How does it happen? You wake one morning and you are an orphan. Your parents, gone. You reach for the phone to tell your mother about a television program that you know she’d love watching and there is no one to call. The damn light switch is broken and Dad isn’t there to walk your husband through the steps of installing a new one. Christmas and Mom’s award-winning cranberry nut bread and cribbage until three a.m. with the winner playing Dad, the ultimate champion–never again.
No sudden heart attack or tragic car accident. And while the death certificates indicate that one died of a cerebral event and the other by complications of pneumonia, both should or could have read, Death by Physician. Long, slow and ugly deaths brought on by medical negligence. And while I remained at their bedsides for dozens of hospitalizations over a 3 year period, many times for months without a break in their care, leaving only to shower and catch a few hours of sleep before my day began again in rooms poorly lit with fluorescent lights and linoleum floors, a woman educated in the law, specializing in medical negligence, I couldn’t prevent their deaths by those who took the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.
I loved my parents. I still do. My children were blessed to have been loved by them and my husband was the son they never had. I had a good childhood. Both my parents worked hard for a living. Dad was a police officer. He started out as a young patrolman in Kansas and later was elected Sheriff. After term limits sent him looking for another job, we moved to Colorado where I grew up in a middle class neighborhood, Mom working at the local gas and electric company until she retired and Dad was brought aboard as Chief Investigator and later was again the elected Sheriff. They died with only my immediate family at their bedsides–no friends–no other family members–no one knowing our grief and their loss of dignity and our family’s loss of privacy. As they lost control of bodily functions and were flipped, cleaned, wiped, poked and prodded by strangers, I spent hours every day asking questions, reading charts, researching medical issues and swallowing the urge to shout at nurses and shake doctors until ‘their teeth rattled.’ (As my mom use to say.)
Was every medical provider on this path to their death incompetent and complicit in their ultimate demise? No. Some days I would see a special nurse or two or three and celebrate. A substitute doctor who, without knowing my parents, made better decisions than those assigned to their care. They felt my parents’ pain, they wiped my tears and while most did not engage in provider-bashing, many nodded and understood my frustration as it was theirs as well. They were professionals and knew their responsibilities and the care that was necessary to help my parents heal. So what went wrong? How did a 30 year plus practicing medical malpractice attorney lose both her parents to medical negligence? And perhaps more telling, did all medical negligence committed on these two seniors lead to their death? The answer to the latter question is easy. No. There wasn’t too many negligent-free days in the three years they were under the care of ‘professionals.’ I laugh when I hear someone proclaim we have the best medical care in the world. Bullshit. (That would be my father talking now.) To sum it up for Bert (my father), the medical profession and our current hospital system is a clusterf**k and if one gets out alive, then good karma to you.
My parents passed in purportedly sterile rooms on the hospice floor of one of the hospitals they repeatedly found themselves taken to during the last years of their lives. Had I not asked for a change of rooms, they would have died in the same room and with the same bed number but we simply couldn’t take looking at the same cracks in the ceiling and same torn curtain tabs. The same….the same. It was too much.
Dad died on June 9, 2010 and Mom at the stroke of midnight on the day before/the day of my birth in early November 2010, just 5 short months after Dad in the 58th year of their marriage. Did you know that you can’t die at midnight? At least your death certificate can’t reflect that time of death as it belongs to neither day and to both days. And thus, even in death, the doctor, hospital and staff continued to cause suffering to our family. For days, until they were able to round up the vacationing doctor and change the time of death, my mother was kept in a freezer unit, waiting to be cremated. (And it continued for weeks until they were actually able to cremate her because of the Thanksgiving holidays). Each night I would flip my pillow, wet with tears, and wonder if she would be released from the cold the next day. She hated the cold. She left Colorado and headed for the desert of Nevada to escape the winters of Colorado after my father retired. And here she was, in death, suffering just a little bit more.
TO BE CONTINUED: PART II Christine….My Beautiful Mother