By Kathleen Peterson
Thursday, May 01, 2003
by Kathleen Peterson (May-June 2003)
I'll never forget the night my grandfather died. He'd become so ill, they had to take him to a nursing home. They actually didn't have to, I found out much later. They'd taken him to the hospital, but my grandfather was a very stubborn old German who had no use for doctors and had made that clear on several occasions to his doctor, by refusing his services. The medical profession was not his favorite institution, and he preferred to suffer on his own.
Well, one afternoon when my mother, who's a nurse, had gone over to see him, she found him so bad off that she had to rush him to the hospital. They called the doctor, who came in not too pleased to see it was Harvey Dieterich he finally had on his hands.
The doctor proceeded to try to put in a catheter, for some reason I never quite understood. He tried three times, with my grandfather muttering dire invocations on the medical profession under his breath all the while. After the third failure, the doctor's own hostility erupted, and he washed his hands of my grandfather and shipped him off to a nursing home. Sounds like the Dark Ages, but it was only 1963.
In the nursing home they weren't too friendly either, and my grandfather was obviously dying. But my mother, who has a knack for saving people's lives, kept my grandfather alive there herself for many months.
On this particular day, she was going out to see him as usual, and she asked me if I'd like to go with her. I knew she really wanted me to go, and it was a Saturday, so I could have gone, but I had some letters I wanted to write and just didn't feel like going. I remember sitting on my bed with my box of letters and stationary and saying I'd just as well not go and wondering if she'd press me to go. If she did, I knew I would go. But she didn't. It was my decision.
She left, and I wrote letters. About 8 o'clock the phone rang; it was my mother. She'd come into my grandfather's room that afternoon and found him gasping for breath, and she'd called for oxygen. They didn't bring it. She ran down the hall and told the nurses they had to get oxygen immediately — her father was dying. The nurses there just looked up slowly and said they'd get it in a minute. My mother ran back to the room to do everything she could until it came. Her father was gasping for breath painfully, and she knew it had to come fast.
Ten minutes went by and no oxygen. She ran back to the nurses' station and yelled at them to get the oxygen, and they just sat there and looked at her, and suddenly she realized they weren't going to get it! She realized the doctor must have given the "no heroics" order, which means let the person die. He was dying anyway; no temporary rescues.