hearing aid. If my time was short, I wouldn’t want to miss hearing anything.

Instead of keeping active, he spent his time at home, listening to right-wing radio at 70 decibels, managing investments and filing a nuisance lawsuit. He thoroughly enjoyed the lawsuit, especially when he won the money. At least he’s got that. (See “Fifty Shades of Crazed”)

Yesterday I called and when Dad got on the phone, he asked me if I wanted some of his lunch. I’m 3,000 miles away. His aide told me that Dad’s in and out of reality. Even before this hospital visit, he wasn’t all there. I see him slipping away, but I was wrong on that last time – when he started eating and drinking more, he got more conscious. So what do I do? I did what I did. I just hope it was the right thing.