DNR or Do Not Resuscitate are not terms I ever wanted to associate with my father-in-law, Rodger. I knew he was failing every day and the nurse and social worker would arrive soon to process the paper work to set things in motion for home hospice care. Intellectually I knew what it meant. Comfort care only. In many ways that would be a blessing for him. There would be no more needle sticks for blood tests. No more medicine in apple sauce several times a day, made necessary by his increasingly severe swallowing problems. For months his diet had been restricted to pureed foods and thickened liquids. Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, dementia, and congestive heart failure had robbed him of the ability to walk, eat, or reason. He slept most of the day, every day, only to come awake agitated and afraid throughout the long nights. His once powerful body was frail and painfully thin.
“I’m going to die soon. I had a dream last night and God told me my work here is done,” he’d told me the day I knew it was time to start looking into hospice care.
“I don’t have a good feeling about this one,” the hospice nurse reported to the doctor on the other end of the phone shortly after assessing him. “We need to get a hospital bed and a comfort kit here as soon as possible.”
She ended the call and turned to me to explain that the comfort kit would contain medications to keep him comfortable and pain-free without prolonging life. A bright yellow document with the word DO NOT RESUSCITATE across the top was to be taped to the refrigerator to alert any emergency medical personnel entering the house that CPR was not to be administered.
“I know this hard,” the nurse said. “But it’s the kindest thing you can do for him now. CPR is brutal and in cases like this it’s cruel. He is so frail it will most likely break his ribs and that in itself will kill him.”
“I know. It’s just that it feels so wrong. I hate seeing DNR emblazoned across that ugly yellow paper every time I enter the kitchen. Even though I know it’s inevitable I don’t want to lose him. ”
“Death is inevitable for all of us. All we can do is make it as comfortable as we can. Try not to think of it as DNR – Do Not Resuscitate. Think of it as AND – Allow Natural Death and make it your final gift to him.
And that’s what happened. When the time came he passed away naturally. Free of pain and at peace with his family at his side.