He Changed His Mind: Reflections
On Decline and the End of Life

Guest Post By Richard Krawiec

Three weeks ago Monday I got a call saying my sister had found my 92-year-old father, who had been living on his own, on the bathroom floor, where he’d lain for 12 hours after suffering a massive stroke. I was told he was paralyzed on the left half of his body, always would be, would probably never regain mental functioning or language, and if he did survive it would be in such a severely reduced state it would be like no life at all. He already had prostate cancer and it seemingly had metastasized to his skull and ribs. He developed pneumonia, and an infection. He had a DNR in place, and it appeared the medical people were in agreeance there was no hope.

But he could breathe on his own.

I was out of town at a residency and had to figure out how to get money for flights, try to coordinate with my two sons, was in frequent contact with my brother to find out if death were imminent or might take days or weeks or months. No one seemed to know, although there seemed to be a consensus he was quickly headed for hospice.

i went up to MA.

He was still breathing on his own. He was communicating in brief phrases. He recognized people. He began to move his left foot in small gestures in response to commands.

He said he didn’t want to quit. Although he had a DNR in place, which said he didn’t want to have a feeding tube, or go to a nursing home, he changed his mind, said he wanted to “work hard” at rehab.

Today, he pedaled a bit on an exercise bicycle – 94% of the time without assistance – from his wheelchair. He did five assisted leg stands on the parallel bars. He wanted to be put on the patio in the sun, instead of his room to nap.

Sometimes it takes a while for people to make their feelings known. Sometimes people change their minds about papers they signed when in full health. Sometimes we just need to be patient and wait for clarity and listen.

Richard Krawiec is a writer and the founder of Jacar Press. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.

2 thoughts on “He Changed His Mind: Reflections
On Decline and the End of Life

  1. Very good. Thanks for the message.
    I’ve often wondered how I would really feel under similar circumstances. My aunt Julie (64) died last week only a few days after a lung cancer diagnosis. It started out as a bone lesion (originally from the lung), and after they removed it (likely cutting cancerous tendrils, thereby spreading the disease), the cancer rapidly spread.
    Her kids wanted to do everything they could to save her, contacting the best cancer specialists, but she asked them to let her go, which they did.
    I guess you never really know how you’ll react in a situation until you are confronted by it.

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