On July 2nd my husband, an operating room nurse like myself, succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 57. He was diagnosed in early March and it all slid downhill from there.
The tumor had completely compressed his small intestines closed and the stent that was inserted was ineffective. A stomach tube (PEG tube) was inserted not to feed him, but rather to allow the fluid, gastric juices, and bile a place to flow to out of his body to decrease its build up and pain. A byproduct of this tube was that whatever he drank (he no longer could eat solid or semi-solid food) left his body within 30 seconds of him swallowing it. He no longer could gain nutrition from eating. He did 3 months of chemotherapy and TPN (total parenteral nutrition where calories and nutrients are fed to the body through a central line). When it was apparent the chemo wasn’t doing anything, he entered hospice and the TPN had to cease. He asked me a few times to not let him suffer. I promised him I would keep him comfortable.
Hospice lasted 2 weeks. These 2 weeks were horrible for him for many reasons. The last week and certainly the last 3 days were horrendous. By the time he finally passed away, he was groaning, agitated, and in pain – nothing was able to make him comfortable. He was purely skin and bones. No fat. Not much subcutaneous tissue. Minimal muscle. He couldn’t hold a glass to drink from it, and he stopped being able to hold his head up. When he rested on his back, his 2 iliac bones stuck up like mountains surrounding the valley of his lower abdomen that was concave. Rivers separated his ribs. I could see the orbital ridges in his face. He woke up from a nap asking if he was dead yet – and he wasn’t kidding. He wanted to die. He stated this 3 times. But there was nothing I could do but watch him suffer. I could not believe each morning he was still alive and had yet to suffer through another day.
A July 23rd opinion piece in The Star-Ledger of New Jersey, by Guest Columnist Diane Coleman entitled, “The dangerous ‘help’ of assisted suicide” refers to people who are disabled, who experience elder abuse, who are depressed, or who need stronger or more frequent pain medications. But what about people who are not disabled or abused but want to die with dignity?
No one has the “right” to “protect” my husband under his or her definition of what that entails. So, who decides what is right for any individual in terms of dying with dignity?
I’m not fighting as a “compassionate progressive” and this op-ed reply has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with allowing free will and choice for each person to do what he or she believes is right for them. And, yes, “legislators have an obligation to think of everyone” as that piece stated. And in the definition of “everyone” are people, like my husband, who deserve better than his painful last dying days forever engrained in my memory. He died suffering, and he deserved better.
Debra Dunn, MBA, MSN, RN, CNOR