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Living Will Decreases Decision-Making Pain

By Dr. David Lipschitz Modified: April 3, 2013 at 1:07 am •  Published: April 3, 2013

Can a week be worse? A woman whom I was very close to died in her mid-90s. For me it is a terrible loss, and the frequent comment "that her death was a blessing" or "she had lived a long and wonderful life" does not ring true. I will miss her, our visits, the sage advice I frequently received from her, her stories and her wit.

At her funeral, my sister called from South Africa. My mother had just had a stroke and could not speak or walk. That day I left for South Africa, and I write this column from my sister's house.

My mother turns 90 in June. She has embraced life to the fullest, is a world-class bridge player and was never without a man on her arm. She remained full of vim and vigor, loving and healthy until that first Monday in September when she had a serious fall. She broke her shoulder, her nose, but most significantly, her hip.

After surgery and rehabilitation, she seemed on the road to recovery. A month later she developed a serious gastrointestinal problem. While performing gastroscopy to look at her stomach, she had a cardiac arrest. No one thought she would survive.

But after a six-week hospital stay, she gradually recovered, went home and was able to walk with a walker. Two months later, she had her first stroke. This affected the left side of the body. Although walking was virtually impossible, she remained as sharp as a tack and was able to get about in a wheelchair and communicate.

And now the final blow. Seeing her breaks my heart. She cannot speak, does not understand and cannot move without being carried from the bed to a chair.

My mother does not have a living will. We never discussed her wishes should she become so seriously ill; she always seemed so healthy and invulnerable. This circumstance creates huge dilemmas for families, particularly if there are disagreements, conflicts and children are scattered worldwide.

Children may feel guilty and have different opinions on the value of artificial feeding. They question whether continued hospitalizations should be considered and if infections occur, should they be treated with antibiotics?

I have three siblings, and we know that my mother asked that she never be hospitalized again.

We have decided not to pass a tube into her stomach to feed her artificially. She is able to eat and drink with help.

We will provide as much comfort care as possible but will not do anything that will prolong life for more than a short while.

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