DNR is short for Do Not Resuscitate. If it is on a person’s medical directive, their chart, or on their hospital patient bracelet, if they code for any reason, including choking, they are allowed to die, no questions asked. I never thought much about it until my sister called me Friday morning. My sister is the calm one. I am the bitch. “Did you know they have a DNR on your mother.”
“Do not resuscitate.”
“How?” I asked.
“You were there all day, how did it happen?”
“I didn’t do it.”
She was driving from Memphis to New Mexico, fast, trying to get to our parents. I was told to call the ICU and have it removed. Naturally, I threatened them with our attorney. The ICU nurse was shocked that it was there. My mother told her to immediately remove it, which she did. According to NM law, the damning page was destroyed.
How did it get there? That was the next question. Exhausted, it took me awhile to think about it. Everything started Wednesday, when my mother came in to town with my father, who has Alzheimer’s. He will be 90 in June. She is 84, exhausted from care-giving, and in relatively fragile health, herself, having a pace-maker, history of heart failure, and in chronic pain from osteoporosis and fibromialgia. She is dealing with chronic vertigo from an auto accident last summer (not her fault), and is having a serious problem breathing. She’s on oxygen 24/7 her oxygen saturation is so low.
Wednesday was a good day. I was exhausted after 6 hours dealing with my father. I don’t know how she does it. I was so tired, I left my non perishables on the kitchen counter (where they still remain) and crawled off to bed. The following morning she called, getting ready to come into the ER, her breathing was so bad. It should be noted that she could barely breath or walk on her own, but she did stop to shampoo her hair. Maggie, a friend, drove them in, stopping by the condo to get me. By the time we reached the ER, they did not even put her in triage, but took her inside, immediately.
Long story short, by 5PM they knew she was having a problem with her pace-maker. A tech was sent up from Las Cruces to recalibrate it. Her PK levels were a little off. She had a few other problems, including a toxic level of one of her cardiac meds. She was being treated incredibly well in the ER. I was impressed.
Around 5PM, when they were getting ready to move her to ICU, the ER nurse thrust a paper in her face, asking her to sign it. Exhausted, barely able to function, she did, telling me she did not like what she was required to sign. I asked what it was. The ER nurse asked if she had a medical directive or did she need one. I told him that my sister and I have medical power of attorney, and copies of the medical directive, which were made up by our local attorney. Nothing more was said.
As they were wheeling her to ICU, I separated, taking my father and Maggie back down to San Patricio, and picking up things she needed. By the time I returned, it was 7:30. A friend was up in the room, with her. My mother was almost hysterical, saying she didn’t want to die, that she was afraid she was going to die. Having been there while the attending physician made his rounds, then waiting until after 10PM, I knew that she had a bad UTI infection. The same thing killed her older sister a few years earlier, so that would upset her. Her heart was good. She’d not had a heart attack.
I wasn’t paying much attention to the fact that they had put a DO NOT RESUSCITATE bracelet on her, and told her they were monitoring her for a heart attack. She said nothing to me about it.
I did not head home until after eleven. The follow morning, I was working the phones by 8:30AM. My sister called about 10AM or so, telling me about the DNR. But – she didn’t sign anything. Nothing was said. Why would they even have one?
Fast forward to Sunday evening. Now home, my sister and I were discussing, with our mother, why the DNR was even there. I was with her almost the entire time (with the exception of 30 minutes when I was running an errand) while she was in the ER. I was there when the form, containing the DNR was pushed in her face. Nothing was mentioned that it was a Do Not Resuscitate directive. According to New Mexico law, the entire process must be explained. It was not. My mother had no idea, at all, what she was signing.
She was literally signing her own death warrant.
My sister, who was once a nurse, was fortune enough to catch it and call her ex-husband, who is a physician. Once he calmed down, after discovering what had been done, he told her to call me and have it removed, immediately. I was not that polite about it, when I did. I was furious. Then, I realized the DNR had been pushed on her, in her weakened state, never explained. She was never given an opportunity to refuse, not even knowing what she was signing.
If something had gone wrong, they would have allowed her to die, before we discovered the mistake, and had it removed. How many perfectly viable men and women have been pressed into signing something like this, and have literally been allowed to die, not knowing what had been done to them?
How many families have been left with questions, and no legal recourse?
How can hospitals and physicians get away with what is literally promoting legalized doctor non-assisted murder? Politically, during the discussion about the ACA – Obamacare – all the talk was about death panels and how people would be allowed to die. With poorly regulated DNRs you don’t need death panels. You don’t need euthanasia, or even a medical consultation. Some poor, stressed out person or family member signs something they don’t know they’re signing, and their loved one is allowed to die. Unless the person who signs the paper, or someone with medical power of attorney stops it – they must be allowed to legally die.
It is a license to kill.
Don’t get me wrong, if something happens and I have much in common with the veggies of the field, pull the damn plug. But, if a person has a bright future, but something happens, and they can recover, not allowing them to do so, because of a coerced signature on a legal form is literally murder, plain and simple. It is legal murder. If a hospital cannot properly advise patients and families of their rights, then it should not be allowed.
As a care-giver, I am livid. I am also terrified. I’ve spent the past nine years of my life being there for my aging parents, insuring that everything is as good for them as it can possibly be. To have every precaution, every single thing my sister and I have done, destroyed, because of a death directive that was not explained is criminal. The more I think about it the angrier I become.
My mother was traumatized over the incident. She still is not over it. There is absolutely nothing we can do to bring back her peace of mind. But, we can warn others.