Mr. Demarest powerfully exposes how the medical system disregards the most thorough end-of-life plans with its default mode to provide treatment – no matter the patient’s circumstances and wishes.
The stories Mr. Demarest and others shared complement our national campaign to stop this tragedy and raise awareness to ensure that someday we’ll all be allowed to die with peace and dignity.
My father prided himself on doing everything right, by planning everything in advance. By the time he was in his 70s and I was in my 30s, he had shown me where he kept the key to his filing cabinet and where I could find his stash of silver coins. He told me about his will. And his living will.
I watched as Pop declined from a spry 85-year old who won sailing races on Glen Wild Lake and traveled to China and all over the United States to run his business, to a 95-year old who hobbled around, first with a couple of canes, then a walker, and finally in a wheelchair, while his wife Eileen ran the business.
During this decline, we discussed his living will more than once. When the time came, there were to be no heroic measures. There were to be no feeding tubes and no respirators, no CPR and no defibrillation. We neglected to discuss the most important part of his living will. Under just what circumstances were there to be no heroic measures? Did he believe at the age of 95, that he had reached that point? I didn’t ask, nor did I look at a copy of the living will. Everything seemed to be far off in the future, and I lived 3,000 miles away. His end-of-life plans were the responsibility of his wife, Eileen.
A few days before Pop’s 96th birthday, he and Eileen planned to go out to dinner with friends. Two of the friends, Jane and Angie, wheeled Pop out of the house and transferred him into the car. Almost immediately, he said, “I want to go home,” started to get out of the car, and slumped back into the seat, not moving. Angie interpreted his statement to mean I want to go to Heaven, and said to Pop, “it’s all right, you can go.”
Jane called 911. Pop’s house was on a long, hilly, twisty one-lane road,. and there was no expectation that emergency personnel would arrive quickly, A few neighbors came over until there were a half dozen people standing in the driveway while the minutes ticked by with Pop, or rather his dead body, sitting in the front seat of the car. During these ten minutes waiting for help, any possibility that Pop, not breathing, could survive slipped away
When the policeman arrived, he moved the body from the car to the driveway and began administering CPR. The ambulance arrived with the EMT, who continued the CPR and then used the defibrillator, applying the paddles and the electric shock to Pop’s chest. They loaded Pop’s body into the ambulance, still doing CPR, and everybody followed to the hospital where he was officially pronounced dead.
I can’t blame Eileen or Pop’s friends and neighbors for not attempting CPR, because I don’t know the wording of Pop’s living will. I’m sure that the police and the EMT followed the rules by attempting CPR and defibrillation. I’m also sure that my father never would have wanted people pounding on his dead body for more than a half hour, and that’s what happened.
At the hospital, Jane asked the EMT about the CPR and defibrillation. “Why did you do this?”
“It’s for the widow.”
– Harry Demarest