Friday, December 17, 2010
Quality vs Quantity of life
An update on my mother. Yesterday I had a meeting with her doctor and the nursing home staff. The years and years of living with strong anti-psychotic medications along with tons of other medications have started taking a toll on her physically. I had to make a decision about her care which I really didn't want to do.
The medications are basically killing her. A combination of several medications over a long lifetime is a lethal cocktail of poisons to the muscles and organs of the body. Mom takes 5 or 6 anti-psychotic medications along with medications for diabetes, Parkinson's, and other things. In all, I believe there are about 40 medications she takes every day.
Mom has been on anti-psychotic meds for about 40 or 50 years. She started taking medications way back in the days when mental patients went through horrible medical things. Shock treatments and experimental medications were normal back then. Many mental patients were locked away in asylums and treated like animals back then. My mother was lucky in that she was never left in places like that for longer than a few months.
I recently told you she had slipped into the next phase of her dementia and altzeimers mentally but now she's slipping more on the physical side as well. Her kidneys are shutting down and her bones have become very brittle. She's also loosing weight at an alarming rate.
I could have her taken off some of the medications which would stop the lethal trouble temporarily. Doing this she would become so paranoid that life would be miserable for her. The staff kept her off the meds for a couple of days and my mother started seeing snakes and other monsters which was miserable for her. She spent her time huddled in a corner of the day room too scared to move. No way could anyone coax her to go to bed because there were "snakes in her radiator". It was actually the heating element hissing steam around a pipe. I had the maintenance man seal the leak and told my mother he was killing the snakes for her.
The doctors asked me to make the decision about whether to withhold her medications or not and to sign a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. I chose to give her quality of life rather than quantity. Keeping her on the medications may shorten her life but the time she has will be much nicer. Who would want to live a longer time only to be too scared to move all the time?
There is also the problem of her brittle bones. If she was to have a heart attack, the CPR would kill her. Just the act of compressing the chest to do CPR would break her ribs. If she were to stop breathing, putting a tube into her throat to help her breath could tear her throat tissue and cause bleeding. She takes blood thinners to prevent blood clots. Taking blood thinners means she would bleed to death from trying to save her life.
Choosing to sign a DNR is an extremely stressful decision. I didn't want to be the one making this decision but someone had to do it. It was especially sad seeing my mother after making the decision to sign the papers. She was like a child sitting in a wheelchair, with a bib on, begging me to take her home with me. I'm sure she is aware of her physical condition and is scared. I did what I could to comfort and reassure her that she would be fine. It was a very long walk to the exit door with her pleading behind me to not leave her there.
I don't know how much time my mother has left. It could be days or it could be weeks or if we are lucky it could even be years. I plan to spend as much time with her as I can. I can't stop the inevitable but I can do something to make the end a little more comforting. I can ask her to say hello to my sons when she gets to heaven.
Ok, it's time for me to get away from this sad topic. Time to go clean, or cook, or quilt, or organize.... something to get myself out of this depressed mood. Why do sad things always happen to me at Christmas?