Terminal Sleep… Dealings with the Devil

“Kath, your mom’s gone.”

That’s the phone call I expect to receive from my dad when my demented mom dies.

I have no idea when that call will come. Could be next week or could be 10 years from now.

Really not sure how this disease will kill my mom.

Alas, it varies from parent to parent. Dementia likes to mix things up.

My guess, however, is that dementia will continue to invade and warp her brain, twist her reality, manipulate her thoughts, finally ripping apart her mind with its black, twisted tentacles until she can no longer remember how to swallow her own food.

Larry carefully placed Olivia in her arms. And suddenly it was like a switch had been turned on. She smiled and cooed. Her love for babies cut through the Alzheimer’s fog. She was the little girl who was born to be a mommy. “Baby,” she said. “Baby.” It was the last word I heard her say. Soon she forgot how to speak. Then she forgot how to eat. And, lastly how to swallow. ~ From Irene Zutell’s new book, Pieces of Happily Ever After

This idea, DEATH….. is something I think about often. I think about her death and I think about my own. I don’t know if Death is something to be feared or something to be welcomed with open arms. Is Death my salvation or the Devil? If death is another part of life, why are so afraid of his arrival? I suppose the unknown is always frightening….. but it is what it is and we are so attached to living — yet we’re never taught how to cope with our own mortality. We cling on to life, as we should, yet we can’t let go when it’s time. Is this healthy?

Or has dementia twisted my mind too?

Death in near, that’s a fact. So what course of action should we take when he taps on our door? Should we invite him in? Or let him fight for his prey?

What pact will YOU make with the Death?

When she doesn’t know your name. She can’t place your face. She becomes agitated at the littlest thing. When other parts of her body begin to shut down. When pneumonia has invaded her lungs, when death is imminent — the inevitable right around the corner, let me ask again, what do you do? What should you do? What should I do?

The patient, Leo Oltzik, an 88-year-old man with dementia, congestive heart failure and kidney problems, was brought from home by his wife and son, who were distressed to see him agitated, jumping out of bed and ripping off his clothes. Now he was sleeping soundly with his mouth wide open…

Mr. Oltzik’s life would end not with a bang, but with the drip, drip, drip of an IV drug that put him into a slumber from which he would never awaken.

The New York Times today had an interesting article about Terminal Sedation...

… A treatment that is already widely used, even as it vexes families and a profession whose paramount rule is to do no harm. Doctors who perform it say it is based on carefully thought-out ethical principles in which the goal is never to end someone’s life, but only to make the patient more comfortable.

But the possibility that the process might speed death has some experts contending that the practice is, in the words of one much-debated paper, a form of “slow euthanasia,” and that doctors who say otherwise are fooling themselves and their patients.

Speed up Death’s arrival? This is an interesting question in the case of dementia. Do you give the demented damned medication that is only designed to SLOW the inevitable or do you let the disease take it’s course… naturally… allowing dementia to invade the brain at its leisure, turning it into protein-infested mush……….ultimately killing its host or at the very least, turning them into a person you hardly recognize.

Yes, this piece pertains to VERY end-of-life situations. Death is actually sitting on your bed, holding your hand. Dementia, however, can take years… even when your loved one is gone in the mind, their body still functions………………

Death is playing a game.

Their heart still beats.

Talking about death and dying is something we’re taught to avoid discussing at the dinner table. No one wants touch this very morbid topic, but it IS a part of life.

Very easy to gloss over, yet a very real question to ask.

Slow euthanasia………

An interesting ethical debate.

It’s SIX pages, but you might want to read the entire article……………………..

~Images by Pareeerica from FLICKR

One comment

  1. read that article in the NYTimes too and found it very interesting given that is how my dad finished off his days in hospice. the whole question of meds in the meantime is constantly on my mind as my mom’s dr. keeps suggesting we get started using the exelon patch, etc. she’s 83 with 4 or 5 stents in her heart…do we really need to pay top dollar for dementia meds? Really? who said? Am I in denial and being cruel or am I really listening to her that she’s tired and wouldn’t mind “joining” my dad in the next year or so…? She’s been most vocal about how peaceful his dying was in hospice and has asked us to reserve her a room. I hear her loud and clear and still feel a tug remembering that those droppers of letal meds were first introduced into my dad’s mouth from my hand. I still don’t think I’d want him back in the shape he was in…maybe the man he was 15 years ago but that one was long gone.

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