Update: Hawai’i’s Our Care, Our Choice Act passed in 2018.
Mary Uyeda is a retired registered nurse (APRN) in Hilo, Hawai’i.
Both of my parents died in their sleep at home. They were both in their 70’s. Toward the end of their lives, their quality of life went downhill. But they were realists. My father had had numerous strokes. The night before his death he was alert, and when he said goodbye to me I knew I wouldn’t see him again. My mother had oral cancer and had to be fed through a tube. She made us promise to stop feeding her through the tube if she could no longer walk to the bathroom. She had been determined to see the new millennium, and she did. She had always lived on her own schedule. On that millennium night she went outside to gaze at the stars and died three nights later.
Few have the privilege of dying like my parents did. In 30 years of working as a nurse at a local hospital, I’ve witnessed all kinds of deaths, including extreme ones. Many people suffer by being tortured with life that’s prolonged beyond reasonable length. Too many wait until the end to make plans and arrangements for their deaths.
As healthcare providers we must do what the patients want and to support their families.
I had a terminal patient check in with a gun in his suitcase. In another instance a young mother was in an intensive-care unit where her children sat around the bed. I told the kids, “Your mother needs to hear you’re going to take care of each other.” They told her that, and soon her heart rate dropped and she died. I saw many similar incidents throughout my career. Thankfully, in many cases the right thing happened at the right time.
I am now 65 years old. Before I even became a nurse, in my 30’s, I established a living will. My doctor at the time thought I was suicidal. I explained to the doctor that if a car accident severed my spinal cord, resulting in no movement below the head, I would like a hospice consult and get discharged home to die no matter what age! The living will is still standing and it’s always up to date. My family now knows what to do.
I’ve always been an advocate for patients. As healthcare providers we must do what the patients want and to support their families. I tended to advise against unnecessarily prolonging death.