How do you ask an awkward question?
And I’m not talking about “Do you think I’m cute”,
or “Do you like me?”
Or, “I’m pregnant… what do you want to do?”
My grandpa is 82 and has end-stage COPD. Currently his (our) house is in foreclosure. As the months pass, he gets worse and loses interest in caring about many things. For example, the house foreclosure. He isn’t fighting it, or at the very least… doing anything about it. At the same time, I can see in his eyes and his heath that it is wearing on him. I just think that at his age, with his health, and the loss of his wife almost 5 years ago… he just doesn’t care. I think he is ready to go. Or maybe its denial. I guess I can’t actually be sure.
Lately he has looked worse than usual. He quit going to his weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a few months ago, even before winter and breath-taking cold hit. He is paler than usual for his Irish complexion, and he spends more time in bed than he ever used too. I’m also pretty sure that this morning, the loud band I heard that finally got me out of bed after smacking the snooze button a good 5+ times, was him falling out of his bed… even though he denied it tonight.
Not only does my Grandpa have end stage COPD, he also has had 6 heart attacks, as well as having 4 stents placed in his heart. On top of his physical health, I know that mentally he is suffering as well. The depression in my bloodline stems from him, so I know that with the whole house-foreclosure, he is stressing… even though he plays it off as denial and ignores the fact that the county police can kick us out when the day comes.
The awkward part I mentioned? With his physically apparent decline in health recently, on top of the house foreclosure… my EMS instinct starting kicking in. Bad health + Added Stress + Old Age = Bad Outcome. With my and/or my mom having a 9 out of 10 chance of being the unfortunate ones to find him and/or witness him not breathing or go into cardiac arrest, I
wanted needed to know what he wants to happen.
A few hours ago I walked into the living room and saw Gramps watching MSNBC or some shit and went and sat next to him…. I sighed a few times and sat fidgeting until he noticed. When he said something, I picked up the remote for the TV and hit mute.
“Grandpa… I’m not trying to upset you, or make you mad. But I need to know. With your condition and age…. what do you want me or mom to do if we find you, or see you not breathing? I mean… do you have a DNR?”
He looked at me with a calm look. I interjected before he spoke. “I mean… with my EMS job… I’ve seen a lot, and I know it sucks and it’s hard. And I know its seems weird coming from your granddaughter. But I love you, and I want to know what you want. Your competent right now, and I want to know what to do if it happens. I love you, and want to respect your wishes.”
Grandpa informed me that he doesn’t want to be resuscitated. He told me he has a full DNR, but that my Aunt K* has it. I told him, that by law… The family must be in possession of the DNR and be able to present it to the medical crew on scene, otherwise the crew are, BY LAW, required to work the arrest. I again reiterated the fact that I wasn’t trying to upset him, but the knowing his wishes were nothing but important to me.
Grandpa actually understood As I sat next to him, I felt my underarms getting sweaty, my heart beat gradually pick up with each question I asked him. I thought he would get defensive like he does with anything else that had to do with his personal business. But this time, to my surprise… He didn’t.
So now I know. My grandpa is 82, understands his sickness, lost his wife almost 5 years ago… but also knows what he wants when it is his time. I will respect that. I will get the legal DNR from my aunt, and when the times comes I will know what to do. I had the conversation with my mom, and even through her tears, she knows what he wants, and what will be done.
I feel guilty being able to have those conversations with my mom and the rest of my family without being sad. I guess its just another effect of my EMS job. I’m not lying when I say I have held elderly women in my arms as their husbands lay on their backs on the floors of their homes as my crew tried their best to revive their heart and lungs (ironically, the only times I’ve had the elderly stop breathing, the patient has been male).
It sounds ignorant to the unfamiliar of EMS or terminally, unprepared person….. But I wanted to know. I needed to know. I wanted and needed to know not only for me, but my mom and anyone else in my family that has the chance of coming upon my grandpa in the chance that they/we/I find him not breathing or witness him go into cardiac arrest.
I’m glad I asked. At his age and illness the physical trauma of CPR, chest compression (resulting in:), broken ribs… he wouldn’t survive. I’d rather myself and everyone else know what he wants, and have the documents in hand to prove so… versus have it called in and the crew be legally forced to attempt reviving my Grandpa…. not to mention, what if the crew pulled off a miracle? And they managed to get a heartbeat back? Only to have my Grandpa die from the physical trauma of the resuscitation ? That is not what he wants… that is not what I would want for him… and I don’t think it is what anyone in my family would want if they understood him and his illness in the medical aspect that I do.
It wasn’t an easy conversation to bring up. But I am glad I did. With everything going on in his life, as well as my mom and mine, that the two of us know his wishes. I am off of work today (seeing it is already almost 3 am as I write this) and already have an appointment with someone who I hope can help me and my family in the foreclosure aspect… I’m not a genius by no means, but maybe if I can help solve his issues with the house, I can buy him some more time… One more birthday for his eldest daughters… one more birthday for a grandchild… one more birthday for a great-grandchild… one more chance to see and feel warm weather… one more chance to sit on the front porch and watch the neighborhood traffic…