The difficulty of saying good bye
by Judy Hiatt
(Great Falls, MT)
Seven years ago my husband was diagnosed with Interstitial Lung Disease. This news was devastating to both of us as the doctor told us there was no cure. I felt I needed to know an approximate time frame in order to prepare but my husband at first didn't want to know. He did finally agree to let me ask the doctor. We were told it was very hard to say as each case can vary greatly, but it was usually 5 to 10 years.
My husband initially went into a sort of depression but one day when he seemed to feel like talking about it, I told him there was a big difference between five years and ten years and that the difference would probably lay in how well he took care of himself. He agreed and promised he would try to do better at eating healthy and exercising, etc. He was a large person and had always been classified as overweight. He did very good for a while at watching his diet and trying to exercise as much as the lung disease would let him. However, he soon tired of it and decided since he didn't feel any worse, he could eat what he wanted. He had also had some problems with congestive heart failure and was suppose to be watching his sodium intake. Same story here, good for a while then BORING!!!! This attitude caused some friction between us as I felt he should be wanting to be able to stay with me as long as possible. However, I finally came to the conclusion that his diet wasn't going to make that much difference in his life expectancy and it wasn't worth the stress to nag him about it. Since his days were numbered anyway, he should enjoy eating what he wanted.
The disease progressed rather slowly over the first five years. He was only on oxygen at night and was still able to do yard work, minor repairs, etc. However, the last two years went much more quickly. He had to be on oxygen all the time now and the required dose to keep his oxygen stats up had to be increased frequently. He was also put on prednisone to help with the breathing and was never able to get "weaned" off of it. By the last two months he was on maximum oxygen and prednisone doses and getting weaker and not able to do very much at all. By the last month he was needing help to get up from a chair and had had a couple of falls.
He spent a week in the hospital to get fluid off again and try to regulate his heart. He had some angina heart attacks while in the hospital and it took a while to get the right balance of medication to control them. I was able to bring him home with the help of Hospice home health care. We had to convince him that he needed to use a wheelchair and a walker to transfer to and from the wheelchair in order to prevent any more falls. He was very reluctant to do this as I'm sure it hurt his male ego to admit that he had gotten to that point. However, I am a very small person and could not help him if he didn't agree to this.
I was able to take care of him at home for the last month up until the very last day. He suddenly could not get enough oxygen from the maximum setup we had at home and was so weak, I could not help him up to the walker to get to the wheelchair and bathroom. I called the Hospice nurse and it was decided that it was time for him to go into the Hospice residence where they could make him more comfortable and had more help available.
We got him settled in by about 10 that night. I could have stayed with him in the extra bed but I felt this would probably go on for some time yet and I was so tired I needed to rest in my own bed. I asked him if it was okay if I went home to get some rest and come back in the morning. He said yes, go ahead. My son decided to stay with him but I went home and went to bed. However, my son called me about 1:30 AM and said I should get back up there. I was shocked that it seemed to progress so quickly and hurried into my clothes and drove across town. The nurse was waiting for me and told me that he had just passed away shortly after my son called me. I was kicking myself for not staying and being there but the nurse said that was evidently the way he wanted it and that I shouldn't worry about it. I was thankful that my son had been with him so at least he wasn't alone.
In spite of the tragedy of watching him struggle to breathe those last few weeks, I was able to see a few bright spots. I call them "God Things"! It was definitely a God thing that my son happened to come to town that day. He lives almost 200 miles away and I had not called him as yet when I got a call saying they were on their way. It was also definitely a God thing when my son decided to stay with my husband that night so he was not alone. I am indeed thankful to God for sending my son and grandaughters to be with me. I am also very thankful that my husband's struggle was not prolonged and that he is now breathing freely again. Although I miss him terribly and am still struggling with my own raw emotions, I am happy to know that he is in a much better place with no oxygen hoses or medications or wheelchairs.