Can’t Kill Him Even With The Euthanasia Cocktail

Maybe a year or so ago, my mother told my dad, “I was just in the hospital for a few days.”

This was around the time that my mother’s health, never great, really started to go downhill. She’d just learned that she had atrial fibrillation on top of the COPD, high blood pressure, super-high cholesterol, and fairly extreme artery blockage. My mom had spent years taking care of my dad, which couldn’t have done her health any favors. By the time of this particular hospital stay, he was already in a nursing home and so knew nothing about where my mother had been.

“I was really sick,” she went on to tell him. “I could have died.” She was hoping, I’m sure, for some care. Compassion. Concern. Something.

Here is what she got instead: my dad looked at her, shrugged, and said, “Really? Huh. I was all right.”

And we laughed and laughed, because this is how it had always been. Mom struggling through, lucky to come out alive some days, while through it all Dad remains “all right.” Even as his mind has failed him, he continued until very recently to insist to anyone who would listen, “I’m in good shape.”

Well, you can’t kill Daddy. This was my mother’s and my joke. Because you couldn’t. He seemed to walk through life in an invisible bubble, not catching colds, not breaking his arm, not even getting sunburn. I am pretty sure the guy never took so much as a Tylenol, except for the occasional hangover.

I am also pretty sure that despite it all, you still can’t kill Daddy.

As I’ve mentioned before, he stopped eating around the time my mother died, and lost over twenty pounds in a few weeks. It was upsetting and highly unusual, and I couldn’t believe I might lose both parents in such a short amount of time.

He got better. He’s gained the weight back. He eats fairly normally now.

His right leg became swollen, and they were concerned it could be a blood clot. All that sitting, I thought. I wouldn’t be surprised. 

It was apparently not a blood clot. A few days of antibiotics and the leg was fine.

Then he got pneumonia. Well, this might be it, I told myself sadly. He’s old, he’s weak. Maybe this is just his time. While he had pneumonia, he fell and hurt his hip. You could see he was in pain. They were worried the hip might be fractured; we’ve all heard of elderly people who break a hip or an ankle and it’s all downhill from there.

They did an x-ray. He had not broken his hip. It doesn’t seem to hurt him anymore. He’s also over the pneumonia.

You cannot kill Daddy.

Captain Immortal, enjoying a little light reading.

Then, one day, I got a call from his hospice nurse, saying he was in bad shape. Apparently, the night before, some severely misguided nurse had given him both Ativan and morphine for “restlessness.” A sedative and a narcotic, for someone whose restlessness never extends past a tapping foot or jiggling arm. He was practically comatose for the entire next day and into the night.

Needless to say, I was quite alarmed.

“Has something changed?” I asked the director of nursing, when I finally got in touch with her. “Is there something I need to know about his behavior at nighttime?”

Eventually, after much prompting on my part, she told me that no, nothing had changed. “There was no reason for him to be given those drugs. We’re educating our nursing staff.”

“Better educate them quick,” I told her. “Because when I Googled ‘Ativan and morphine combination,’ I immediately came across the phrase ‘euthanasia cocktail.'”

Both the director of nursing and the director of the entire facility looked mildly panicked at this. Which was more than a little satisfying and hardly surprising. “Oh God, no,” one of them told me. “No one was trying to kill your dad.”

“I know that,” I said. “But, they might have killed him all the same.”

I have no intention of suing them. I never did. But I left the vague threat hanging in the air anyway. What the heck.

What I didn’t tell them, but what they’d have known if only they were paying attention, is the one, most obvious fact.

Fact: you can try; you can do your damnedest. You could probably detonate a nuclear weapon right under his nose. You can take away everything he loves in life, his grass-cutting and his bird-feeding and his two pieces of toast in the morning. Go ahead, give it your best shot. Because no matter what you do, the simple truth remains. As my mother and I knew all along: you just can’t kill Daddy.

By All Means, Yes – Please Kill My Parent

Around a week before my mother died, my dad stopped eating. I mean, not totally, but enough that he lost 21 pounds in an alarmingly brief period of time. He’d been getting a little plump, on the nursing home food. Now he looked frail and old. “It’s just part of the disease,” they tell me. “They lose interest in food. It’s sad, but there’s not a lot you can do about it.”

So, hospice was called in; there were meetings to be had and papers to sign. I am the caretaker, now. The only one.

Here is how you feel when you are filling out the advanced directive paperwork for your parent or other loved one:

Artificial respiration? Nope! Kill him!

IV fluids? No, thank you. Just kill him.

Feeding tube? Feeding tube, schmeeding tube! Didn’t I already tell you to just kill him?

Well, to clarify: this is how I felt. It’s not necessarily how you or anyone else felt, or might feel one day in the future. Still, I can’t help but believe that I’m not the only one who has experienced this extreme reaction to a little paperwork.

Antibiotics? Why? Don’t bother, JUST KILL HIM!

In my dad’s case, Alzheimer’s Disease has rendered him incapable of making these decisions for himself. If he could, I know exactly what he’d say. “Keep me alive, you assholes! What, you just want to let me die? Give me feeding tubes and drinking tubes and whatever else they got. Give me all the fucking tubes. What are you, stupid? I’m staying alive.”

So how, you might wonder, could I check ‘No’ to all those questions, knowing what I know about my father? Knowing that if he is magically cured of Alzheimer’s and one days sees these papers I’ve signed, he will murder me in cold blood?

Hello, parents! Meet your daughter!

I try to tell myself that he has no quality of life, anymore, but that’s not even entirely true. He still enjoys music, to the point where he gets teary-eyed listening to certain songs. He still likes sports, though he no longer knows much about them. He likes visitors and just last week he told me he has a girlfriend. It was a joke (I think?) but, if a guy can make a joke, isn’t that a little bit of quality?

The medical community, and certainly the economy, seems to stand behind life at all costs. After all, you pay for a funeral and it’s over. You pay to keep a human alive, and it can go on indefinitely. Also, as a culture, we’re not real accepting of the inevitability of death. Which is good. We shouldn’t be. Until it actually becomes inevitable.

I signed these very same papers for my mother, because by the time the questions arose, she was too sick to consider them. She was so sick that nothing was clear to her anymore. She might still be alive, had I agreed to any of the methods of keeping her that way.

I hated checking those boxes. But I think I’d hate the alternative even more.

Good God, this is getting morbid and sad. Well, I guess killing one’s parents will do that to a person.

Also, if there is an afterlife? I probably won’t see you for a while because let me tell you, I am SO grounded.