My Friend Shirl

UPDATE: Today, February 21, 2015 at about 6:30 pm Central Time (just over an hour ago), Shirley Williams passed.

Aside from my observations below, Shirl was the the absolute best of my three “mothers-in-law.” She was kind; she freely shared her love and thoughts on life. When I saw her last Tuesday I knew it would probably be the last time. Our hearts ache. Rest in peace, Shirl. You were the best.

I was grateful for the opportunity to go with Jen to visit her mother in Wisconsin earlier this week. Jen’s mom, Shirley (Shirl to her friends), is in her mid–80s. She was active and in reasonable health when she fell and broke her pelvis in September last year. That event was the precursor to a string of health issues that has culminated in the last week with a bad drug reaction, a diagnosis of pneumonia, then confinement to the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital.

shirlShirl has had a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) directive for years. She was a fan of Jack Kevorkian and a member of the organization formerly known as the Hemlock Society. As long as I’ve known her she’s been adamant about dying with dignity, on her own terms. Now Shirl knows she’ll never recover and that she’s dependent on others for every one of her needs. She receives an occasional small-dose Morphine injection to mitigate pain, but it’s only temporary relief from the sore she developed while being bed-ridden after her fall. She’s frightened, has lost all control over her care, and regularly begs her caregivers for a life-ending overdose. How did she get to this point?

I am not a medical ethicist, but with a DNR I think Shirl should have been allowed to pass peacefully upon arrival at the hospital. I get that healthcare professionals are expected to extend life and that an emergency room isn’t equipped to be hospice care. But I contend draining her lungs constituted resuscitation which violated her end-of-life directive. Shirl did not want to live her remaining days in pain, in fear, and not in control.

Right now Shirl is “hanging on” whether she wants to or not. We learned tonight that she’s being moved out of the ICU, headed for Home Hospice, which will allow her to pass comfortably in familiar surroundings. That’s small comfort for having to suffer days of discomfort. She’s Jen’s mom, my friend, and everyone who knows her will miss her terribly when she’s gone. She should not have had to suffer the indignity to which she’s been subjected.