Christmas at the Munday household this year has been marked by tough times and tough decisions.
Chris and I went to Illinois for Christmas to see our mothers (mine is 92 and in a nursing home). We noticed that my mother had a bandage on her left foot (apparently the result of an infection) and were told that the staff were watching it carefully. The next day they told us that the infection had taken a turn for the worse and they were sending her to the hospital. A surgeon cleaned out the wound and removed some diseased tissue.
Today, I got a call from the "palliative care nurse" who wanted "to go over our options." One option consisted of continuing to aggressively treat the infection. The other option was to "move her to hospice care and keep her comfortable until she passes." Imagine--letting a 92 year old woman die because of a foot infection! I think the irritation (not to say anger) must have shown in my voice as I explained that, no, we would not be taking that option, and that they should continue to treat her infection by every appropriate means, including surgery, if necessary.
As we continued to talk, the nurse discovered that she was looking at a page from someone else's file when it came to knowing what insurance coverage my mother had. When the nurse discovered that my mother had not only Medicare but private health insurance, suddenly it seemed they were more willing to do whatever was necessary. In the three hours since that call, I have received calls from the admitting physician at the hospital and the surgeon who will intervene surgically if the infection doesn't improve, and it appears we may be faced with a decision in the next few days about amputation of part of my mother's left leg.
I think there are at least two lessons here: (1) As healthcare in America deteriorates, only those who can pay for it are going to get the level of care and compassion that we used to extend to everyone. And, (2) those of us who are pro-life are going to have to insist on not taking the easy way out when it comes to how we care for the elderly, the young and vulnerable, and ourselves.
I am still in shock to think that, if I had given a different answer a few hours ago, my mother would, right now, be moved out of the hospital to a place where she would be getting only palliative care until she died.
Parenthetically, let me say that I know the flip side of this: that you can prolong someone's suffering unnecessarily by using extraordinary means to keep them alive; and that hospitals might be willing to employ extraordinary measures on someone with private insurance or private means in order to take in more money. I am aware of that, but that is not what we are talking about here.
I am also pondering what impact it might have had if my mother had signed an "advanced directives" form in years past. Could it have affected whether we were even presented with options now, or what the options might have been. If there had been an "advanced directives" form on file, would I have even been consulted?
Of course, we don't know how this is going to end, and we know that someday my mother, like everyone, will die. For the immediate future we can expect our anxiety level to rise every time the phone rings. But we know this: no one we love and care about is going to die simply because it is easier and less costly for us to let things go that way. In other words, no one we can save through appropriate means is going to die by choice.
If you think of it, please pray for Kathryn.