Death and Dying: Part 4
Last updated: October 2022
Editor's note: This article contains references to death and other sensitive topics that may be upsetting to some readers.
When a person is nearing the end of their lives, whether from an illness, an injury, or even old age, that person might develop respiratory health issues.
In Florida, my parents should have been enjoying the winter. My dad had a GI bleed and went by ambulance to the hospital.
The following week he had to go to the hospital again. He had two GI surgeries and ended up with a colostomy. The doctors wanted to do a third surgery.
By then, my brothers and I were there. My dad was upset and wanted to talk to me. He said, "You promised!" He had told me for a long time that he did not want to linger or be plugged into some device and wanted "quality of life."
I was the person he trusted to ensure his wishes would be honored.
Watching my father decline
We flew him back to South Dakota. After a couple of weeks in the hospital, the recommendation was hospital or palliative health care in another state.
After discussions, his doctors wouldn't recommend additional surgeries or even palliative care because of my dad's age and overall health.
One doctor knew one brother, which was good, and wouldn't put his dad through it. Dad couldn't eat fish or anything.
They believed in the quality of life that dad wanted. This meant he would go home to hospice.
As dad prepared to leave the hospital, his bag of nutrition and IVs were removed. The ambulance picked him up and transported him home.
The hospice nurse was excellent. She truly cared, and it showed. I could call her around the clock if need be.
If dad wanted something to drink, we let him suck water from a sponge. In the last week, things were changing. He was starving to death, and my sister-in-law and I were taking shifts watching him and dispensing medications.
Around this time, dad was losing interest in things around him and entering a semi-coma.
Things were progressing. Phlegm was closing the back of my dad's throat. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't talk.
He held his throat and tried to mouth that he couldn't breathe. I could see the panic in his eyes, and it was easy to see mucus webbing in the back of his throat.
No one prepared me for this. I couldn't imagine what I saw. Yet, I instinctively knew what to do.
Needing to work quickly, I grabbed one of the oral sponges the hospice had left. I dipped it in the water, not so it would be too wet where he felt as if drowning, just enough so it would be damp and collect that sticky mucus.
It makes sense, really. The lungs will make mucus if there is some moisture.
The mucus was drying up, so it was just sticky. At this point, any moisture dad was getting was from water on the sponge.
When he could ask, we gave it to him. When he couldn't, we could tell from the look in his eyes and the movement of his mouth that mucus was restricting his breathing or even that he was thirsty.
My brother and sister-in-law were going to run home to pick up clothes, and I told him to hurry. It wouldn't be long before dad passed away.
He wanted to know why, and I said because his organs were shutting down, and his oxygen level was way down and not recording anymore. His skin was also turning black in some areas.
Having a fear of dying
You might be wondering why I am sharing my dad's story since it isn't COPD related.
I am sharing it because it was lung related. People must realize that respiratory health is vital to everyone who breathes, which can also affect a person with COPD.
We can learn so much from each other, yet we need to realize that we are unique in our diseases.
Death and dying are inevitable in this life. We are born, and we shall die. Some will have short lives, and others long.
When diagnosed with COPD, some are told they have five or more years to live, and some are less. One of the first reactions is, "I'm going to die!" That's scary.
What do we do with that information? Who do we tell?
The thought of upsetting our family and scaring them causes us to internalize our diagnosis. They will often suspect that you are hiding something.
I recommend that you find someone to talk with. This is not your burden alone.
Your loved ones may feel it's their burden as well. It's important to have a support system. Often, people with chronic illnesses, such as COPD, are depressed. Maybe you are anxious, angry, confused, or sad.
Death and dying can cause internal conflict, whether you are dying or if it's someone else that you care about. I always think that it's better to let it out.
My grandpa had very cold digits, fingers, and toes that didn't warm up. This is another sign that death is imminent.
Decreased blood flow is a sign of multiple organ failure.
Do you feel comfortable asking your doctor questions about your COPD?