I have a cautionary tale for you. It comes with an alert at the end so stick with it.
It starts with a terrible week and a half and ends with this writing. I went to Florida for a few days last week to visit Dad. Bernadette, his partner, wasn’t feeling well. She told me that she was stiff and that her muscles felt weak. She attributed it to packing up boxes and lifting things in anticipation of moving to the new home she and Dad had just purchased. But sore muscles get better each day and hers were getting worse. I suggested that she call her doctor. She pooh-poohed the idea. “I’ll be fine tomorrow.”
But she wasn’t fine tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Dad and I both pushed her to go to the doctor, but she wasn’t hearing anything about it. By Friday night I was really pushing for an emergency room visit, but still she refused. “I’ll be fine in the morning.” But in the morning when Dad went to check on her, she wasn’t fine. Dad looked up her symptoms on line and determined she was dehydrated. He went to the drug store and talked to the pharmacist who came to the same conclusion – and she was indeed dehydrated. He came home with Pedialyte and Gatorade. He poured her some and came to get me. When we got back to her house she was lying on the couch exactly where he left her and hadn’t been drinking any of the liquid because she didn’t like the taste. We nagged until she finally drank a glass. I begged her to let us call 911. As she and I talked about the dehydration I told her that, while my mother had lots of health problems and had suffered for years, dehydration from a UTI was basically how the end came for her.
We refilled the glass and left so Dad could drive me to the airport. Along the way he said that, if she wasn’t better in the morning, he was going to make her go to the doctor. I told him that I wouldn’t wait. If she hadn’t moved or made any effort to drink by the time he got back, he should call for an ambulance. And that is what happened. He found her exactly where he had left her, not having moved and never having picked up the glass. He just told her he was calling 911. She didn’t fight him then. I got on the plane knowing he was following the ambulance to the hospital.
By the time I got home after my flight, he called to tell me that they had admitted her and were giving her fluids. By midnight he called to say that they didn’t expect her to live through the night. I turned around and went back to Florida in the morning.
This beautiful, vivacious, energetic woman who golfed several times a week and had a trip planned to Europe and another to Hawaii, who played trivia on Thursday nights, and had a wonderful array of social activities spent the next nine days in the ICU on life support to maintain a blood pressure, to breathe, and to replace her failed kidneys. It turns out she had a UTI that became septic. I didn’t know how right I was when I spoke about how we lost Mom because Bernadette never said anything about having a UTI. By the time she went into the hospital, she was in septic shock. The doctor said that the infection had to have been working in her system for some time. Today they called in hospice. They turned off all of the machines. And she died ten minutes later taking a huge piece of my father’s heart with her.
I am sad. I’m sad that she went through all of this. I am sad that she died. I am sad that my father is burying a second love only eight years after burying his wife of sixty plus years. I’m sad for her brother who has now lost his only two siblings in seven months. I’m sorry for her close friends, especially the girlfriend she travelled with. I’m sad for all the wonderful things she and Dad were looking forward to which will never happen. But mostly I am pissed off.
I am pissed that this was a totally preventable death. Women especially, but also men, put off going to the doctor for so many reasons. “I’m not really that sick.” “I’m too busy.” “There’s other people who need…” “It takes too long to get an appointment with my doctor.” “Do you know how long you have to wait in the emergency room?” “I’ll be fine by tomorrow…or Monday…or…”
Sometimes these are people who would make sure that their children got medical attention and do their best to assure their spouses or partners, or their friends saw the doctor. They would drop everything for the people they love to get them medical care, but they won’t do it for themselves. I understand that sometimes the decision is financial – but they would still find a way to take their kids or parent or partner. Do they believe that they aren’t worth the same attention? I know women who have put their health needs aside because a spouse needed a new car, a kid needed new clothes, or “it’s only me.”
Or are they afraid of what the doctor might say? They could get a bad diagnosis, sure. Or they could get an antibiotic for an infection, take some pills for a week or ten days, and happily go on with their life instead of presenting themselves for treatment when it is far too late.
For everyone in my life, be forewarned. If you are not well I am going to turn into a raging, nagging, bitch until you go to the doctor. (I heard that. I heard the comment, “How will we know the difference?” Believe me, you will!) I know that there is no way to force an adult who is conscious and coherent to get medical treatment. But I can make you WANT to do it just to shut me up! If you get mad and hate me for doing it, fine. I hope it is a very long, extended anger and hatred because you are safe and treated, and I can continue loving you and seeing you enjoy your life.
I am also going to go buck-nutty if I ever hear two statements that I’ve heard over and over that always sound stupid. Don’t ever say you don’t like to go to the doctor. Nobody does. And don’t tell me you hate hospitals. Everyone does. Nobody makes reservations there for vacation. Sure it has room service but the rooms aren’t very plush and there is no pool or spa. What there is, however, is a staff of caring professionals willing to do everything and anything to keep you alive and help you get well. I met the most caring, devoted, committed nursing staff at the ICU in the Naples Community Hospital North this week. They not only took care of Bernadette, they took care of all of us. And I’m sure there is a similar group of people in the hospital or doctor’s office near you.
Take care of yourself. You are important to your family and your loved ones. If you love the people in your life and think highly of their intelligence, opinions, and taste – remember that they chose you to be in their lives and believe you are worth it.