At the age of 73, my mother, Dulcie May Turton, was told she had a neuroendocrine tumour in her abdomen and a life expectancy of two months if she elected not to have chemotherapy. She had suffered a lifetime of major illnesses, but given her history and the prognosis even with treatment, she decided the fight would be too hard, and she chose to die.
Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what lay ahead when she made that brave decision. She was transferred to hospital two weeks prior to her death where she was given a blood transfusion, which was in contradiction to her express wishes that nothing be done to prolong her life.
By this stage, the pain was becoming unbearable and she was drugged to the eyeballs all the time. I clearly remember walking into her room with her sitting up in bed pretending to be Tweety bird, saying ‘tweet tweet, tweet tweet’ and laughing hysterically. Her dignity was rapidly disappearing.
My beautiful mother lay in that bed, rotting in front of my eyes for an entire week. Once they stopped taking her obs and said she was nil by mouth, it meant that medications that she had been so heavily dependent on (and was addicted to) were no longer being administered. In my opinion, that sent her into a violent withdrawal and she spent a lot of time thrashing about the bed, crying out, doubling over in pain, showing nothing but horror and agony on her face like an addict withdrawing.
She was starving to death and by this stage was skeletal, and her dehydration was obvious. Her mouth was caked with thrush and because she had suffered very severe respiratory illnesses in her lifetime, the infected mucus was pooling on her chest, further preventing her from breathing.
I spent that whole entire week (day and night) by my mother’s side, speaking on her behalf to try and get her more pain relief or a sip of water (until nil by mouth). In the last couple of days as the infection on her chest took hold and her organs progressively shut down, she was gasping for breath the entire time.
She continued to rot in that bed and I continued to sleep in the room with her and to sit beside her and listen to her every breath in…and every breath out…praying that “My beautiful mother lay in that bed, rotting in front of my eyes ” it would be her last one. Finally, she sat bolt upright in bed and her eyes flashed wide open with a look of terror on her face, then she fell back on the pillow and took her last breath.
The mucus that had been pooling on her chest began to ooze out of her mouth, putrid, green sludge that just kept coming and coming. That last week of her life was like a horror movie. It was entirely obvious that death was unavoidable, yet nothing was done to move it along so she could be spared the futile pain, suffering and indignity that she went through.
Her final days served absolutely no purpose to her or anyone else, and left me with a type of post-traumatic stress from having gone through it with her.
- Sandie Wands, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
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