“Dying Decisions” by Linda Reid
Pants Suit Nation 4.27.20
I have become disturbed by the recent events in numerous states. People rioting against the COVID-19 lock downs. To be clear these lockdowns are not mandatory. They are strenuously recommended! The social distancing is in place because of the human element. It has been said that COVID 19 can infect 2 people for each person that has been infected.
To ignore these dangers is foolish to say the least. Many people have survived the COVID-19. But many have not. I am going to tell you one family’s story of how this pandemic has affected their lives.
My former husband, David, was a musician and choir director to a large church in New Jersey. David had started a new life. He was living with his significant other and had retired from teaching. He spent many hours in his position with the church. David and I have five children together, all adults now. They have all moved from the family home to other states and have started families of their own. We have 3 grandchildren.
The last week of March, David called all our children and asked if they were all staying safe. He said he was just checking in with them. Two days later my older daughter was contacted by a NJ hospital that her father was hospitalized with COVID-19. My daughter was told that his condition was serious (critical) and would she be able to make decisions in regards to her father’s health and how he would like to handle his health problems at this time. When she was finished speaking to the hospital, she called all of us and wanted to know how her father would want this crisis to be handled. David was 68 years old. He did not have a will or living will and we were unsure about many of the issues that she was being presented with.
Our first challenge was taking care of his medical needs without a living will. And since he was in critical condition, and had kidney disease (which we had no idea he had) we had to think back years especially me, since we had been married 30 years before we divorced. David and I discussed issues such as being kept alive through the use of machines and/ or letting nature take its course. But again, I had no idea whether his thoughts had changed.
The next challenge presented itself shortly after the first. He needed to be intubated and should the hospital continue with that treatment because now his organs were failing. David’s temperature remained high, 104 and he had developed sepsis because his kidneys were failing.
Our children quickly navigated setting up zoom so that we could all speak together. The doctor was very kind and was calling us hourly with updates since no one could be there with David. (No one can be with a patient in the hospital at this time because of the risk of developing or infecting someone with COVID-19). In the meantime, my oldest daughter, who is David’s next of kin, reached out to the significant other to let her know what was going on in the hospital. At that time we were told the significant other is very ill with what was thought to be COVID-19. She was not able to speak for herself, so her sister an ICU nurse spoke for her. The significant other stated she wanted David’s family to make the decisions in regard to his health, because she and David had never spoken of this. As a family we all made the hard decisions. It is not something anyone would want to live through.
Within 48 hours, all five children and myself, watched David die an agonizing death. We talked to him from the time the ventilator was disconnected and until his last breath. We did not want him to die alone. We all felt that he would know that we were all there, including his significant other, who was extremely ill herself. We were to “be there” using technology. A nurse used her cellphone with facetime, and zoom which my daughter and the nurse connected us to.
That visual of the man I had known for 45 years, was nothing like the man laying the hospital bed gasping for breath. His face was grey with a bluish tint to it. The area of his nose mouth and chin were a dark blue. His struggle to breathe was visible. He lasted in that state for 20 minutes.
Having worked in a hospital for many years, and having been with patients who had died, did nothing to prepare me for I witnessed that morning. I tend not to be an overly emotional person, but I was touched by this experience in a way I never thought I would be. The children aged 44-23, all cried. We were all far apart, except for me and our youngest daughter who still lives with me. There were no hugs. There no words of consolation. We were individuals standing alone in this grief. After almost 3 weeks, we are still waiting to have David cremated. There will be a memorial at his family home in the Virgin Islands. But we are unsure when that can happen.
The COVID-19 virus is a killer. Not always. But do you know if you will be the person to succumb to it. And maybe it won’t be you, but perhaps a family member. If it was your spouse, your sibling, your child, or maybe a friend; how will you feel? If you can prevent this from happening to one more family, can’t your business wait? Can’t you stop gathering in large groups and causing fear to others who choose not to die today or prevent their loved ones from dying. The lockdown is not mandatory, but if you choose to riot and cause fear among members of your community, you should have all your business in order, and tell your family it may be weeks before they can bury you. And if you are dead, you will be confined to a casket or an urn. Rioting for the sake of being free in this time is not cavalier, but foolish. Carrying your weapons to fight against an invisible foe that can strike you and yours, without you noticing; well what does that say about you. Your weapons are nothing in the face of COVID-19.